Voice Only

When did it suddenly become compulsory for remote workers to be ‘on camera’? Constantly being visible on camera is proven to be stressful and unproductive. We need to establish and communicate clear rules about how employees should interact in remote working organisations, to create healthy workplace cultures that are fit for a post pandemic world.

Have you ever felt this year that you might be on the ‘naughty step’ because you actively chose not have your camera on during a workplace Zoom, Teams or Skype call, or even because you dared to connect using the good old-fashioned voice call on a mobile?

I certainly have, and have often felt pressurised into having my camera on during a Zoom, Teams or Skype call? It’s almost like there is now some unspoken rule about being continuously visible in online interactions with work colleagues.

The introvert’s nightmare

I think that this emergent ‘camera on’ culture is one of the massive downsides to the enforced remote working many of us have endured this year. When did it suddenly become compulsory for us to do this?

When I have challenged colleagues about this, one of the arguments for ‘camera on’ has been the need to create a ‘connection’ between remote working employees. Some have even taken this a step further and said that it is necessary to create and maintain ‘employee engagement’ in organisations during the pandemic.

As a veteran internal communicator, I think that arguments like this are frankly baloney and a product of lazy and superficial thinking. Creating connection between people in organisations and employee engagement have nothing to do with being visible on a camera.

There is now good evidence, and a growing body of research, which demonstrates that being continually visible on camera is not good for us. In fact, it is downright stressful and detrimental for both workplace performance and our wellbeing. Just Google ‘stress and video calls’ and you’ll turn up a wealth of material. I found these articles from Harvard Business Review and National Geographic particularly insightful, with some good tips on how to deal with our new ‘camera on’ culture.

I am, by nature, a bit of an introvert and I find being constantly on camera uncomfortable and exhausting, particularly with people I have never met before or who I don’t know very well. In these interactions it almost feels like I am being required to put on an ‘on camera’ performance to create a good first impression. In addition, the inability to be able to read body language properly, and the other visual cues that are so important during a real world first meeting, is slightly terrifying.  

Camera on or off should be a permissible choice

I think we should all have a choice about having our camera on or off, depending on the nature of the interaction. For many interactions with people in the workplace and elsewhere, it is just not necessary to be visible. Not so long-ago voice was the only, and perfectly adequate, method for interacting with others not in immediate proximity to us. Why can’t we all just pick up the phone more often now, and do ourselves a favour by reducing our stress levels in the incredibly stressful circumstances of the pandemic?  

For internal communicators, and the organisations we work in, this is more than just a superficial choice about camera on, or camera off. It is also about the organisational and workplace cultures we want to establish in the wake of the pandemic, where remote working is likely to become a permanent feature of the working lives of many employees. Workplace cultures that are fit for the future in a post pandemic world.

To do this, there needs to be clear rules established and communicated about how we interact with each other in remote working organisations, to form the basis of a healthy culture that works for everyone. Not just those who are ‘naturals’ on camera. The wellbeing of employees is at stake, if we don’t.

As an advocate of ‘camera off’, I’ve added another soapbox to my collection and will be promoting #VoiceOnly whenever the opportunity presents itself.



Image by ErikaWittlieb from Pixabay 

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