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In these times, we’ve got to be as compassionate as possible towards each other. And to be compassionate, we need to be aware of why some of us love to have our cameras on while others prefer to stay off-screen.

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It is one of the great debates that’s been sparked by all of us working remotely, but it needs to be approached with empathy and an open mind.

Here are some considerations that I feel are important to remember.

The social and emotional aspect

Social distancing can be lonely, and as social creatures, it is important for us to have healthy interactions. Letting other people see your face allows them to get a pulse on your emotions and see that there is more than a voice on the other end of the line. It may also offer enhanced group dynamics during the call when both verbal and physical communication takes place. Seeing someone on screen psychologically encourages a more authentic human connection.

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It allows us to have a window into each other’s world

Beyond seeing faces, video allows us to see what others are wearing, what their immediate environment is like, and what is happening where they are. These items are often the focus of chit-chat during in-person conversations, which helps with the overall flow of our interactions and gives us a chance to talk about things besides work.

It maximizes the communication channel by capturing non-verbal cues

Without seeing the occasional nods of agreement, headshakes of confusion, and smiles of appreciation, communication becomes limited. Non-verbal cues are an essential part of communication that gets left out without the ability to see the person you are having a conversation with. Turning on your camera during a meeting allows you to maximize the communication channel, adding more sentiment and expressions that spice up the discussion. We know that face-to-face interaction is generally most effective for all those reasons, but with remote working, turning on our cameras in a meeting is as close as we can get.

Reasons someone might want their camera on

  • To show other participants that they are fully involved in the discussion
  • It allows them to communicate with their facial expression
  • Non-verbal communication can be more valuable and telling than verbal 
  • It helps create more empathy
  • To stay focused and fully present in the meeting at hand, instead of multitasking
  • To develop a connection with other meeting participants
  • To be seen and known as an active member of the team

Reasons someone might want their camera off

  • They are moving from one room to another
  • They have bandwidth issues and they want to give preference to audio over video
  • They have a small apartment and their family members/housemates are around them; they would like to maintain their privacy
  • They’d like to move around and stretch
  • They have received an urgent phone call that they cannot reject
  • They are feeling slightly unwell and don’t feel they are looking their best
  • They need to look after their child while on the call
  • There is a lot of movement around them
  • Too much screen time
  • They are not comfortable sharing their room with another person
  • They are joining in their out of office hours (too early in the morning or late in the evening)

Ways to foster empathy

  • If you have your camera off, you could briefly share the reason ‘why’ with the group 
  • If you are calling a meeting where having the camera on might be very valuable, you could state the benefits in the agenda (e.g. if you are facilitating a team-building exercise or a team introduction)
  • If your meeting falls out of office hours for some participants, you could mention it at the beginning  
  • If a participant(s) on the call have chosen to have their camera off, you could propose alternative ways for them to give their input (e.g. using voice or emojis in the chat function for raising a hand or a thumbs up.)

Conclusion

I wish I could conclude this topic in the more traditional way of listing out when to have your camera on and when it is okay to have it off, but there is no golden rule. It’s about being open-minded and forbearing to the unknown and unpredictable situation or frame of mind that the people on the call might currently be in. I believe it comes down to the trust, comfort level, transparency, and work ethic of the team.

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Making the perfect meeting
Episode 04 Making the perfect meeting
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