Camera on or Camera off, that is the question!

May 04, 2021

Have You Ever Lied And Said Your Laptop Camera Doesn’t Work When In Fact You Just Don’t Want To Be On Camera?

During the last year of lockdown, we have had a serious lack of face time, with friends, family as well as colleagues. The only faces I get to stare at on a daily basis are my partner’s and the dog’s! As beautiful as they are, it’s not the same as seeing the variety of faces we’re used to at the office. At the beginning of COVID and our new work from home lifestyle, we kept our cameras on during our weekly team Zooms as it felt like the most equivalent thing to an in-person meeting. It also helped to lift our spirits during those early days when we couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now, as we’re 1 year in and we’re finally able to return to being sociable in offices, I’m finding that ‘camera-on’ is becoming less frequent. Have we just got tired of seeing each other’s faces? Or tired of keeping up appearances with a practice we never really liked in the first place?

There’s definitely something nice about seeing someone’s face when you talk to them. Before covid, I used to ring my mum for a weekly chat using “a telephone number” - remember those? Now, it’s Facetime every time - and mum loves it! For family, I agree it’s a good thing to be able to see the faces of the people you love. In the workplace, however, I feel there is a certain expectation and presenteeism associated with being seen. There were some horror stories that came out last summer of some company bosses forcing employees to be on full-day zooms just so they could check staff were working!

I’m happy to say our workplace is nothing like this, but I’m still in the “Camera-Off” camp and here’s why…

Expectation:

Is video call replacing a F2F meeting or a phone call? Here at ISQ, we rarely used to have F2F meetings, we do everything by phone and online. So the expectation is they’re a replacement for the old-fashioned phone call. About a handful of times over the past year, I’ve started the meeting camera-off and been encouraged to turn my camera on so someone could see what I look like - even though I have a professional photograph of myself on my Zoom profile. It had a tendency to make me feel quite uncomfortable. I believe it should be the individual’s own choice whether they feel comfortable being seen, not whether the person they’re talking to wants to see them. 

Personal space:

Back in the old days, I could spend hours on a work phone call with no thoughts about what the other person looked like, now it seems everyone wants a glimpse into people’s personal lives. Some people have the luxury of their own home office space, others have set up a desk in their bedroom or lounge, trying to juggle working from home around other life admin. Early into the pandemic libraries and set builders were being inundated with calls from politicians or celebs trying to upgrade their background and make themselves appear more learned with shelves full of books. 

 
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Staring at yourself:

When we’re not checking out backgrounds, we’re staring at ourselves. Now I’m not saying we’re all really vain, but I do think we’re conscious we want to make a good impression. I find myself checking I look professional, no “up the nose” shots and generally trying not to look like a tit. It’s the online equivalent of checking your reflection in the mirror before walking out of the front door...only it could last for the whole meeting!

On-screen distractions & looking off-camera:

When we’re providing training, it’s important we explain things simply and clearly. We do this whilst looking at 2 screens, numerous programs, documents, pop up chat notifications, taking notes and reviewing documents, there’s enough going on on-screen and adding video in the mix is one distraction too many.

I often need to look at different screens, either to take notes or look something up whilst on a call, but then I find myself having to apologise for turning away from the camera, so that I don’t appear rude for not paying attention to the person speaking. Something I don’t have to worry about with the camera off.

Getting caught out whilst not looking presentable:

I’m one of these people that can’t go out in public without generally making myself look like I haven’t just rolled out of bed. In F2F meetings, I would make an extra effort to look a bit more professional. Nowadays, I quite often don’t see any fellow humans for days on end, so I don’t tend to make as much of an effort just to work from home! 

With the camera on and camera off debate, I find myself dreading someone may ask me “would you mind turning your camera on so we can see you?”….I’m thinking...*you really don’t want to see this face right now* So what do you say to that? Is admitting you don’t want to enough? Is it a bad look to say you don’t feel presentable?

Whilst I can appreciate that the suit and tie get-up works for many people, encouraging them to adopt a certain work vibe, how presentable I look does not affect my ability to do my job, but it does influence my decision on whether I want to be visible that day.

Conclusion

My day job is not hindered by my face being seen or unseen. I’m also fortunate that I’m able to do my job from most places, providing there is access to the interweb. I’d love to just be able to say “I’m working from home today” and for people to understand that means it’s ok to be camera-off. It is my choice whether or not I want to put my face and my camera on, and this may change depending on how I feel that day. So I'm voting camera-off. 

What About You? Are You Camera-On Or Camera-Off?

 

Written by Steph Yeates, Operations Manager at ISQ Crowdfunding

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