Bosses want the cameras on for video calls. However, employees might have a compelling reason for objecting to being filmed when they don't want to.
"Team, good morning! It would be excellent if everyone could turn on their cameras for this meeting." In the era of remote work, it has become a regular refrain, yet many employees fear hearing it.
When Covid-19 lockdowns occurred, platforms like Zoom were a blessing since they allowed many people to work from home. But now that the pandemic has been going on for two and a half years, that same technology has now started to work against us. Today, millions of professionals spend hours every day on video chats, wearing themselves out attempting to read their coworkers' nonverbal cues or becoming sidetracked by their own reflections.
The presence of a camera is frequently interpreted as an indication that an employee is engaged and sincere in their work. However, specialists additionally assert that turning off cameras could enhance worker wellbeing and make meetings more productive in addition to lessening the discomfort of constantly being visible on screen.
How cameras on became the norm
As Allison Gabriel, professor of management and organizations at the University of Arizona in the US, who has studied the effects of Zoom fatigue, explains, "At the beginning of the pandemic, it made a lot of sense that people wanted to be on camera, because we were living under the premise that this was going to be a two-week pause of our lives - and so we were like, "We want to see everybody, we want to connect."
But according to experts, the reason why "cameras on" is still the norm today is related to long-standing, harmful habits associated with presenteeism that existed before the pandemic.
In the past, there has been pressure on employees to be present in front of the employer. That can entail putting in long hours at the office, making connections, or just coming up with creative methods to highlight your contribution. The pressure to be seen changed to virtual meetings after remote work began. In order for the employers to observe the employees' dedication, they thought they had to wear cameras.
Research demonstrates that employees have read their employers' rights, and data reveals that managers worry about employees whose cameras are off because they might be slacking. According to a survey conducted in 2022, 92 percent of CEOs think employees who turn off their cameras won't have a bright future at the company.
There is also an element of micromanagement going on since employers that want employees to turn on their webcams are shifting managing office behaviors online. " If you're a manager, you're used to the traditional style of working, which involved being able to sort of cruise the halls to see if people are at their desks working", explains Gabriel. "It's the closest to what we know," she adds.
However, as employees are well aware, leaving cameras on constantly can wear people out and create Zoom fatigue, which is brought on by things like obsessing about how you seem on camera and straining your brain to catch up on non-verbal clues that are far simpler to understand in person.
Employees who are "focused on themselves and how they might be seen" rather than the meeting itself, according to Winny Shen, associate professor of organization studies at York University in Canada, may be less productive as a result of these distractions.
These distractions can be removed by turning off the cameras, allowing attendees to focus more intently on the discussion. Additionally, being out of sight may even help workers be more productive by allowing them to multitask as they listen. In actuality, Gabriel explains, "I want to be taking notes, looking something up, trying to sort through tabs, and seeing if I can contribute to the discussion" as she listens.
A cameras-off strategy may also result in more inclusive organizations, according to Gabriel. According to research, new employees who believe it is more vital to introduce themselves to their new coworkers more frequently may have more Zoom fatigue. Because they are more likely to work from home due to childcare, women are also impacted. The same study also discovered that introverts suffer from Zoom fatigue more severely than extroverts do. For workers in these various groups who might be most impacted, turning off the camera could aid in reducing stress.
What's the best practice for the future?
The good news is that circumstances might be shifting. Gabriel thinks that employees who miss their coworkers can actually benefit from seeing them on camera, but video call burnout and a stronger push for employee flexibility may cause Zoom etiquette to change.
Since more research indicates that a cameras-optional policy is healthier for people's mental health, some companies have already made cameras optional. According to Gabriel, we are reaching a turning moment where people can truly create work environments and workplaces that support them rather than work against them.
Everybody will strike a different equilibrium. While Shen acknowledges that seeing someone on a video conference can be helpful, "it may not always be essential," she adds. To prevent Zoom fatigue, she proposes a team might work with cameras for three days each week and take two days off. She thinks that businesses should exercise a little more caution in this area or at the very least, offer employees a respite.
Additionally, managers must have faith in their staff and acknowledge that just because cameras aren't on doesn't mean everyone isn't engaged.
The conversation and poll functions, where it is irrelevant whether someone's camera is on or off, may be utilized more wisely, suggests Gabriel. "Often, we look to the camera as being the only measure of participation," he says. In addition to the camera, she claims Zoom has several other features that show employees are actively participating in meetings.
She also thinks it's important for whoever is in charge of the call to set the appropriate tone and inform participants that having cameras on is not required - whether that's the person in charge of a one-time meeting or the business when establishing any broad policies or guidelines.
Companies and managers who are still dedicated to "cameras on" should reflect on why they believe they are necessary. Gabriel and Shen point out that the workforce functioned successfully on traditional telephone conference calls for decades if it's because they worry that employees are slacking off. Even though there are new platforms like Zoom, not all existing practices are necessarily obsolete.
“It doesn't necessarily make sense for us, just because technology can do something”, adds Shen.
We definitely agree, and it is not a requirement for any of our employees at RCS to have their cameras on. Perhaps it may be time for you to allow your remote workforce the option as well.