Stop making employees turn on webcams during virtual meetings
The new office feud might be over whether or not to use the camera during virtual meetings. For the first time in her career, a woman who works for a New York-based organization received an HR complaint in August because she turned off her camera during virtual work sessions. She reported that shortly after, she received another HR complaint about the same reason.
“I was on a call with around 15 workers, and [the speaker] emphasized that everyone should have their camera on since it’s corporate policy and part of our culture now,” said the lady, who requested anonymity for fear of punishment from the firm. She has a long history of hating being photographed or recorded in front of a camera, and these experiences just added to her anxiety. “I told them that being on camera makes me nervous, so I turned it off.” I was ultimately able to obtain a doctor’s letter.”
Although she is still forced to have her camera on, she now sits mainly out of frame, with only her shoulder visible, according to her employer. However, she believes that this just adds to the awkwardness of the situation. She is currently on the search for a new job.
She isn’t the only one who is struggling to adjust to the new normal of continuous video calls. Several employees told that leaving the camera on in meetings made it difficult to focus on their work, caused irritation from having to stay in one spot for extended periods, and made them feel uncomfortable about displaying their living conditions to others. Workers may also feel pressured to leave the camera on, whether it’s due to an explicit request from the employer or the belief — debunked by recent research — that if they don’t, they’ll be less productive and engaged.
Lydia Mack, a copywriter for brands and startups in Los Angeles, said she turns off her camera during conversations with customers and coworkers so she can focus better. However, she’s discovered that this strategy has drawbacks as well. “Whether I’m the only one with my camera off for a long length of time at a team meeting, it may be a distraction [for others] and leave them wondering if I’m even at my computer, if I heard the entire topic, and so on.”
On-camera meetings are becoming more popular, but there are some misunderstandings about them
After the pandemic, video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, and Skype were popular for more than just virtual meetings and school lectures. They also served as a venue for happy hours, costume parties, religious services, brunches, book groups, and dating. However, as the lockdowns progressed, more employees became tired of virtual meetings, a syndrome known as Zoom weariness.
Allison Gabriel, a lecturer at the University of Arizona, co-authored a study that found that being on camera can cause Zoom fatigue. Webcam weariness is more common in women, according to the study.
“Women have greater self-presentation costs than males, and they are more likely to feel pressured to display competence by looking extra alert on camera,” Gabriel added. “Furthermore, because women had disproportionately high childcare needs during the pandemic compared to males, they are more likely to have children in the background, which may jeopardize their capacity to remain devoted to their work and concentration. We also hold women to higher expectations when it comes to their physical beauty. All of these issues might be exacerbated when you’re on camera.”
According to Gabriel, newer employees are also under additional pressure to demonstrate proficiency and engagement since they want to demonstrate that they deserve to be there.
Contrary to popular belief, someone with their webcam switched off is not likely to be distracted, multitasking, or disconnected. According to Gabriel’s study, turning off cameras during meetings can increase productivity since employees are better able to focus on the topic rather than how they or others appear.
Looking for a solution
Some businesses are recognizing the need for change, but there are compromises.
Companies like Citigroup, Dell, and New York University have responded to the growth of Zoom weariness by instituting policies like “no Zoom Fridays,” which encourage workers to connect by email or phone instead. In certain colleges, teachers and students can choose whether or not to use webcams during classes.
“Students must ‘Zoom in’ from a range of situations, and forcing cameras to be turned on unjustly accentuates socioeconomic inequalities and is also ableist,” Julia Raz, a communications professor at two California universities, said. “I wouldn’t argue that turning off webcams is distracting. It’s depressing and lonely conversing with a screen full of dark rectangles.”
On the other hand, being on camera may make some employees feel more involved and connected to their coworkers. As a result, solutions that cater to various degrees of comfort must be implemented.
Zoom, for example, has just released additional capabilities to assist the hybrid work environment while also alleviating video call fatigue. This includes a collaborative whiteboard tool that focuses on the text rather than the faces of the participants.
Managers should divide their meetings into two types, according to Jeremy Bailenson, a professor of communication at Stanford University and the founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab: those in which seeing each other’s faces is critical, and those in which screen sharing and talking with voices is sufficient. “When CEOs sit down and go through this procedure, they learn that only a few meetings require them to see individuals.
While it may appear that making webcam meetings optional is a good idea, Bailenson believes the opposite is true. “It’s like asking someone if they want to help out on a big project over the weekend,” he said. “Many people will choose not to participate, but everyone will feel obligated to. A better idea would be to make cameras mandatory on occasion while restricting their use the rest of the time.
He proposed that supervisors, particularly male bosses, turn off cameras at certain times so that staff does not feel obligated to display their faces.