Please turn your camera on – Mary T. O’Sullivan

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

“‘Can everyone please turn their cameras on’ is now the worst thing to hear at a work meeting.” – Twitter User

Since the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 forced us all into lockdown, isolation, and the subsequent popularity of remote and hybrid work in the aftermath, teams, individuals, and leaders are relying more and more on video conferencing to get work done. Now, even the medical profession, as well as psychologists, coaches, therapists, courts, lawyers, and other service providers turn to video calls to meet with patients and clients. Video conferencing companies like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet dominate people’s daily business interactions, sometimes for hours at a time. Even Facebook has a video feature, Facetime, for reaching people wherever that may be, and often that place takes workmates and bosses into people’s homes.

There are lots of fun tales about video meetings gone awry. Like the time a filter was left on the laptop of a lawyer attending a judicial hearing via Zoom in Texas. The lawyer was unaware he appeared on screen as a cat. The judge had to stop the proceedings to bring attention to the fact that instead of seeing the attorney, everyone on the call saw a cat doing the talking. The filters are so sophisticated now that the dismay in the lawyer’s voice was clearly indicated on the talking cat’s face with perfect precision. The others on the call kept their cool and did not laugh out loud, which in my estimation, took a lot of professionalism and self-control. In another video call fiasco, the CEO of a company appears to be a potato! Neither of these people could figure out how to turn the filter off!

Humorous commercials also lampooned video calls. A notable commercial features an employee on a video call, sitting on his couch, with his laptop on his lap. Then he unexpectedly sneezes. The laptop goes flying off his lap and reveals that the man has been sitting in his underwear, a truly humiliating experience. This example is but one of the many new trends in remote meetings, business attire on the top and shorts, underwear or pajama bottoms covering the lower half.

Barking dogs, crying babies, cats traversing the desk, lawn mowers, and voices off camera are other distractions people cope with while attending meetings via video. The convenience of not commuting and the ability to reach people all over the world is a phenomenon of the digital age, but the lack of privacy is the price. Whether we like it or not, video conferencing does invade our personal space. Since the pandemic, and the following two years’ work remotely via video, people are beginning to rebel.

A new wrinkle in the age of video meetings emerges due to too many entire days in front of a video screen. It’s known as Zoom fatigue. I’ve heard from many people that they average about four to five hours a day in video meetings. Sitting in one place, glued to a laptop screen, without regular office interactions is wearing on people. Zoom fatigue has many causes. According to Healthline, the brain has to work harder to read people’s facial expressions and try to make eye contact. You are expected to be “on” all the time, actively participating, dressed for business, and not broadcasting from a bedroom. And of course, the well-known disruption to work life balance plays a role.

Most companies don’t see this intrusion to employees’ lives as an issue. Many organizations have forsaken office space, abandoned company phones, and discarded office furniture. Working remotely is expected, regardless of the hours in front of the screen. However, employees are now beginning to strike back. Part of this new insurgency is leaving their webcams off. The boss may be facing a screen of blank squares, or static pictures of the people on the other end of the conversation.

So, what’s the solution? I’m often asked by managers, “how do I get people to turn on their cameras?” Considering the human needs of employees should always be first in the mind of leaders. Acknowledge the Zoom fatigue, make light of it. Share some funny video call memes or videos. Engage people. If your meeting is business critical, tell them that. If their next bonus or pay raise relies on business-critical issues, the cameras will come on. Compliance can’t be forced. Earn it by respectfully asking them to “Please turn your camera on”.

“Being on mute and off camera saves my entire life sometimes in meetings” – Twitter User

Connect with Mary

Read all Mary’s columns here:

Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach, Society of Human Resource Management, “Senior Certified Professional. Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member, Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM.

1 Comment

  1. Lesley M on November 14, 2022 at 2:47 pm

    I can Zoom but don’t know how to turn the mic on lol….While I’m retired so it’s not a real issue, it would be ‘nice to have’.
    Sitting in front of a computer screen all day isn’t healthy. It hurts our vision and yes, destroys our skin (as I look in the mirror).
    Having worked in an office before Zoom, I’d rather work in an office. There’s more social interaction and one can read the body language. You get to know people personally and yes, make friends.
    Technology is great but it’s also impersonal and with the societal issues today, we need the interaction of one on one.

Leave a Comment