“Camera’s on please!” — The Remote Age struggle
How many times has your boss reminded you to turn your camera on? Do you ever get nervous or worried turning it on? What if your team on the call spot something that looks wrong about you or your background? The fear of embarrassment, feeling exposed of you situated in your own personal space you call home.
If you thought this post was about the benefits of putting your camera then you’re mistaken. Remote working has truly shifted the paradigm of how we communicate and present ourselves at work. From washing and ironing your favourite outfit for the office day ahead to putting on your comfies, wearing the minimum waist up to make your pixelated self bearable for all to see. Let’s be honest, for all we know you’ve probably had a meeting with someone wearing no trousers by now.
But why are we hesitant to turn it on all the time? Actually there’s many reasons, a lot genuine if someone is on the move, being interrupted by someone else in the room or your cat somehow finding the hide camera shortcut on your keyboard. What about the reason’s we don’t talk about and don’t want to share? Are we really thinking about the psychology behind it? Or are we lazily assuming that they’re probably having a nap or scrolling on TikTok.
Concentration & Engagement
The standard etiquette for meetings hasn’t really ever changed. Everyone knows a meeting is a time to switch off the world and focus purely on the discussion at hand. We assume if someone has their video on, that means they’re engaged fully into the discussion. But in reality, how many meetings have you observed where their eyes suddenly drop down to their hands, or turn to a corner, then oddly clunk up and down responding to a notification message/email they received. Are we really fully engaged just because we switched our video on and can sneak in messages while on mute?
But surely people without their videos on are worse right? Well not exactly. Because that might not be the only thing distracting them.
How am I looking?
Ever look into a mirror and scrutinise how your hair looks, why that spot suddenly appeared, how that coffee stain decided the land on your collar or be reminded of that scratch from your cat, because you didn’t feed it on time? Try looking into a mirror constantly all day, while trying to engage in a meeting and not looking like you’re bored out of your mind from what your boss is saying (even though you probably are deep down). Now that’s distracting!
Fun fact, you might hear that a lot of successful public speakers really don’t like hearing or looking back on recorded footage of themselves. Why? Because us humans are very good at focusing on the flaws, especially with ourselves. Take an example as the classic echo of your own voice on a remote call, how many times has that shut down the flow of conversation and caused the speaker to lose track?
You might be thinking though, well you’re probably not that vain or couldn’t care less what they look like, bad hair day or not. The reality is some people will care more and others less, but deep down there is a standard we set ourselves and we present our appearance to our colleagues at work.
A solution to this is just turning off the virtual mirror but still keeping the camera on. But then you’ll never see your cat coming until it’s too late, and embarrassment will truly begin.
Is my house tidy?
I’ve worked in London now for over 6 years and even after lockdown the house price market is still truly shocking. Many of the workforce based in expensive cities really just don’t have the luxury of a swanky office room, with a wall of trophies and awards to purposely show off how perfect you are (you know who you are). Exposing your personal space to your colleagues can be daunting and show a side of you you never really wanted to share in the first place. In this digital age, we’re more dedicated and accountable with our jobs than ever. One thing we didn’t learn from lockdown was how to switch off and separate our work lives with our personal lives.
How many people who really focused on their careers back in the 5 day a week office world, prioritised dressing immaculate for the day ahead over leaving their half assed DIY paint job to deal with when they had a weekend free. All of sudden there’s a new level of standard on how we present ourselves at work, not just with our jazzy haircut and trimmed lockdown beard, but making sure no one asks us why we should get a refund for the shocking paint work behind them.
You could just use the blur feature or default backgrounds your video call tool of choice provides. But let’s be honest, no one wants to look like the sun baby from the Teletubbies, looking like their background is swallowing their facial features.
But I don’t care what they see?
I’ll level with you hardcore people who really couldn’t care if they were still in their dressing gown or worn the same top all week. It’s important to recognise that we don’t all think the same way as each other. Like it or not, mandating that cameras must be on all possible times, is probably going to end up with a diverse level of comfort every time.
We talk a lot about physical diversity but not enough around our mental make up. All brains are different and neurally diverse, made up from a variety of things like our upbringing, life experiences and cold hard genetics. The age old advice of “cheer up" or “get over it" really doesn’t do justice when people have a genuine interest in how they present themselves to audiences, especially key people they work with like their boss or a potential client. Respecting peoples boundaries can be seen as a positive and brings further psychological safety knowing they can choose how they would like to engage and contribute to the discussion.
Are there positives though?
Yes — of course there are benefits to having your camera on. When you’re in a discussion or debate with someone, it’s incredibly important to ensure you pick up any signals they might give they voice alone cannot. Emotionally charged points of view can often be spotted easier through body language or their facial expression, rather than their tone of voice. This is especially true for debates on email, where some people may interpret sarcasm while others may assume sincerity, based on the term of words or phrase they’re using.
The ultimate form of communication will forever be face-to-face and ensuring your video is on will at least make those discussions feel a lot more human and personable.
What should I do?
This isn’t a post to pick sides to camera for all or camera for none. Camera’s can be used as a great way to build new relationships with your colleagues, present to an audience and hopefully give more visual aid to get your point across.
But have a think about those meetings where you might already know everyone or meet up face-to-face on a regular basis anyway. Does it really matter that they can see you? Or is it more of a distraction that can be left to get on with the job at hand.