How to Get People to Turn On Their Camera

“I can’t get people on my team to turn on their cameras.”  That was a complaint that surfaced in Lisette Sutherland’s great Work Together Anywhere workshop I attended recently (see, www.CollaborationSuperpowers.com).  This participant wants to see her colleagues but cannot convince them to turn on their cameras.  Lisette had us do a quick brainstorm of solutions (attached at the bottom of this post) and followed up with a podcast of her advice (https://www.collaborationsuperpowers.com/podcasts/; episode 293).  Should we require that cameras be turned on?  Cameras-off is a common occurrence but the right answer to the question of cameras-on is not straightforward.

To unravel the answer for yourself start by considering the benefits of cameras-on.  The most obvious is, of course, that we can see each other to connect, observe body language, and watch reactions.  This non-verbal information improves communication. 

Another benefit is that cameras-on improves interest and engagement.  Research shows that the major reasons people turn their cameras off include multitasking, feeling like the meeting isn’t interesting, or believing they don’t have a significant role in the meeting.  According to Lisette’s experience, multitasking was most likely to happen in large or long meetings.

While there are many benefits from cameras-on there are some understandable explanations for cameras-off.  The one that most people can relate to is fatigue.  Long hours staring at your computer screen is wearing.  It could be simple eye fatigue, discomfort from sitting too long, information overload, or fatigue that accompanies being passive for too long.  In my experience, the crazy-busy schedules of people today increase the temptation for cameras-off.  After all, meeting participants asked to keep up with their ‘normal’ workload are now being asked to add a proliferation of online meetings into their already over-full schedules.  An obvious solution for crazy-busy syndrome is to try and do two things at once, especially if the cameras are off.  So, recognize that there are various causes of cameras-off and they should not be underestimated. 

It is good to pause here and consider, how do we want the people attending our virtual meetings to feel?  If we want them to feel supported and autonomous perhaps that personal discretion extends to whether or not they turn on their camera.  However, if cameras-on is what you need, you have some options.

One size does not fit all.  If you want the office norm to be cameras-on it is good to first learn why people do not want to do it.  Interventions are much easier to plan if you have a diagnosis of what’s going on.  And don’t assume that the reason is the same for everybody.  Instead, ask or survey your team to find out.

Setting a new norm.  If a cameras-on culture shift is needed, then setting peer-to-peer expectations about cameras on or off might be a good intervention.  I once had success by having a team discuss their expectations from each other.  That conversation led to an informal contract among the team members. 

Reduce meeting time.  If the complaint is about too much time in online meetings shorten the sessions, add more breaks, or break a long meeting into several short meetings. 

Beat background distractions.  If people are worried about distracting things going on in their background, coaching on how to manage their background settings is an easy fix. 

An obvious tip—design better meetings.  Good meeting design promotes good meeting behaviors.  If your meetings let people sit back and be passive you are inviting cameras off.  Meetings that provide creative thinking, discussion, debate, information sharing, problem-solving, and active decision making are meetings that encourage cameras-on.  Redesign your meetings for engagement by making them more interactive. 

Set an example.  Encourage cameras on by example, but do so with patience.  You’re not going to convince people right away.  Show the value of doing it by role modeling.  Then start asking people to follow your modeling.  I hope I’ve given you some ideas to think about and some tips for moving forward.  But the correct answer about cameras-on or -off is, it depends.  A good start is to have that conversation with your team about their expectations for the kind of camera culture they want with their peers—one that supports effective working relationships.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas to think about and some tips for moving forward.  But the correct answer about cameras-on or -off is, it depends.  A good start is to have that conversation with your team about their expectations for the kind of camera culture they want with their peers—one that supports effective working relationships.

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