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Being Camera-On in Virtual Meetings Is Essential For Your Career Prospects

A lesson I learned the hard way

Whether we’re working in startups, SMBs or enterprises, we have to connect and collaborate to solve problems together. Thanks to the pandemic, most of this is happening on virtual platforms, and workplace collaboration is changing as we speak. But people aren’t bringing their faces into the discussions like they used to do pre-pandemic. What I have experienced and also heard from my professional circle is that many professionals join video calls with their cameras turned off. They hide their faces from the same people they have been working with in the past, face to face, every day. It’s like they would walk into a physical meeting room with a paper bag over their heads or with the lights turned off.

Don’t get me wrong; I used to be a camera-off person too.

After the first wave of shutdowns, I realized I didn’t need to dress up nicely anymore to do my job, and I could forget the makeup and the hair. It was exhilarating for a short period. Being home, cozy in my non-touched-up realness, messy hair, bare face, sitting on the couch is my sweatpants, working. Everyone did the same, and at first, many of us kept that little toggle in the OFF position. We started to talk to profile pictures instead of having conversations with one another. And it didn’t feel right.

We had put ourselves into a collective situation where we deprived each other of the basics of effective communication: facial expressions, gestures and body language.

I know Zoom fatigue is said to result from having to pay more attention to non-verbal cues than in real-life face-to-face settings. But what is the term for purposefully denying the use of these cues from our coworkers? I don’t know, you tell me.

But I do know this: being camera-off is like talking to the pictures on the wall. As a result, the likelihood of any meeting in a virtual setting becoming more useless and unproductive is higher than ever. It’s damaging to our work, and our work-relationships.

So what made me become camera-on?

  1. First, the stone-cold realization that I was part of the problem. I don’t like to be part of any problem. I’m a solution-oriented person. That was a huge slap in the face, a wake-up call that resulted in a complete mindset change.

  2. I had to decide whether I wished to remain a role model and an inspirational leader or not. It was a simple yes or no question. If I hide and act completely unengaged, how can I expect my colleagues to do the exact opposite?

  3. I had to confront the big question: do I like the virtual setting so much to be willing to make it work, or should I find a workplace that prefers going back to the office? The company I work for has announced quite early that no matter the pandemic, we’re becoming a ‘virtual first’ operation. And I’m happy with this. I wouldn’t want to work for a company that requires me to go into an office.

  4. Getting used to seeing myself from the outside while doing my job. We used to see each other laugh and cry, get over-excited and sometimes stressed, too. We know each other’s body language and facial expressions; we are just not used to seeing our own body and face when collaborating with our teams. Have you (or your company) ever paid for a communications training or presentation skills training where the trainer would record you while presenting so that you could analyze your non-verbal communications? I have, and it wasn’t cheap. Now it’s there for free. One can learn a great deal about themselves when paying attention to our own non-verbal communication style.

  5. Finally, I needed to remember that I’m the same person as before, just like we all are. Human. It’s okay to be comfortable. It’s okay to have a bare face without makeup on. It’s okay to eat your lunch while in a meeting. It’s okay to walk your dog when you don’t need your computer to be effective in a meeting. It’s okay to have your child on your lap while having your call with the team. We are human, and sharing all of ourselves — especially our faces — in virtual meetings makes us even more so.

I also posted this on Medium.


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