This year has led to some unique things that we never had to deal with before. One of them has been that millions of us are now working from home. The online meeting is now ubiquitous as a part of most white collar, professional jobs. When all of this work from home stuff first happened, I was on the FIFA team. My small group within that larger team numbered around twelve or so. Our Zoom meetings were fairly short and at first, no one turned on their cameras. At least one dude didn’t even have a microphone. He would post his updates in the chat window. He was without a mic for about six months I think.
Several month in, one or two people would turn on their cameras perhaps one day of the week, mostly Fridays. This was infrequent and for the most part, I did not know what my coworkers looked like since mid-March. Did some of them grow beards? Did some shave their heads? Did they grow out their hair? I do not know.
In November, I joined a new team and I immediately saw a huge difference in their approach to cameras during Zoom meetings. I would say over 95% of people have their cameras on for every single meeting. I began telling people that this team had a strong “camera culture”. Personally, I do not have my camera on at all during meetings. I only have one webcam in my entire apartment and it’s attached to my laptop, which is not a productive way for me to work. My desktop does not have a camera connected to it, so it’s not really even an option. I am often the only person in meetings that doesn’t have their camera on. I don’t feel bad about that. It’s a personal choice.
I am not alone in my stance. For example, my manager is the same way. She never has her camera on. There’s another guy on my team that I’ve known for almost a decade. He has publicly expressed that he will never get a camera while he works from home. There’s a lot of reasons for why I don’t care for being on camera but one of them is practicality. I am in my PJs for most of the day and I wear the same thing every day. Since it’s the winter time now, I wear a comfortable but a little worse for wear hoodie all day. It’s got holes in places. I don’t want people to see that.
Having your camera on means you can’t pick your nose or scratch your ass during meetings. I can’t yawn without making someone feel like they are boring me. The camera makes me devote energy into making my appearance and behaviour socially acceptable when I would rather devote that energy into real work and focus.
The argument that I’ve heard about having your camera on is that other people feel a deeper connection with you while you’re in a meeting. Putting a face to a name is the thing that they want, as some say. Perhaps that might be true but they’re not getting that from me. I’m no less effective in meetings just because my camera is off. I answer questions, bring up concerns, and provide updates just as well as the next person who is on camera.
I am fascinated about how strong camera culture is on other teams. I am guessing it varies quite wildly. Whatever your stance is, I hope you are true to your ideals!