As video meetings have become the norm since the pandemic started in early 2020, a great debate has been ongoing– should companies require that cameras be on during remote meetings? You'll find that there are strong proponents on both sides of the argument. But… what's the right answer? Let's dig in to find out whether the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to mandating that employees keep their cameras on during virtual meetings.
These days, millions of Americans and countless more around the world are working from home rather than in an office. As video meetings have become the norm since the pandemic started in early 2020, a great debate has been ongoing– should companies require that cameras be on during remote meetings?
On the one hand, being able to see their team through video is one of the ways that managers can know that their employees are engaged and focused. On the other though, several studies have found that keeping your camera on during back-to-back virtual meetings can lead to fatigue, a lack of productivity, and a loss of focus.
You'll find that there are strong proponents on both sides of the argument. But… what's the right answer?
Let's dig in to find out whether the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to mandating that employees keep their cameras on during virtual meetings.
There are a lot of awesome perks to working from home, but a few downsides, too. One of the most obvious drawbacks of waking up in the morning and sauntering over to your home office (or corner of the kitchen table, etc.) is that it can be pretty isolating.
When you work in an office, you go out into the world and frequently interact with others, even if only briefly. On the other hand, working from home makes it possible to go days or weeks without connecting to your colleagues.
One of the best arguments for keeping cameras on during virtual meetings is that it can help everyone connect and build a sense of community. It can remind your team that, though they might not see their teammates in person, they are a part of something larger that is all working toward the same goals.
Are you looking to add some structure to your remote meetings? Learn about Robert's Rules of Order here.
When we interact in person, we aren't just listening to what the other person is saying. We are picking up on many subtle and not-so-subtle clues, including information we receive from eye contact, body language, and facial expressions. We can tune into whether the person understands what we're saying and is engaged with the conversation through their non-verbal actions.
Cameras during virtual meetings can help recreate the sensation of being in the same room talking to one another. Sure, it's not the same, but it can make a big difference compared to only using audio.
This can be really useful for team leaders and managers who are constantly trying to gauge the temperature of the room when speaking to their employees. When cameras are on, they can visually see that everyone is engaged and on board with what is being said. On the other hand, they can also notice when it seems like it's time to call it quits for the day, with a grid of glazed-over eyes and slumped posture.
If you don't have your camera on during virtual meetings, it can be tempting to shuffle to your desk in your slippers or even just prop open your laptop in bed. While you might be making every effort to be engaged, your brain just isn't registering that it's time for work, and you find yourself only half-paying attention to what is going on.
When there are cameras involved, though, things are different. You shower, put on work clothes (well, maybe you keep those PJ pants on,) and make your hair presentable. You prepare for the day much like you would if you were going to the office.
This tells your brain: "it's time to work!" Of course, employees can always go through this ritual when they don't turn their camera on, but there isn't quite as much incentive.
Let's face it: employers want their employees to have their cameras on because they otherwise can't know for sure that they're paying any attention at all. According to one survey, almost all employers believe workers who turn their cameras off during meetings aren't as engaged in their work. If that is the case, obviously, that's a big problem.
The survey also found that employers assume their employees are goofing around if they aren't visible on screen. Instead, they believe they are likely surfing the web, chatting or texting on their phone, or otherwise disengaged.
However, recent studies have found that having a camera on during video conferences can be less productive because back-to-back meetings can result in video meeting fatigue. On top of that, people who are particularly shy or uncomfortable on camera might have difficulty fully engaging with the task at hand because they are worried about how they are coming off to their coworkers and boss.
There is certainly an argument to be made that everyone is more focused and motivated to bring their A-game when their coworkers and boss are able to see their faces. This has been the dominant mentality among remote managers and leaders for some time. When a person knows they are on camera, it would make sense that they would be more likely to be focused, attentive, and accountable.
On the other hand, though, a recent study found that turning the cameras off can actually lead to more productive meetings and increase employee focus.
The reason for this is fascinating– people can hyper-focus on how others might perceive them and their own facial expressions because they feel as though they're being watched during video conferences. The study found that when people turned off their cameras, they were much more able to focus on the content of the meetings.
When you have your camera on during a meeting, you're much more likely to pour a lot of energy into how you look and what your workspace looks like on camera. While this might be motivating for some employees, for others, this can be stressful and take their attention away from more important matters.
Think about it: would you rather have your employees prepping for their next meeting, so they show up with 100% of their attention, or would you rather have them fretting about whether their workspace is clean and their appearance is presentable?
This isn't just conjecture– a Zippia survey (that we'll talk more about in the next section) found that 73% of workers spend more time on grooming in preparation for a video meeting when their cameras are going to be on.
Of course, there isn't anything inherently wrong with this, but it's still worth considering. Do you want your employees to be focused on their appearance because they fear judgment leading up to a meeting, or would you rather that they can use that same time to prepare to discuss the most pressing topics of the day?
One survey from Zippia found that employees overwhelmingly prefer to keep their cameras off during virtual meetings. This is absolutely essential to consider when you're deciding whether you want to require that cameras are on when you're meeting virtually. After all, if you mandate something that everyone hates, it can have a negative impact on morale and the company culture.
The survey found that only 17% of workers prefer virtual meetings with their cameras on compared to other types of meetings. When workers were asked what they disliked the most about virtual meetings, the top response was "being on camera."
Another reason that employees tend to dislike cameras during virtual meetings is that they can lead to frustrating technical difficulties. It can also put them face to face with unengaged coworkers who don't feel compelled to feign interest in the current matter being discussed.
For people that are introverted, shy, or prone to anxiety, video meetings where their camera is required to be on can be very unpleasant. Everyone works differently, and some people might feel much more comfortable engaging in the meeting without feeling like they are being watched.
According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, there is a positive correlation between using cameras during virtual meetings and daily feelings of fatigue. There wasn't, however, a positive correlation between how many hours someone spends in virtual meetings with this fatigue.
What this means is that it's not virtual meetings in themselves that lead to fatigue issues, but rather keeping your camera on consistently while these meetings are occurring.
Even though it's commonly argued that requiring employees to have their cameras on helps to increase engagement, this study actually found that this virtual meeting fatigue led workers to feel less engaged.
There are a lot of different opinions out there about whether it is best to mandate that employee cameras are on during remote meetings or whether you should leave it up to each individual to decide for themselves.
Considering the recent studies that suggest that being constantly on video during meetings can lead to virtual meeting fatigue and the resulting loss of productivity and focus, giving workers the option to turn their camera off if they want to is a pretty reasonable solution.
When considering whether you should require cameras to be on during virtual meetings, it could be worth discussing the matter with the individuals on your team. For example, if many of your workers are shy and introverted, you might find that meetings are smoother and more productive when people aren't compelled to have their cameras on.
At the same time, you'll want to incorporate the nature of your work into your decision and the standards in your industry.
If it seems like your team is frequently suffering from virtual meeting fatigue, all hope is not lost. You can take several approaches to ensure that your employees aren't getting burnt out on staring at each other's faces all day long.
Here are a few ways you can help to make virtual meetings more effective and less fatiguing:
You also might consider whether there are other modes of communication you could use to share information rather than video meetings. You might find that mixing it up between meetings, email, phone calls, and text can help reduce some of the burden that people feel when it comes to remote meetings.
Whether your team had to switch from in-office work to remote work practically overnight or you've been distributed since before it was cool, having a schedule jammed full of virtual meetings can be exhausting. While there are definitely some accessible ways to reduce virtual meeting fatigue in your business, we think that your team might be looking for a little extra something to help them stay alert, focused, and well-fed during your next meeting.
If you're looking for a treat that you can send your employees to help them get excited about attending remote meetings, we know just the thing: Pizza.
After all– who doesn't love pizza?
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