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When to Turn Your Camera On or Off During Virtual Meetings

Make the right impression by learning about camera etiquette and best practices for your next meeting.

It’s your Wednesday morning virtual team meeting and you’re the last person to hop on the call. Your coworker Chantal says a few words before realizing that her microphone has been off the entire time. Your subordinate John reviews last week’s deliverables on camera while his two cats wrestle with each other in the background for all to see. Your intern is also on the call, but has their camera and microphone off. You realize as the meeting comes to a close that you didn’t hear their voice once.

Let’s face it: alongside the most pressing issues of the past few years, we’ve all wondered how we’re supposed to interact in the virtual workspace. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, questions like, “Do I have to wear a blazer during my virtual meeting?” or “Is it appropriate for me to conduct a performance review from my couch?” have been top of mind. Video call etiquette is the new in-person meeting etiquette, and many of us are still getting used to the emojis that have replaced in-person sighs and smiles. 

Let’s discuss camera etiquette and how we can use this function to improve team communication in remote workspaces. 

Benefits of keeping your camera on 

1 Fosters a connection between attendees

It’s quite simple: it’s nice to have a face-to-face conversation with whomever you’re meeting with, even if it’s virtual. Some of us would love the opportunity to collaborate in person with our teammates again in the traditional office environment, but using tools like Zoom and Teams are our next best thing. As humans, we’re hardwired to connect with each other. By keeping your camera on, it shows that you’re interested, engaged, and listening to others on the call. Alternatively, keeping your camera off during every virtual meeting indicates disconnect. 

Keep it engaging

Regardless is the cameras are on or off, you want to have an engaging meeting. Start off by creating a meeting agenda with a clear purpose so attendees know what to expect. Try a tool like Fellow!

2 Promotes participation and engagement  

We all have that one coworker who always keeps their camera off during virtual meetings. They’re likely the same coworker who rarely participates during these calls. When you can see each member of your team, it’s easier to call on them to hear their ideas or ask questions. If you’re prone to multitasking, keeping your camera on may also keep you focused on the meeting objectives. 

3 Shows non-verbal cues

Head shakes and smiles can go a long way in helping you determine how your team feels about an upcoming project. According to Forbes, many powerful leaders have recognized that non-verbal cues including body language make up 55% of all communication. Humans use body language to relate to one another. To gain our peers’ trust, we need them to be comfortable around us. When you leave your camera on, your personality can shine through and you can use non-verbal cues to your advantage. 

Benefits of turning your camera off 

1 Reduces “Zoom fatigue”

Despite the comfort of your own home, remote work can feel exhausting. If you feel the constant need to focus on your expressions and how others are perceiving you, you may be suffering from “Zoom fatigue.” Avoid burnout by examining your calendar each day and choosing for which calls you should have your camera on. For example, you may need to have your camera on for a feedback conversation with your employee but not for your company-wide training session later in the day. 

2 Respects boundaries 

Perhaps you live in a studio apartment and don’t want your boss to see what your bedroom and kitchen look like. Or maybe you have concerns about privacy and would rather your team not see the large, identifiable landmark outside your window in the background. When setting up your workspace, make sure you have one area that works for video calls. If this isn’t possible, have a conversation with your team and supervisor about how you’ll engage during meetings with your camera off. 

3 Redirects the focus to the meeting agenda 

We’ve all temporarily neglected the meeting agenda to peek at our own reflection in the front-camera. When we’re preoccupied with our colleagues’ expressions or our own appearance, we may be less focused on our outlined action items and objectives. If you believe it will help you better focus on the task at hand, turn your camera off and get down to business.

When to turn your camera on or off 

Camera on if:

1 You’re the meeting facilitator

If you called the meeting, your camera should be on. As the meeting facilitator, you should be welcoming folks onto the call, engaging with participants, and indicating that you’re listening to questions and feedback with your body language. If you’re giving a presentation, act as if you were delivering it in person. Attendees should be interested in the content you’re delivering. The easiest way to grab their attention is by showing your smiling face and shared screen, rather than having your colleagues stare at another black meeting square. 

2 It’s your first time meeting the attendees 

Keep your camera on the first time you meet new attendees to nail the first impression. In addition to participating in the conversation and maintaining open body language, you’ll show that you’re a committed team player who’s ready to work hard and collaborate with your on-camera presentation. It can be nerve wracking meeting for the first time in a virtual space, but remember that tools like Zoom, Teams, and Google Meet are meant to replicate features of the modern office environment. 

3 You want to show that you’re paying attention

Show your team that you care about the topic of discussion by participating in the conversation using non-verbal cues like hand gestures, smiles, and nods throughout your call. Using these cues is especially important if you’re being delegated work or are receiving important instructions about a new task. If you need to have your camera off during this type of call, let the other attendees know you’re actively listening by using features like a virtual thumbs-up, or by raising your hand to ask questions throughout the conversation. 

4 You’re comfortable with your environment and yourself 

If the sun is shining, you’re in an excellent mood, and your space is clean and distraction free, why not turn on your camera? You know your environment better than anyone. If you feel like your excitement regarding a company-wide initiative will shine through if your colleagues can see your face, use the camera-on function to your advantage. Sometimes our warm demeanor can make others’ day better too. 

Camera off if: 

1 You’re attending to listen to the discussion 

Virtual company-wide meetings or discussion panels provide the perfect opportunity to attend with your camera off. If the purpose of the meeting is to learn about a new topic, you’ll be able to take important notes and better process ideas without disturbing others. You also won’t have to apologize when you step across the room to pour yourself another cup of coffee. Some organizations may even encourage you to keep your camera off during large meetings, as seeing dozens of humans on your screen may distract from the main speakers. 

2 You aren’t required to make an impression

If you work in a field like sales or customer success, making a great impression is likely critical to your success at work. However, if you work behind the scenes in a role that requires you to interact only with your team and manager, having a bold background and formal presentation may be less imperative. You don’t want to get stuck in a routine of keeping your camera off for every meeting, but you also shouldn’t feel obligated to keep it on if it will lead to “Zoom fatigue” and make you less productive during the rest of your day. 

3 You feel under the weather

Sometimes the most effective workdays involve working in your pajamas on your couch, and that’s totally okay! If you aren’t feeling your best and know that your presentation on camera will make you less confident than usual, don’t stress. Seeing ourselves in the “Zoom room” can increase self-evaluation. If you’re prone to overanalyzing your appearance or background, keep your camera off to relieve some pressure. 

4 You’re in a distracting environment 

We’ve all had messy days. If you’re looking around your home workspace and realize the background of your virtual meeting will consist of dirty dishes, kid’s toys, and laundry, it’s probably best to keep the camera off. Being on camera while having to look professional, share your home with your team, and present a clean background is a lot. Resist the urge to make it seem like your home is child, pet, or partner free. You deserve boundaries between work and your personal life. Turning your camera off while working in a distracting environment can be a great start. 

Flex your camera etiquette expertise

Virtual meeting etiquette can feel impossible. Just when it seems like you’ve mastered the digital worksphere, you may have one off work day from home that makes you feel a bit of imposter syndrome. Don’t let camera etiquette add unnecessary stress to your plate. Combat inattention, restless multitasking, and “Zoom fatigue” by accessing the meeting format, communicating boundaries, and doing what works for you. When in doubt, follow your manager and peers’ lead. Remember, no one is ever going to be upset about seeing your smiling face on their screen during their next call.

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Brier Cook

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