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A recent survey of 4,200 work-from-home employees found that 49% report a positive impact from engagement when their cameras are on during online meetings, and only 10% felt disengagement from turning on cameras. As leaders are figuring out hybrid and remote work, they are facing the challenge of deciding whether to encourage employees to keep their cameras on during meetings. This decision has a significant impact on communication, engagement and trust-building within the team. I can attest to that from my experience helping 21 organizations transition to long-term hybrid work arrangements.
The pros of keeping cameras on during meetings
There are several benefits to keeping cameras on during video conferences.
Facial cues improve communication and build trust
Research shows that one of the primary benefits of keeping cameras on during virtual meetings is the ability to pick up on facial cues. When we can see someone’s facial expressions and body language, it can help us understand their thoughts and feelings better. Seeing a colleague smile, nod in agreement or furrow their brow in confusion can provide valuable cues that are often lost in text-based communication. When team members feel more connected and in sync with each other, they are better equipped to work together effectively, leading to better collaboration. This, in turn, leads to improved communication and the building of trust between team members.
Related: Face-to-Face Meetings are Important for SO Many Reasons
Helps in relationship building
Keeping cameras on during virtual meetings helps build better relationships among team members, as scholars find. Visual cues, such as facial expressions and body language, play a significant role in how we understand and interpret others’ emotions and intentions. By seeing these cues during virtual meetings, employees can better understand each other and build stronger relationships.
Better accountability and focus
Another benefit of keeping cameras on during virtual meetings, studies show, is improved accountability and focus. When cameras are on, it sends a signal to everyone that the meeting is an important and serious matter, and that everyone is expected to be fully engaged and focused.
Reduce distractions and multitasking
Keeping cameras on during virtual meetings also helps reduce any distractions or multitasking, according to researchers. When cameras are on, it becomes less likely for team members to feel tempted to get away with distractions or multitasking, as their faces and bodies are visible on the screen.
Improving engagement among team members represents another benefit that scientists found associated with keeping cameras on. It’s easier for team members to connect with one another and feel more invested in the meeting. This, in turn, can lead to improved outcomes for the company.
Sign of respect
Keeping cameras on during virtual meetings, researchers find, serves as a sign of respect. When cameras are on, it sends a signal to everyone that everyone fully respects the meeting and values everyone’s time. This sends a positive message to their colleagues and helps in building trust and camaraderie.
A recent survey from Vyopta, a software company, found that 92% of executives at medium to large firms think workers who turn cameras off during meetings do not have a long-term future at the company. This indicates the importance of keeping video cameras on during virtual meetings. Leaders believe that by turning cameras on, employees demonstrate that they are serious about their work and take the meeting seriously.
The cons of keeping cameras on during meetings
While there are several benefits to keeping cameras on during video conferences, there are also several drawbacks to consider.
Privacy concerns with keeping cameras on
One of the main concerns with keeping cameras on during meetings is privacy. Research shows some employees may feel uncomfortable with having their personal space constantly on display and worry about being judged or monitored. This is especially true for employees who work from home, as their living space may be visible to colleagues on the video call.
Worries about being judged on living space
On a related note, the same research finds worries about being judged on their living space can also be a hindrance in virtual meetings. Employees may feel uncomfortable with the idea of having their homes monitored and may worry about being judged based on their personal lives.
Technical difficulties with keeping cameras on
Another issue with keeping cameras on during meetings is the technical difficulties that come with it, according to scholarship. Poor lighting, camera angles, and internet bandwidth can all lead to a less-than-optimal viewing experience for everyone on the call. This can be particularly challenging for employees who don’t have access to the latest technology or who don’t have the technical expertise to resolve these issues.
Related: 5 Ways to Lead Effective Virtual Meetings With Your Remote Teams
Increased pressure to look presentable at all times
Studies show that keeping cameras on during meetings can also increase the pressure on employees to look presentable at all times. This can lead to a more formal and less relaxed atmosphere during calls, which can be draining for employees, especially women and new hires, recent scholarship finds.
Fears and anxieties about being on camera
For some employees, the thought of being on camera during a meeting can be anxiety-inducing, as research finds. This can lead to feelings of self-consciousness and decreased participation in the call, which can be damaging to the effectiveness of the meeting.
Worries about micromanagement and monitoring
Feeling like being monitored and micromanaged can also be a con of keeping cameras on during meetings, according to scientists. Employees may feel as if they are constantly being watched, which can lead to feelings of being micromanaged.
So should we keep cameras on or off?
When I show clients the research about the pros and cons, they often sit with it for a while, and then ask me what they should do. I tell them it’s hard to weigh the pros and cons without bias against each if you’re approaching this matter from a binary perspective.
Instead, the key is to provide support for your employees to improve their ability to keep cameras on. That involved financial support to address lighting and wifi speed. It also involved mitigating concerns about creating negative impressions by a less formal attire and background through culture change.
After that, employees need to be informed about all the research above. That information will help employees make more informed decisions about their camera usage.
Next, provide training to your employees and develop a policy about when they should keep cameras on or off, rather than always having them on or off. The key consideration should be about the benefits of having cameras on for engagement and communication via nonverbal cues, versus the cons of drain and strain, especially for women and junior employees.
With training and policy, a key consideration is to encourage employees that those who are about to speak should have their cameras on. That’s because when an employee speaks, their goal is to communicate to others; they will be much better able to do so if they turn their cameras on, by conveying nonverbal cues.
Then, clarify that any meeting that involves significant decision-making should have all attendees turn on their cameras. After all, it’s important for all attendees at a decision-making session to be able to read the nonverbal cues of other participants: much of our decision-making stems from our emotions and comes through in our nonverbals.
By corollary, most meetings should not have a default expectation of having cameras on, barring high-level executive meetings with significant decision-making going on all the time. There’s no need to cause drain and lower employee productivity and well-being if there’s not a sufficiently important reason to do so.
Through addressing a number of employee concerns upfront, and having a balanced approach with training and policies, my clients find they can find a win-win outcome that best aligns employee wellbeing and meeting attendee engagement and communication.
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