am I being unprofessional on video calls?

A reader writes:

A little over a year ago, I started to work for a government agency in a very niche field. I started this job straight out of grad school, and there was certainly an adjustment period going from academia to an office job. Since starting, I feel like I have more than adjusted and have been receiving great feedback.

Unfortunately, in late February I was diagnosed with a chronic and progressive condition that often leaves me in debilitating pain. Getting medical attention during the pandemic was challenging, and March to early June were easily the worst months of my life. The first medication I was put on made me violently ill every day, and extremely depressed. My very busy field season also happens to be in April and May, while I was on this medication. I would be working 12-hour days from our field office in horrific pain, while periodically running to the bathroom to throw up. It was HORRIBLE. However, I managed to stay on top of my work, and overall am happy with how our season turned out. I am finally off the first medication, and while I am still in pain, I am no longer feeling as depressed or nauseous.

Now that my field season is over, I am working remotely for the duration of this pandemic. Several times a week I need to be on video calls, and I am wondering if I am coming off as unprofessional in these meetings.

First, it’s currently extremely uncomfortable for me to be sitting at a desk all day, so I am often working from my couch and propping myself up with several pillows. When on video calls, I put my laptop on a pillow on my lap, and in the background you can clearly see the pillows propping me up. Most others on the call seem to be sitting at a desk or table, while I am clearly not.

Second, when the pain gets really horrible, I can’t help but cry. There are some days that I am crying so much that my eyes start swelling, and my overall appearance is disheveled. I haven’t even bothered with makeup in months, because I would likely cry it right off. On these days I do not turn on my camera. Almost everyone else has their camera on unless they are calling in via phone.

My manager is aware of my situation and has been supportive. I’ve even texted him before meetings explaining that I would be unable to turn on my camera. However, I can’t help but feel like I am coming off as unprofessional or lazy. Some of these meetings have upwards of 20-30 people and frequently involve other agencies. I want to keep good working relationships with contacts from these other agencies for future job opportunities. I am concerned that I am ruining my good reputation by looking disheveled and clearly not sitting at a desk during these meetings, or by neglecting to turn on my camera at all. Should I suck it up and sit at a desk for a few hours a day? Or am I overthinking it?

I’m sorry, this sounds like an awful time!

In any halfway reasonable environment, not having your camera on won’t ruin your reputation. Lots of people have reasons for not turning their cameras on, like that they’re not in a private location or their bandwidth doesn’t support it.

Is it possible for you to leave your camera off altogether, not just on the days when you’ve been crying? If you can, that might be the best solution.

While I’d love to say it’s fine to be seen leaning against pillows on a work video call, the reality is it might not be. If you were on a small team where everyone knew the situation and your work quality, I wouldn’t worry about it as much. But since these are large calls with people from other agencies who you don’t know well and who won’t have the context, I worry it will read as too chilled out and not professional (as opposed to what it really is, which is someone powering through work while in a lot of discomfort).

If it’s possible to do the calls in a position where you don’t appear to be lying down — without you having to tolerate discomfort — I would try to do that. You said the discomfort comes from sitting at a desk all day, so maybe shorter stints sitting up are an option. But if they’re not, they’re not; the answer is not “you just need to be in physical pain.”

Alternately, you could explore whether there are other set-ups that won’t read quite so “lounging in bed” to people who don’t know the context. Could you swap the bed pillows for couch pillows? Or might a more comfortable chair help?

But if none of this works, I’d just keep the camera off. Explain to your boss that while he knows the situation and that you’re working, other people on the call don’t and you’re wary of coming across unprofessionally. Say that as long as you need to be reclining, you’re going to keep your camera off.

Do what you have to do to take care of yourself! And it’s okay not to stream it all on video.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 221 comments… read them below }

    1. Former call centre worker*

      I never do video for meetings and nobody’s said a thing about it. Apart from not wanting to have to look professional when I’m lounging on the sofa where I work, my sofa is in front of a large window, so if I do turn the camera on, all anyone can see is a silhouette of my head. OP, if you find you can’t get away with cameras off, position a light source behind yourself and nobody will be able to see how professional or otherwise you look.

      1. valentine*

        Have you considered just calling in? Remove any worries about video at all.
        Yes. You won’t be alone and you’ll get back all the time you’re spending worried about this.

        But do you not have any kind of PTO you can use or the ability to work short stints? The constant pain sounds like torture.

      2. Elenna*

        Yes, I never do video either, and almost nobody has commented on it, except my grandboss (we had a team meeting and he wanted to connect by seeing people’s faces), and he was fine with it when I said (truthfully) that my bandwidth was bad enough that it was causing my computer to completely freeze up and need to be restarted. Obviously bandwidth isn’t LW’s issue, but it’s an easy enough non-medical excuse to use if anyone asks.

        1. Intermittent Introvert*

          My volunteer position encourages people to avoid video during meetings if they have bandwidth issues. Nobody cares if we can see them.

          1. SecretASD*

            Maybe I’m the only one who it bothers, but as someone with a hidden disability (high-functioning autism), I have been finding it super difficult to be on frequent calls with no video. In regular conversation, I lip-read and also look for facial expressions to help follow along in conversation. Voice-only is absolutely exhausting, and since I don’t want to reveal my disability I can’t really ask people to turn their video on.

            Please everyone, I know there are legit reasons (like today’s letter-writer and people with bandwidth issues), but if you are just keeping video off because it makes you a little uncomfortable, please consider that it might be having a negative impact on others.

            1. Blj531*

              In many meetings I will turn on video when I speak. You don’t need to see me listening but it is easier to see a person speaking

    2. MCL*

      I almost never have video on any more. My go-to excuse (which is usually true) is that it strains my internet and makes the call choppy. Nobody has minded. Unless there’s a culture of “everyone always has a camera on,” I vote for just turning your camera off.

      1. Artemesia*

        And if for some reason video is necessary for a particular call do a virtual background that looks more professional. Take a picture of your bookcase and load that, or choose a professional looking standard background. With a little care to how you adjust the pillows behind you, they can disappear into the background or not show.

        1. Betty*

          I was going to make the same suggestion about trying a virtual background, if you’re using a video app that supports that.

        2. Evan Þ.*

          Yes – but test it out first. A couple people on my team use virtual backgrounds, and it’s very obvious they’re virtual backgrounds thanks to how the outlines of their shirts can look choppy. It’s completely okay for us, and I think most of the time it’d be okay on a larger call with higher professionalism, but there’re still enough glitches that I’d test it first with the specific shirt and virtual background you plan to be using.

          1. t.i.a.s.p.*

            I’ve been on a couple zoom meetings for a large volunteer organization. One of the high mucky mucks always has a virtual background that is the organization logo on a blue background. Perfectly appropriate.

            1. Rkt*

              Yeah, isn’t everyone doing this? My company had our designer make several branded Zoom backgrounds.

          2. Happily Self Employed*

            If my City Council members and other local officials can use obviously fake Zoom virtual backgrounds, I don’t see why other people can’t get away with it. I’ve been on a lot of Zoom panel discussions with experts and it’s really common: the default Zoom backgrounds, vacation photos, photos of their workplace (office or exterior). I even see electeds calling in from their cars (presumably they have noisy children and/or pets indoors).

            The video processing seems to cancel out anything stationary, such as chair backs. It might make the pillows disappear, unless they’re moving from being leaned on while squishy. However, you probably want to test this on a call to your office or a friend, because not everyone can get virtual backgrounds to work. I have no problems on a 2011 iMac and crummy DSL, but other people I know say they can’t do it. Some setups may require a green screen.

    3. azvlr*

      My SO is disabled and resides in bed directly behind me while I work. I created a screen out of PVC and fabric for calls that I want to use video on. It takes a few minutes to set up, so on other more impromptu calls, I don’t turn video. It’s never been a question since I’m otherwise available when people try to reach me, so they know I’m not slacking.

      1. Artemesia*

        does the platform you use not have virtual background capability? That total blocks out un professional backgrounds like bedroom furniture, others in the home, clutter etc.

        1. justme*

          Great suggestions! Yes, depending on the platform you can even just blur your background, which many people do (like myself) who aren’t dealing with what you are but just don’t like to look at cluttered background, or have a spouse accidentally walk by in the background in their underwear, etc. Some people like to use these backgrounds to be creative and mix things up.

          All this to say, I think you can make use of some of these and nobody will be the wiser.

          I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this!

        2. Howard Bannister*

          If the background you’re trying to block out includes things that might move — like a spouse, say — that might not work, as the software will try to guess at what might be your hand, say; for true privacy, an actual physical barrier is a must.

          1. Judy*

            What a terrible situation. I am returning to work after cancer treatment and also have lots of video calls. We have a culture of having video on. I use virtual backgrounds extensively. I have a large arm chair that’s comfortable and I’ve staged with a bookcase behind that looks OK on video too. I have tools there to help me look more professional- a hat for my bald head, a bright lipstick to brighten my face, a mirror – so if I run out of time and need to hop on a call quickly I feel OK. Hope things improve.

          2. Long-time reader*

            They said “blurred background”, which is different. I use it for MS Teams calls (ridiculous manager *required* us to all be on video starting on day one of wfh) and blurs everything in the background. Easy peasy.

        3. Yorick*

          Those backgrounds seem to work best when you’re in front of a solid color wall.

        4. JasperJ*

          Artificial backgrounds are not even remotely good enough to cover up a partially clothed other person behind you in bed. 98% of the frames being erased isn’t good enough for that.

          1. azvlr*

            I tried using the virtual background on Zoom, but it needs a plain background in order to work. As I mentioned further up the thread, I have a screen for this, but it takes a few minutes to set up. My webcam can see him, the TV, my bathroom door and some questionably-safe-for-work-art. And lately, I’m not always the most presentable for video meetings anyway. All of this adds up to no video on most calls.

            1. Tidewater 4-1009*

              The times I’ve seen virtual backgrounds on zoom – for volunteer meetings – they were weird. There was one where my coordinator’s arm kept disappearing into the San Francisco bay. Another one was of a snowy cliff behind one of the volunteers and her hair kept disappearing into it.
              Unless you’re using a more robust video program, I wouldn’t count on virtual backgrounds for anything. A physical screen is good, I’ve seen that and it works well. Get a folding screen and you can just fold it and put it aside when not using.
              If the OP can’t just turn off video, maybe some couch cushions or a neutral-colored blanket over the pillows?

          1. Happily Self Employed*

            My local electeds use them even though there are weird glitches like arms disappearing or hair being cropped oddly.

            Apparently I have really good hardware for it, because I can sit in front of my messy kitchen and change it into a big wave from the Mac screensaver set.

            I also forgot to mention some of the electeds like to use a backdrop with their city or agency logo. Presumably it’s a computer screensafer/background graphic.

    4. JJ*

      I’m so sorry, this sounds awful! I have regular calls with people who have the camera on to say hello, then turn it off once the meeting starts. Maybe you could “hello” from a “respectable” background (it’s lame that this can’t be the couch) then turn your camera and mic off and move back to comfytown for the rest?

    5. Elizabeth West*

      Yeah, that should be fine; as long as everyone can hear OP and see the materials she presents, I know I wouldn’t have any problem with it. Sometimes people black out the video because they just don’t have a good space with an innocuous background or there’s clutter they can’t do anything about, etc.

      We’re all making adjustments right now. It wouldn’t bother me one bit.

    6. Mama Bear*

      My office doesn’t use video for varied reasons, including bandwidth. Having voice only meetings may not be the standard in your office, but I think it’s a reasonable accommodation. If you are having an otherwise OK day, what about a back support cushion like you might have in a car or office chair? It would look less like you’re lounging. That said, I’d still opt for no video first.

    7. ann*

      Another vote for this. I have a direct report, who I am relatively close to, who never turns her video on. I told her it didn’t matter to me but I wondered why, and she said she didn’t like it, she felt she looked bad due to a combination of not being as put together (makeup and hair, which she didn’t want to feel she needed to do at home) and bad lighting in her designated office. So then she got distracted looking at her own self in horror rather than paying attention to the meeting. So she just turned the camera off.

      Nobody cares. So I would suggest trying to determine whether video is really even a requirement for your participation and, if not, turn off your camera consistently or just switch to calling in by phone.

    8. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Back in the days when I had a job, I sometimes had to work from home when my disabilities flared up. After a few…comments about how my boss could see my bedposts on a video call (spinal injury, I can’t even get dressed without help on bad days) I just used a static image from my security pass as me and went voice-only.

      I dare say I looked rough as hell too. No makeup, hair brushed by husband, weeping eyes from the strong pain meds!

      I’m having the same problem now that I’m looking for work and places are asking for video interviews. If it occurs on a bad day I may have to say that the video camera on my laptop has broken and just go voice only.

  1. TechWorker*

    I think you actually lose quite a lot in terms of relationship building if you’re not on camera and others are – it can make you seem less approachable even if that’s not fair! So I’m not sure I totally agree with the advice (is it better to look ‘unprofessional’ to those you don’t know you vs miss out on face to face interaction?).

    Is there any way to set up your camera so you basically just see neck up? Or to use a virtual background? I feel like turning off your camera when you can’t face it and have had a bad day is totally sensible and reasonable, but turning it off *all* the time might be less good for you professionally than the downsides of being on camera looking ‘not perfect’.

    1. mdv*

      My laptop “best” angle for working… shows my head from chin up and a LOT of my ceiling… Not sure that’s better, but at least you’d be present. However, there is a lot to be said for the virtual background, if that works for you.

      1. lisa*

        +1 to the virtual background suggestion. I take work calls from my bed all the time, because my fiance and I live in a one-bedroom apartment and have our desks only a couple feet apart so we can hear each other if we have simultaneous meetings unless one of us moves to the bedroom. I think lots of people have to deal with living situations like this, so having to take calls from a bed/couch should be totally fine! Having the virtual background helps so much, no one can really tell.

        1. Daffy Duck*

          Yup, I use a virtural background when I have to use video and so do the majority of my coworkers. Some of them are personalized (close up of flowers in the backyard or pets) but most of us use a generic.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Virtual background doesn’t work on all computers/setups. I have an old computer and I can only get virtual background working well if it’s in my bedroom, against a white wall, with a light specially set up RIGHT above my laptop. This is a pain in the arse, so I don’t do it for work. If OP’s computer doesn’t handle that well, it may not be an issue.

      1. Important Moi*

        I was going to mention this. The unstated assumption is that everyone has a computer that is capable of that, that is not always the case, for whatever reason.

      2. Me*

        It’s also worth a word of caution on type of background. While some employers may be fine with something personal or fun, it may not be acceptable at others and seen as less than professional or distracting as well. When in doubt a neutral background is probably a safe choice over pets or as my ex boss did once a mountain outdoor scene.

        1. nymitz*

          I love that you can download pictures of nebulae from Hubble and other sources – my virtual background has me floating in space!

          OP, I also work for a government agency, and sometimes work with people in other agencies. I’ve found that video culture varies by agency. For example, in mine, we have started specifying whether a meeting will be video-required if possible, video-optional, or video-not expected. Most meetings are video-optional and I use the audio only, both because I have signal strength issues and because I like to walk on my treadmill while on conference calls. I make an effort to set myself up close to the router for video-required calls, but that means working from the living room couch, not from my home office, so it’s a trade-off.

          So far I have found that being one of a few people on the phone for meetings with other agencies that default to video-required has not been a problem, and has not impacted our work together. We’re not located in the same part of the country so pre-COVID these would have been conference calls without video anyway, because we didn’t have video capability from our office.

      3. bubbleon*

        Portable green screens are an option, my computer won’t work with a virtual background if i’m against a white wall but I got a round green screen that attaches to the back of my chair and it can tell the difference. It wasn’t too expensive, and it’s been a lifesaver on some days when there’s more going on behind me or i just haven’t been bothered to make the bed.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          $8 bucks on ebay. I looked into it before my company asked us to turn off video due to VPN overload.

      4. Tupac Coachella*

        I suspect I’m in the minority, but I kinda hate virtual backgrounds. I’d rather have a plain wall or even a reasonably uncluttered living space than a background picture. They are so distracting to me, especially if the person is an animated talker- occasionally a hand disappears into the background, or a random thing in the actual background pops in without warning. I probably wouldn’t pay much attention to OP’s pillows at all. Unless someone’s space is especially messy or unusual, I usually stop paying attention to what’s behind them as soon as the actual business starts.

        Unless there’s dogs. I always watch the dogs.

        1. TechWorker*

          You could choose a room that looks like a home office or a blank wall *as* your virtual background. (But yes, I take the point not all software/hardware supports them)

      5. Yorick*

        Yes, for example, the Zoom app for Chromebook doesn’t support virtual backgrounds (unless they added it super recently)

    3. Gav*

      All else equal, camera might be better – but I have coworkers who are NOT approachable even though they are on camera, and plenty of coworkers who are engaging and present even though they are not on camera (they just have their headshot or initials showing). It’s totally okay to leave your camera off if that’s what best for your personal equation. Some people will be MORE engaging and approachable off camera because they won’t be self-conscious.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Yeah, I’d just keep the camera off or put some masking tape on the computer’s camera.

    4. Mazzy*

      Yeah, I’d hate to agree, but we are in the process of being sold some expensive equipment, and I don’t even remember what one of the company’s names is. I keep having to look them up. I don’t know who demoed the software to us. I just heard alot of voices on a zoom that sounded the same and had the same intonations, etc. which made it harder to even know who said what. I think one of them emailed me but it got lost between the cold call emails and actual emails. Unlike the other companies that at least give me a few minutes of camera.

      IMO I’d turn on the camera for a few minutes at a time. That’s what I see other people doing anyway, they are in and out of video and on and off mute. It’s pretty normal.

      But if someone is on mute and no video the entire time, I assume they’re just listening in the background, because that’s what the case usually is, from experience.

      1. EGA*

        +10 for a virtual background!

        Most of the c-suite at my company use virtual backgrounds (we even were able to set up a virtual background that is our logo across plain background) and they use it regularly in internal and external meetings to maintain certain levels of privacy.

    5. Me*

      Perhaps it’s industry or employer or even meeting specific because this is not the case for at my employer (government). Having a camera off is assumed to be a function of environment or ability and no one bats an eye. Especially in larger meetings, like op is describing, you can’t possibly see everyone at once with most software.

      As long as the person talking announces themselves, which doesn’t happen a lot on video and frankly i don’t always know who everyone is so by looks.

      Many of the virtual backgrounds I have seen look exactly like fake backgrounds. Having chunks of their head go missing as they shift in their seat is surely no less distracting than someone simply not having a camera on.

    6. Mbarr*

      +1 to the virtual background AND neck up ideas
      I know MS Teams quietly introduced backgrounds, so if you guys use that, good on you.
      Silly question, but can other working positions help you? E.g. Standing up? I used to experience cramping back pains when I sat too long, but standing alleviated it. Conversely, after a major accident, suddenly I could *only* sit in upright chairs without pain.

      Best of luck OP. I’ve experience chronic pain for 3 months once and it was shocking how I didn’t realize how bad I was till after the pain went away. You’re amazing for finding coping methods!

    7. Mama Bear*

      This is very office dependent, IMO. Also given the extreme nature of the pain, I think OP would feel much more comfortable (and productive) not using video. Better to have the camera off than be distracted trying not to cry in front of the team. This is way more than a bad hair day.

    8. Emma*

      Yeah, virtual background was my first thought too. One of my coworkers used one the other day and it looked like she was in a high-rise building. It was pretty cool actually.

    9. Jeanne*

      I have a photo of head, neck and shoulders that comes up when I turn my video off. Lots of people take some time to realise that it’s not actually me!!

  2. MistOrMister*

    I assumed OP is sitting when on the couch, just with a lot of pillows around in order to add to their comfort level. In that instance, I would think it would be ok if people see the pillows. I had pillow at work that I used as back support and I can’t imagine anyone had a problem with that. I see pillows while sitting on the couch as the same thing. However, if OP is actually lying down, then yeah I can see how that would come off oddly/unprofessionally.

    OP you have my sincere sympathies. I had an issue that causef a lot of running to the restroom, due to either nausea or intestinal distress. Working while nauseated is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. Throwing serious pain on top of that…..I don’t know how you managed. If working from home makes things easier on you, hopefully you could continue doing so even if your office re-opens.

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, I think sitting up vs laying down and couch pillows vs bed pillows make big differences here. I wouldn’t think that much about a coworker being in the couch with some couch pillows behind them… probably would just assume that’s the best space for them to do video calls given web connectivity or other ppl in the house. But if it looks like you were sleeping on the couch with pillows and blankets or something, that would seem odd, and I’d probably just leave the camera off.

      But for a 20+ person, interagency zoom I wouldn’t worry about having a camera on anyway. I generally think it’s pretty distracting to see that many faces on a screen, and it doesn’t sound like OP is leading the meeting, where it may make more sense to want to be visible.

    2. Aquawoman*

      She could also consider throwing a blanket that matches the couch over the pillows and that might make it look like she’s just sitting on her couch.

      1. nnn*

        That’s what I was thinking. A lot of people keep a blanket or throw of some sort on their couch, so that would make it look more couch-like without having to change your specific pillow set-up. It wouldn’t even have to match the couch, because a lot of people use an accent colour for their couch throw, but it would look far more couch-like than bed pillows would.

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      It honestly breaks my heart that you’ve had to work through such agonizing health problems, and I am in awe that you managed to keep on top of your work for 12-hour on-site days in such a condition. My own chronic health problems have done serious damage to my career and are not nearly as bad.

      No one should have to do that. (I mean, I understand if you are making a choice to do so, but no one should be *required* to.) It’s time for universal, non-penalized, financially secure medical leave for everyone regardless of job or length of job tenure. (FMLA screws over temps and people in industries where frequent job changes or layoffs are the norm, and independent contractors – or “independent contractors” – aren’t eligible.

      It’s also time to quadruple the criminally low pittance we pay to people on disability, and make the process of getting it fast and easy. Fraudsters (who are relatively uncommon) can be dealt with after the fact.

    4. Sue*

      I’ve been working from my couch this whole time because we have a small apartment and there’s two of us working from home full time now. I would absolutely not worry about being on your couch – many people are. I have thrown a nice throw blanket in back of the couch behind me sometimes, but really, don’t worry about this part of it.

  3. Anon Anon*

    I work with a lot of people who only turn their camera’s on when they are speaking, and/or who keep their camera’s off because of bandwidth issues. Given that so many people now are working from home, bandwidth issues for some people are huge. And I know in very large meetings (10-15+ people) I keep my camera off when I’m not speaking. Especially on Zoom when you have so many people on a call you can barely make them out anyway, so I don’t feel like anyone is missing out on a lot. The only time I keep my camera on all the time is when I’m in a small group meeting when seeing someone’s face is important. So perhaps that would be an option?

    1. HatBeing*

      I concur with this! Admittedly I work at a very casual company and have taken many video calls from the couch and I have zero medical issues that necessitate it. No one has said anything! I would also frame it as an accommodation if anyone brings it up.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Put up a nice profile picture and turn your video off. I doubt anyone will say anything since people do have bandwidth issues and an aversion to having video on for a variety of reasons. Do what you need to do to be comfortable!

  4. cheeky*

    I’m so glad that there’s no expectation or preference that people have their cameras turned on for conference calls at my company. In fact, it’s discouraged because of bandwidth limitations that can cause lags. I really don’t understand why it’s necessary to see people in their homes.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      I have one manager who chirps and cajoles until all the cameras are on. I have come to despise her.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        I would want to stab her. I seriously get angry when I go to some online event and people start saying, “We want to see your beautiful/smiling faces!” Fuck you, I’ve cried on Zoom in public and I HATE IT, I don’t WANT camera on all the time, dammit.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        Ugh. Speaking of shitgoblins. (Which, all I want in life is to one day call someone that to their face).

        Like, look, lady, my house is a wreck, my cat has an oozing eye infection, my hair looks like one whole dreadlock, I need to do laundry so I’m still in pajamas, and I’m way undercaffeinated. Can we just not?

        I’m usually not susceptible to peer pressure. This lady would hate me.

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      Yes I think the whole thing is so weird. I feel so…. Intrusive… When I see people’s bedrooms in the back of their video. Even though it’s not my fault I just want to look away.

      I have to be honest though, I think even with couch pillows, taking calls from the couch looks unprofessional to me. And not just to me. I was once horrified to be cajoled into showing my webcam while I was set up on the couch, and then everyone teases me about how “oh, I see, you didn’t want your camera on so we couldn’t see you were phoning it in today” so…

      1. TechWorker*

        I agree being able to see people’s houses is weird. I think if a call is by default voice only that’s fine – but if most people are on video and you are not, you *are* disadvantaged in the discussion. Not because anyone is doing it deliberately but because it’s easier to understand and interact with someone when you see their facial expressions and body language as well as voice. (Regardless of whether I or anyone else thinks that’s a good thing – but that’s why I don’t necessarily agree with the advice, feels a bit like by taking it LW could just run into different problems)

    3. Nonny*

      My work asked that we did and at first I absolutely hated it, but I’ve come to be a little grateful. We actually have fewer instances of people trying to talk over someone, and as someone who is a little quieter, people are more likely to see that I’ve opened my mouth to speak or say “Sorry I interrupted, Nonny you were about to say something?”

      Not to mention having my camera on means I need to keep my workspace clean, and having a clean office reduces my stress significantly.

      1. MissMeghan*

        I like it for that too. And it’s also nice to see the nonverbal agreement or disagreement from people. Head nods and shakes, thumbs up, etc. make it feel much more interactive than just a conference call, and when I’m leading it feels much less like talking into the void. That said, we don’t even ask on our calls why someone doesn’t have their video on and trust that there’s a reason they cannot. I think if the camera’s off, participation becomes more important to show you’re engaged in the call, but other than that I’m fine with a couple dark screens.

  5. MSW*

    I had a former colleague who was in a similar position, and almost never used video. No one in our company ever came to us and said, “Hey listen, “Monica” isn’t going to use video…” we all just picked up on the fact that she never turned it on and it was a non-issue. I like Alison’s idea of just leaving it off all the time. In my example above, we all just assumed that she had worked something out with her manager because she NEVER used video even when everyone else was. If it only happens sometimes, it seems more like a casual, “Ehh I just don’t feel like it…” thing.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      +1 to this. I *really* hope that ‘all video all the time’ is not the norm, because I never video. I have my icon up, with a picture of myself (smiling, professional), so people can see my face, it’s just not moving. Looks *waaaay* better than ‘no haircut for 5mo and counting’ me anyway.

      In any meeting > 10 people, I’d think all the video would be counterproductive. I know for our big meetings, we’re encouraged to save bandwidth and use icons unless we’re presenting. I’d say maybe 30% of my meetings have anyone on video.

    2. Just Me*

      Seconding this. I worked from bed for almost a full year due to a couple of nasty injuries. No one ever questioned why I didn’t have my camera on, even if they didn’t know about my situation. I think most people will assume there’s a good reason you’re not on camera and let it go.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      I was forced to announce to my office that I wasn’t going to turn my camera on, openly in a staff meeting, because people kept asking why I wasn’t showing my smiling/beautiful face. I REALLY HATED THAT.

      I cry off and on throughout the day, I do not want to camera up at work. Period.

      Unfortunately, this is going to depend on your work culture.

      1. DarthVelma*

        My boss and I are about to go to war over this. I’ve given some surface level reasons I don’t want to be on video (no haircut in months, partner doing work covered by NDA in the same room). I feel like I’ve established a reasonable boundary and the fact that she keeps trying to bulldoze over it doesn’t make me inclined to talk to her about the more personal reasons I don’t want to be on video. (My eyes don’t focus on a single point very well. One or the other of them will drift. It’s very disconcerting for people to see. My own mother still finds it unsettling and she’s watched it happen for several decades now.)

        The worst part is that she can’t articulate a reason other than she “wants to see our faces”.

        She’s an extrovert and she’s suffering right now and I get that. But I feel like there are plenty of other staff more than happy to be on video with her, and her emotional/mental well-being should not count for more than mine. I’m not setting myself on fire to keep her warm.

        1. Mama Bear*

          I would consider pointing to “zoom fatigue” and also remind her that you are sharing space so no, you will not be sharing video.

        2. MissMeghan*

          If it were me I’d emphasize the NDA issue. I have some board members that are never able to use video because they’re working on proprietary materials in competitive industries, so they’re companies just don’t allow video on external calls. Even if you angle away from covered materials, mistakes happen, and a blanket no video rule offers the best protection and eliminates the possibility of mistakes.

  6. Mrs. Badcrumble*

    Can you upload a reasonably professional-looking picture of yourself to display, instead of the usual black screen? Lots of people I work with do that, especially because video can tax the wifi connection or their internet provider stinks, and some videoconference software are less reliable than others, . No one bats an eye.

    1. Properlike*

      Great idea! I saw that happen multiple times in an online board meeting today, and while I didn’t realize it at the time, I paid better attention to the speaker than when it was the standard anonymous background.

    2. Ginger*

      This exactly what I came to say.

      OP – focus on getting a great photo. It can be taken by yourself but a bright top, personal grooming on point… it can really make a difference when your camera is not on but you are still “seen”.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      This is a great idea. I attended a couple of writing workshops in June and a bunch of folks did this.

    4. Dasein9*

      I came to suggest this. Give people your very best face to look at and they will associate that image of you with the good work you do.

      I’m sorry you have to deal with all this pain, and then also with an entire culture trying to figure out technology etiquette on top of everything else!

    5. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      I think that’s an excellent solution. Everyone can still connect your face and voice, but the face just happens to be a still one, rather than a live feed.

    6. allathian*

      Two years ago, when my org celebrated an anniversary, we hired a professional photographer for a project for a few months. She took great photos of the C-suite and the team she was working for, which also happened to be my team. We use Outlook/Skype for business, and everyone has their profile pic showing when we’re not on video. I plan to keep using that photo for as long as it recognizably looks like me.

      1. SarahKay*

        I have a head-and-shoulders shot from when we had a professional video team come to site to interview some of us. They released the videos to us along with some stills for us to use, and like you I plan to keep using that photo for as long as I can reasonably claim I still look like that. I’ve had a couple of nice compliments on it, saying it looks both professional and friendly.
        I don’t do video (and thankfully my company culture doesn’t encourage it) but I do notice that on MS Team calls it’s nice when someone has a photo, rather than just their initials.

  7. Anon R*

    I often see people on camera for the first few mins and then go off camera. Can you sit at a desk for a short period like that and then switch off video and move to a more comfortable position?

    You have my sympathies— I have back problems, but not nearly as bad as your pain sounds. You use the above trick when it’s too hard to stay at a desk for an entire meeting.

    1. aqua arrow*

      Yeah, this is what I see lots of people at my company doing! Turn on the camera for the “hellos” and introductions and then turn off the camera as we get more into the meeting.

    2. Social Commentator*

      I came here to say the same! Most video platforms allow a photo upload, which is better than a black box or calling in, in terms of being “seen” in the meeting and fostering more connection with others.

  8. QED*

    I don’t have a ton to add, but I will say that I also work in government, and at least two of my coworkers are working from either a couch or an armchair, as they don’t have tables or desks in their apartments, and it hasn’t seemed to matter! If you feel uncomfortable about the pillows, I think you could mention it at the beginning with something like “this is the best workspace I’ve found at home” or something similar. And just being visibly engaged on the call goes a long way for my coworkers without desks too. I also have coworkers who don’t always have their cameras on on larger calls as well, and a lot of the time they mention bandwidth issues or family members around, as Alison mentioned. I’ve found in my communications with outside entities and outside of my immediate department that everyone is very understanding of the limitations of WFH in this situation. I think that’s especially true within the government, as at least in my area and field, we’re much lower-paid than the private sector and couldn’t WFH prior to the pandemic, so we’re unlikely to have very good home office set ups. I think you’re probably thinking more about it than anyone else is, but Alison’s advice will definitely help either way!

  9. hayling*

    OP, you have my sincere sympathy. I have chronic health issues and when I WFH I often work reclined on my bed or couch. I am able to force myself to take video calls from my computer because I am worried about the perception.

    For a while I was having a lot of videoconferencing issues so I turned off my camera to save bandwidth, which was super nice because then nobody could see if I was reclining, walking around, etc. I bet you could strategically use the phrase “Video takes up a lot of bandwidth so I am keeping it off to improve my connection” and turn off your camera. It implies you’re having video conferencing quality issues, but in fact is *not* untrue.

    1. Inca*

      Isn’t this so sad? People who are, despite pain and discomfort, are putting in loads of effort and being *very* professional (beyond the call of duty, even) and even then they’re mostly judged on how their appearances pass some arbitrary norm that starts with the worst assumptions. (People seeing pillows and then in a lot of minds the first association may be ‘lazy’ even when the person is actually working right then and there, rather than seeing someone who decides what’s for themselves.)

      1. hayling*

        Having illness/injury is exhausting enough, and then having the manage appearances is even worse.

      2. StrikingFalcon*

        Yep. So many things that are accommodations for pain and fatigue are seen as “lazy.” There are even people who call using a wheelchair lazy (they’ve clearly never done it, because it takes way more effort than walking).

        OP, I don’t know if this helps (different conditions being different and all), but I find the most comfortable position for working is an armchair that reclines back 30 degrees and has a convex back that provides support behind me(most armchairs have concave backs but this makes my pain worse). I mount my monitor over it with an extra-long monitor arm, and put the wireless keyboard on my lap and the mouse on an adjustable height side table. You can tell on video calls that I’m in an armchair, but I am sitting up and I think it looks reasonably professional. Plus I can actually work all day, which is obviously more professional than not working :)

    2. Kira*

      This should totally work! I ran into bad bandwidth issues a lot last year and it was always helped when we turned off video (oddly, my connection seems stronger than ever now that all the tech companies have ramped up in response to the pandemic). I regularly hear other people explain their lack of video like this.

  10. Blarg*

    Unless you need pillows literally behind your head, you might be able to bring your laptop closer to your face and thus frame out anything but your head. And I’d suggest being dressed slightly nicer than maybe others. A lot of folks at my agency are wearing logo T-shirts and such on calls. I’ve been doing slightly nicer top and maybe even a necklace when I’m on video (with sweat pants!).

    I’m so sorry you’re dealing with a terrible illness during a terrible time.

  11. C in the Hood*

    Bandwidth issues aside, a lot of people may not have their cameras on, depending on whether or not they’ve been able to get their hair cut, or if they have family members running around, etc. There is a lot of leeway these days.

    1. C in the Hood*

      Also, I think we’re all hard-pressed to find nice ergonomic office-type chairs to sit in. You have to do what maximizes your comfort as you sit!

      1. many bells down*

        Seriously without being able to go into Staples and sit on all the chairs I just had to guess at what would be comfortable. And I guessed wrong; it makes my butt go numb.

        1. MistOrMister*

          My chair is over 20 years old. I used to be able to sit in it all day and absolutely loved it. Now I need an additional pillow to be able to sit for a length of time. But god help me if I forget myself and lean back as I will go flying. I have been really tempted to order a chair but can’t bring myself to spend the money in case it ended up not being comfortable. Ugh.

          I know people who are working from their couches and I wouldn’t think less of anyone if I saw that on video as we are all trying to make do the best we can.

          So far we’ve only done phone calls at my work and I am thankful. The one video call I’ve done was with my doctor and I was running around scrambling at the last minute to put on an appropriate shirt and I still forgot to take my hair out the braids I’d put in at night so I looked stupud anyway. Give me a plain picture for background or just a regular phone/conference call any day!!!

    2. Elizabeth West*

      family members running around

      LOL all the people whose spouses have wandered by while bare-assed.

  12. KiwiApple*

    We use MS Teams and you can blur your background and there are other background templates you can use (& we also have professional ones) so if you want to be seen but not the pillows etc, look into that?
    If you want your camera off, can you upload a professional looking photo so at least the photo icon comes up when your on calls?

    1. hayling*

      I wonder if the background replacement feature in Zoom would work for this? Worth a try.

  13. Mints*

    This probably varies by office, but a lot of people I work with have profile pictures on Zoom, and that helps look more polished and friendly than just your name when your camera is off. I would also say that for small team meetings, it’s okay to be disheveled and focus more on building connections, but the larger the call and the less you know them, it’s easier to keep camera off. I’m also generally okay with white lies and would blame bandwith for the reason my camera is off all the time. What a tough time, OP!

    1. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I like this! It helps put a face to a voice and a name but doesn’t require you to be ‘on’ as much. I am going to set this up on my Zoom!

      1. Mints*

        I like it too! I haven’t really worn makeup during the pandemic so my headshot is 100x more polished than my fuzzy video, so I turn off video a lot

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      I think this is a really good option. Having a nice, clear photo goes a long way towards the face recognition part of the puzzle that most folks are using the camera for.

      I also think maybe picking and choosing which meetings are more high profile, ones where you need to do a lot of the talking or ones with the members of other departments that have more influence, and possibly sitting up in a chair for those if you can manage it. Then you can use the photo for the other ones. If that is too painful, then default to the photo and write it off to trying to save bandwidth. For meetings with just your team, I don’t think you need to worry much about them seeing your set up if using video is useful, when folks know you they are much more forgiving.

  14. Bend & Snap*

    If you’re using Zoom, there are virtual backgrounds. I often work from my bed and use a photo I took in Africa as my background, so nobody can tell where I am.

    1. SpringIsForPlanting!*

      Seconding virtual backgrounds! Zoom and Teams both have them integrated as an option, and Chromacam is a freemium add-on that works with a lot of different videoconference software. Almost all of my team uses them.

    2. Mazzy*

      This is true but OMG, some of those are way more distracting than seeing someone on the couch! I’ve seen ones like the person is in a 70s rock video with bad psychedelic-type colors creating an aura around them!

  15. Maxie*

    OP, that’s horrible. I hope you find treatment that is tolerable and reduces your pain. Zoom has a function that allows you to use an alternate background. Colleagues of mine use beach and other nature scenes and they always go over well with other meeting attendees. If you use a platform other than Zoom, they might have a similar function. This might not do a thing for you, but I know some people with severe back problems who basically live in a recliner chair and that makes their pain tolerable. As someone who lives with chronic pain (back and knee), I can tell you it has gotten much better for me with a combo of the right doctor, procedures and pain medication. I also found that a med that works for one pain does not touch another pain. Recently a med used off- label to treat nerve pain has really helped. It didn’t make sense to me at first since my issues are mostly joint, but pain is no longer waking me up in the middle of the night. Every person and cause is pain is different, but I want to give you hope.

  16. Jules the 3rd*

    I use nothing but an icon, and have only once had someone comment, in 3 years and 7+ meetings / week.

    I hope you find a solution for the medical issue soon, this sounds totally miserable.

  17. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    My husband’s been taking most of his meetings from our guest bed, which does not have a headboard, and he’s taken my dark-colored backrest/husband pillow to lean on. It looks sort of like a chair against the blank wall.

    His job also doesn’t care about appearances all that much, so YMMV.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      I was just thinking about the “boyfriend” pillow I used to have when I was in college so I could study from my bed in my dorm room! I was thinking something like that would look more chair-like and less pillowy. Looks like your husband had a good idea with that. I kind of miss that thing…

  18. Tisiphone*

    I add my voice to the Turn Off Your Camera chorus. If nobody has said anything about cameras in general, just turn it off and leave it off without fanfare. I’ll bet next month’s wages that nobody will pay that close attention. If you announce that fact, there’s a good chance that the meeting will be hijacked by a discussion of the merits of cameras being on and then you won’t get the choice.

  19. KiKiB*

    You’ve gotten some good advice from the others. One thing that helps me with the eye puffiness after crying is either a small, wrapped, ice pack or wet, frozen wash cloth. I take a washcloth, get it soaking wet, wring out and put into the freezer until it’s almost crunchy. Then put it on my eyes for a few minutes. Off and on for a bit and my eyes aren’t as puffy. I’m sorry you’re going through all of this.

    1. Roja*

      I do that too! I never thought of freezing it though; I’ll have to give that a try.

      OP, if you have a meeting where you need to be on video and you’ve been crying, try putting on just a bit of waterproof mascara. If it’s waterproof it won’t run off if you shed a tear or two during the meeting, and you can always wash your face after if you want it gone quick. I’ve noticed a HUGE difference between mascara and no mascara after I’ve been crying. I don’t have to have literally anything else on my face but a few swipes with the brush. It camouflages a LOT. Make sure you get black mascara regardless of your coloring… the brown stuff doesn’t disguise much.

      I’m sorry you’re going through this.

    2. Another Cryer*

      I’ve done something similar with spoons for under eye puffiness, as well as general post-crying puffiness. Keep a few metal spoons in the freezer, and when you need to de-puff take one out and gently hold it to the puffy areas. Works like a charm.

      Of course, you don’t need to do this for others’ benefit (and I agree avoiding camera is probably simpler), just if it’s something that would make you feel more comfortable. I’m so sorry you’ve been dealing with such pain, it sounds horrible.

  20. Temperance*

    Why not use a professional headshot as your video participation? I do this when I don’t feel like being on video, and it’s always been fine.

    You’re in a ton of pain, and the genuine stress of dealing with video calls while in pain is just something you shouldn’t need to worry about.

  21. Marny*

    OP: there are several inexpensive laptop stands (or, you can just use a pile of books) that will raise your laptop so that you can put it on a coffee table when you’re on the couch instead of on your lap. That’ll raise it closer to eye level so that people will only see your head and shoulders and won’t know whether you’re on a couch or a chair or wherever else.

  22. TCO*

    I think all of the suggestions about ways OP can keep her camera off are great. If she really feels pressure to have it on sometimes, would covering the stack of pillows with a sheet/blanket help, so at least the “background” is all one color and surface? A dark-colored sheet might make it tough to make out the outlines of the pillows. (Downside, of course, is that it’s harder to adjust the pillows when they’re lumped under a sheet.) Depends on OP’s setup; maybe this would help, maybe not.

  23. Lauren*

    Get some backgrounds going. Also, some meeting apps have filters to smooth out any blemishes so it may work for removing eye redness too. My zoom background is wave crashing beach, and it only shows me as it can outline me and smooths out my frizzy hair too. But there are plenty of boring ones too. You can also, record a video of yourself listening intently in an appropriate part of your home – then loop it while you are on the phone, people will just think your audio isn’t syncing.

  24. Marissa*

    Agree with the advice about trying to frame just your face. I would also say that in large meetings its often not as important to be on camera because people often struggle to focus on all the videos and are therefore paying less attention. In smaller meetings (where you might want to be on video for rapport) I wonder if you’d be comfortable giving a quick “excuse the pillows, I have some back trouble (or however you want to say it) I’m dealing with.” In a lot of my video calls people give lots of “excuse the background, I’m sharing a small space with my husband” “sorry if my kid interrupts” “excuse my dog barking at the mailman” etc. explanations for various things going on that people will see/hear because of all the video calls and I think that its fairly expected that we’re each dealing with challenges working from home.

    1. Avasarala*

      Agreed. I’ve also propped my laptop up with Amazon boxes to create a standing desk. That’s an idea to alternate with couch pillows/desk time.

  25. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I don’t like being on camera even when I’m having a good hair, makeup, and/or health day. When I’m dealing with a migraine or feeling sick, I really hate my camera. I feel like it amplifies every grimace and flaw. OP, I get it, and you have my sympathies!

    The good news is, profile pics or icons are pretty common now. Even when I had a boss who was a total ham on camera, we icon users never got reprimanded. I made sure to be on camera when politesse was called for, so there’s that.

  26. Sarah*

    I wonder if you might be able to apply some other Ask a Manager advice here. Specifically, Alison often recommends offsetting something that looks less professional with something extra professional. Being someone who has chronic pain, I suspect sitting at a desk is pretty horribly painful or you would already be doing it. Maybe this is something where you could dress extra professionally and do something to make the background look more office-like. Anything that looks more like an ergonomic office chair cushion than like a bed pillow is a good thing. Can you get some kind of lap desk? Maybe even put your hair up to signal that you are in work mode.

    It also depends on your field. If you’re in a more casual field, it is totally possible no one would care if you were obviously in your bed, let alone on your couch.

    I think turning your video off when you’ve obviously been crying is probably a good call.

    Honestly, though, we are in the middle of a pandemic and your boss knows what is happening. I don’t think your goal needs to be to look like everything is perfect. You probably just want to aim for making it clear that you are in work mode and you’ve made an effort to look professional. But definitely consider some sort of lap desk. And see if there is a simple but symbolic thing you can do before these calls, like putting your hair up or even putting something office-like in the background.

  27. Aggretsuko*

    I wouldn’t care if anyone was on their laptop on the couch with pillows. Sometimes you can’t even tell what people are on anyway.

    But as the office crier now, that is why I have a cameras-off policy. I don’t know when I am going to burst into tears here. I actually dial in via my phone because usually (unless Zoom itself mutes you) you can’t tell if someone is on phone mute, so nobody knows when I dropped out to cry again.

  28. Annony*

    This is very field specific. Since your manager knows what is going on, can you ask him which option is better? Or if there are specific meeting where you should really try to have your camera on or make sure that you don’t turn your camera on if you don’t look polished?

  29. Disheveled*

    I think it also depends on the industry? I’m finding as more time goes on, my colleagues and I are looking progressively more disheveled. Short hair cuts are sticking up in various directions, kids are in video calls, and There is definitely a lot less makeup. I would say it depends on the meeting and who the people are. I had similar issues recovering from endometriosis surgery during pandemic and it was easier to lie back.
    In smaller meetings I prefer seeing people face to face on video, and propped pillows would be seen as any other health condition in my opinion.
    Larger meetings no video can work, but it can also backfire as I’ve seen managers struggle to engage with 10 blank video screens. I’d play it by ear.

  30. MissDisplaced*

    I hardly ever use video unless I’m presenting, or if the meeting is formal or smaller. No one has said anything and it doesn’t impact my job or work.
    But if everyone at your company IS on video, I think you kind of need to pick you battles of which calls you deem important enough to be seen on video and which ones you can be present on audio only. They certainly probably don’t all need to be video enabled.

  31. Hola*

    Any chance you reside with a cat or dog or other cute pet? If my cat is sitting nearby during a call I will quite often point the camera at him instead of me and I have received zero complaints about this strategy;)

    Really though, I sympathize with you. I don’t think it’s a big deal to have your camera off sometimes. If I were you I’d stop worrying about the pillows thing, and just turn off your camera when you’re concerned about your appearance more.

    1. JMR*

      Hahaha, I tried the cat thing once, but I had to stop because he kept sticking his butthole directly into my webcam. Everyone found it amusing, but I’m not sure it was great for my professional reputation.

      1. Jean*

        My cats and their buttholes have made quite a few cameos on video calls during this pandemic as well. My manager teased me about it, but then stopped after his dog went on an impressively loud and ferocious barking tangent during a team meeting one morning (UPS guy knocked on the front door). Pet co-workers are the best.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Husband unit was on a video call yesterday when our cat decided that his scrum meeting really needed a good picture of a cat washing its bum.

    2. cncx*

      i do this. also my cat is beautiful (half british shorthair half angora) and so he gets double points. everyone surely prefers looking at my cat. He doesn’t move much either

  32. legalchef*

    Depending on the pillows/set up, could you drape a white sheet or something over the stack so it blends in to the background more?

  33. Lady Heather*

    OP, can you use a tool to better position your laptop and camera? A laptop stand might work, or an overbed table – I had one of those when I was spending 95% of my time in bed, and it was great. Mine was adjustable in height, and the table part was tiltable, and it was a lifesaver. (Pro tip: if you go for a cheap one, don’t leave stuff on it if you’re not using it. At least, mine was a cheap one, and the weight of the laptop gradually caused the metal to bend and the table to become unstable.)

    Some overbed tables even have two or three drawers integrated, or they are a part of a full nightstand. The nightstand ones are probably more expensive, but you can usually ‘fold’ the overbed part so that it’s vertical, which might save you a lot of space.
    (Also, the ones without a nightstand usually have a part that goes under the bed/couch – the ones with a nightstand don’t, they stand beside the bed/couch. If there is too little space beneath your couch for a frame and wheels, a nightstand one can work.)

    The overbed table was one of the best investments I made during my illness, one I wish I’d made a lot earlier.

    Good luck.

    1. Lady Heather*

      Something like this for one with a nightstand:

      or without a nightstand:

  34. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    With 20-30 callers, no one’s going to miss one, and it will help with bandwidth issues. If you can do a static profile pic, use that, otherwise maybe video while people are gathering, to wave at your friends, and then just shut the video off.

  35. JMR*

    I agree with this advice. I know it depends on the work culture, but where I work, we tend to leave videos on for small team meetings, but almost no one keeps their camera on for a call with 10+ attendees, much less 20-30. IF you wanted, you could keep it on for small team meetings with co-workers who know your situation and your work quality. But I don’t think it would come off as unprofessional or at all unusual to have the camera off for larger meetings.

  36. Jean*

    OP I have no input on the camera thing, but I really hope your health improves soon and you find a good treatment that helps you. Be kind to yourself. Work isn’t always the most important thing.

  37. MCMonkeyBean*

    It seems like right now you are defaulting to camera on and letting your boss know when you plan to have it off. I wonder if you could talk to him about swapping that? Let him know that with your situation you would like to plan on leaving it off most of the time so that you don’t have to let him know every time you’re feeling badly, but that you may choose to turn it on on occasion. Then maybe you can let people see you on their screen once in a while on days you are feeling up for it.

    I do think it would be reasonable to talk to your boss about wanting to just never turn it on, but if you feel like you’d be less connected to your colleagues that way then simply swapping which is your default could make a small difference.

    1. Ellie*

      Oh I like the way you’ve framed it. Then it’s not that you’re opting OUT of video every time but sometimes you opt in.

  38. Ellie*

    While my company is smaller and my medical situation is less bad, I wanted to second the opinion that turning your camera off is OK.

    On some days I’ve literally been silently crying (the slow constant tears type, not sobbing most of the time) throughout the day including during meeting due to pain and/or depression. On those days, my video is off.

    I do the same if I’m too exhausted to sit up.

    Sometimes it’s off for a whole week or two in a row.

    For me, removing the need to LOOK professional on video leaves me with enough energy to ACT professional (responding as needed, taking notes, etc.)

    It also means that for the very few calls I feel it’s critical to have video, I’ve saved my strength up to be ready for it.

    Another way I cope if those important meetings are longer is to only have video at the beginning and portions where I’m a primary speaker, giving myself breaks. Sometimes I give a heads up that I may need to pop off video but will remain on the call — and no one has ever complained.

  39. Blisskrieg*

    Just sending good thoughts your way. I am so so sorry you are going through all this. It sounds like you are putting forth a heroic effort. Take care of yourself!

  40. Them Boots*

    Ditto to what Alison said, if you have to work in pain, do what you can to be as comfortable as possible. To go with that, can you get a couple basic brown microfiber flat sheets and spread them over your seating area and pillows so it just looks like one piece of furniture and the pillows are camouflaged as part of your furniture? (If that will make you feel better about how you are presenting yourself on video-on days, not for their sakes). Also, if you really *want* makeup to wear on better days, Clinique Fit mascara has lasted through a few crying jags for me, and overnight “i just cannot do one more thing tonight” nights. Lipgloss is better than lipstick and just use facial moisturizer with a color correction like Clinique CC cream (i use a small amount right after moisturizer so it spreads evenly and gives a bit of evenness to my blotchy skin tone but doesn’t show streaks when the waterworks kick in). I hit a bad stretch last year and spent a lot of time wetting my face and eyes after bouts of tears and needing to look ‘okay’ around clients. —that being said, there is no need for you to be visible on calls when you are having a rough day! Everyone is having to turn off video some days. Just turn that off when you need to and go about your business. My heart goes out to you and you are a total BadA$$ for working while dealing with this.

  41. 2 Cents*

    Use the blur background or upload a custom background for your calls! That would take care of the couch and pillows issue. I have Star Trek, Star Wars and various other backgrounds to amuse myself and hide my messy office. I’d you don’t feel great, I’d either call in so video isn’t an option or just leave your camera off (or darken the room so you’re not as visible?

    1. Me*

      Just a general word of caution on fake backgrounds. Something fun may be fine at one employer but not another. Definitely need to know your employer culture on that one but a neutral professional looking one, like a conference room, is usually a safe bet.

      1. 2 Cents*

        I usually only use the fun ones on my small team conference. Would not do it for a larger, more diverse group. But I figured the OP would know her office (and would have the sense to gauge what would be appropriate), though I could be wrong!

  42. Ruby314*

    Is standing better than sitting for you? If so you could stand and put your laptop on a large box or something else to bring it up to eye level so you’re in frame.

  43. lobsterp0t*

    I think Teams and Zoom both let you replace or blur your backgrounds – that might help the pillow thing.

    If you need to be propped – you need to be propped.

    I find it extremely mentally exhausting to be on camera all day long. It’s inaccessible and stressful for many people. So I think people need to consider whether it is truly necessary!

    Could you get some tinted (but not dark) lenses? That way it is less obvious if you have been crying. Or maybe time your pain meds so that you’re less likely to get breakthrough pain at key times – like maybe restrict certain times when you’re at your other-people best for meetings?

    Something else that might be useful is to say hi on camera at the start and then then off unless you’re actively contributing.

    Additionally – is there a way for your setup around the sofa to “look” more professional or for your camera to be cleverly positioned so you look professional even if armpits down you’re pillow city?

  44. NotPhotogenic*

    I’m with the turn off the camera crew. I have to have my camera on for our daily work huddle, but that’s the only time I have it on. When questioned on it, I tell the truth – my computer crashes after most of the meetings with the camera on. Weirdly, it’s not a bandwidth problem, it’s something with the camera software acting up. People leave it at that – we all know computers flake out and develop bugs periodically.

    I also like to leave the camera out because I don’t want to be judged on my appearance. I’m not a model or an actor. I’m hired to do technical work. Having the camera on brings in various bias that interferes with judgement. If you see a box with my name or my initials, you aren’t seeing me as black, white, latino, asian, thin, fat, healthy, unhealthy, polished, disheveled, cluttered, austere, or anything else. You get to hear my words and see my work, which are the most important thing in the relationship – we’re not necessarily friends, we’re coworkers in the meeting. Other people then make judgement on what I’ve done or what I have to say, not my race or body.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I haven’t had a haircut since early March!
      It looks like crap, so not much video happening right now. And I hear you on the video is more judgy part. Plus, I can rarely get through a call without sneezing or nose blowing, so don’t want that on video,

  45. Just no*

    I work in a very conservative industry (I’m a lawyer), although I’m in a more casual practice area (public interest/nonprofit). Honestly, I wouldn’t think twice about seeing someone with pillows behind them, even if they were clearly in bed. Sometimes the bed is the only place you can go. Even the PM of New Zealand has done video chats from her bed. If it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me! I would ask your manager about it, OP, but it sounds like you have enough on your plate without worrying about this.

  46. Hills to Die on*

    I don’t have any feedback; I just wanted to tell you that I am sorry you are going through this. I hope you find a solution that allows you to be more comfortable.

  47. Batgirl*

    I’ve been working from my bedroom on occasion and my blunt co-workers never fail to notice the pillows propped up behind me and say “It looks like you didn’t get up”. However if I cover them with an Afghan and some throw pillows it looks like a couch. So I’ve been doing that when we’re with external people.
    I don’t wear makeup either, and can’t be bothered with filters or unconfortable clothing but I’m amazed at the difference just slipping on an Alice band makes for video calls. Its like putting on a sign that says ‘effort’.

  48. Bibliovore*

    I have similar issues.
    For really bad days- I phone those in. People are often having wifi issues and will assume that is what is going on.
    For “I have to suck it up” and show my face, I sit on a couch, packed into the corner with pillows and my feet up. The laptop is on a side table angled to show me neck up. all anyone sees is down to the top of my shoulders.
    Figure out if heat or cold help. For me I often have a few cold packs tucked among the pillows.

  49. Joielle*

    I feel like this is one of those things that if you saw it with no context, you’d think it was weird, but if you did have the context, you’d be really sympathetic and have no problem with it. I’m not sure how closely you usually work with the other people on these calls, but if you have smaller meetings with some people you could mention that you’ve been having back problems so have been doing a lot of work propped up on the couch with pillows (even if “back problems” isn’t exactly accurate, it’s common and relatable enough that people will understand).

    For the crying – I’ve done my fair share of crying at work (mental health issues) and if waterproof mascara is an option for you, I’ve found that Korean brands are the best for withstanding tears. I’ve been using one called Heroine Make Super Waterproof and it lives up to the name. I honestly think it would stay on for a week if I didn’t take it off with makeup remover. For me, a swipe of mascara makes a big difference in looking rested and put together even if I do literally nothing else with my face, and I also feel more confident.

    With all that said, though, it’s perfectly normal to keep your camera off sometimes. I do think it’s nice to have it on sometimes, if you’re trying to maintain relationships, but especially in large meetings nobody will notice. Try to put up a nice headshot for your profile picture, and don’t worry about it.

    1. Joielle*

      Oh, another thought about video – you could intentionally turn on a light behind you so the camera darkens your whole face a little. Not so much that you’re just a silhouette, but enough to obscure your face a bit. Whenever I’m on a video call there are always at least a few people who have this kind of lighting going on, and I always assume it’s just the only place in their house that works for a call and they can’t avoid the windows or whatever, but you could also set it up that way on purpose!

  50. Len*

    Get a set of green pillowcases and sheets, then use virtual background and see if everything blends in!

  51. Laura H.*

    I think it would be a bit more problematic if WFH weren’t the norm. (And even then, it’s more nosey coworker than problematic- having your manager in the loop helps.)

    I’ll adjust my sound and audio setting to mute myself or not be visible at my leisure at my more recreational meetings.

    I’m team do what you need to for your best attention to your work. Also, do ask your manager if they have suggestions that allow for the best optics (it matters) while preserving and prioritizing your comfort and by extension, the ability to do your work.

  52. ElizaHam*

    OP – I feel for you so much. I have a chronic, progressive illness as well (EDS & Fibro plus some other fun stuff) and working from home has been an absolute lifesaver for me. If we have a very long, multi-departmental meeting wherein I’m not presenting or on camera I sit in bed/couch/comfy space for the day. There is a meeting I have next week with our CEO and some other higher ups and I plan on making my makeshift desk comfy and professional – sitting on pillows, behind me, etc. Unfortunately I don’t have any surefire, great tips but I do relate on so many levels. Be gentle with yourself! <3

  53. Budgie Buddy*

    OP…Is using video the main problem, or is it just the problem you’re focusing most on right now?

    Because the letter went into a lot of detail about things like working 12-hour days onsite while in horrific pain and frequently vomiting. That doesn’t sound right to me, and you included it for a reason even though the busy period is over and it doesn’t directly affect the video call issue going on now. Currently, you’re still pushing through work even while in so much pain you’re constantly crying.

    I get the sense that you don’t feel like doing anything less than your normal workload even while seriously ill isn’t an option at your workplace, even though your manager has been supportive so far. Is this workplace giving you the flexibility you need?

  54. Elenia25*

    Great ideas here! FTR we are kind of a cameras on office, and I am sorry to admit I am one of those that really don’t mind. That said, when there are more than 10 people in the call, the cameras go off because everyone’s bandwidth gets eaten up.

    But I do wonder how this would be handled in a culture like mine. Most people don’t mind putting on their cameras, but middle management (my level) and up are pretty much required to do so and if they don’t, are gently called out.

    My husband’s job NEVER puts their cameras on, and honestly that seems weird to me too! Even in one on one calls? We were home for so long, I find one on ones really are made by seeing people’ faces, especially my own personal staff.

    I’m wandering, but essentially – i do wonder what’s to be done in a culture like my company’s, where it’s considered kind of sort of not a team player if you don’t go on camera.

  55. PizzaDog*

    Do your colleagues question those who dial-in? Not that they should, but I know how office environments are. If it’s not seen as a big deal, do that on bad days. Otherwise, see if you can move your pillow set up somehow that as much of it isn’t visible, or use a virtual background.

  56. Scarrie Fisher*

    As someone who recently watched an elected official lie on their back on a yoga mat on the floor during a very important, live-streamed meeting… I am gonna say you’re probably good.

  57. Aitch Arr*

    I’m sorry you are in such pain, OP.

    I fell off my bike in April and hurt my knee so badly I could not bend it for over a month, plus I had a low-grade fever from fighting off an infection in the abrasion. So I worked from my bed, propped up with a lap desk, ‘husband’ pillow, and several other pillows.

    I told my boss and my team in our next meeting as to why I was on my bed, as well as to the managers I support. I’d make a joke like “I wish I could say I was reclining here eating bon bons, but the truth is I am recovering from a knee injury.”

    Virtual backgrounds never work for me regardless of where I am in the house, so I either kept video on if it was smaller internal meetings or turned it off for larger internal meetings or external meetings. When my video is off, a professional photo of me appears.

  58. Chronic Overthinker*

    My team has weekly resource meetings where an individual can teach everyone where certain resources are and how to utilize them. It’s informative and I enjoy learning about the various resources our company has to offer! However, we do have one or two individuals who would benefit from more professional dress/decorum during these meetings. It would be a good idea just to go via audio or telephone so that appearance doesn’t matter or dress appropriately as it is a work meeting! No one has said anything and it is not my place as I am on the lowest rung of the ladder, so to speak. Should I bring it up to them in confidence or let their manager handle it?

    1. Chronic Overthinker*

      Also, OP, I’m sorry you’re dealing with chronic pain. I think going video dark or telephonic would work best in your situation or making your bed look less bed-like. I wish you luck on finding something that works for you!

    2. TechWorker*

      I think unless they’re dressed offensively (like, underwear or t-shirts with offensive slogans) then just leave it be? If management cares they can address it and for all you know either a) they already have or b) there’s some reason you don’t know that those folks aren’t dressed as professionally. Would put firmly in the category of ‘not your problem’.

  59. Kisses*

    It may sound silly, but a lot of video streaming free software like abs allow you to “green screen” your background. Maybe you can drape a green cloth over the pillows, and have someone help you hang a green sheet behind you? It will look awful to you (if you’re like me and just not a fan of overwhelming green) but you can edit in a semi- professional background that won’t be terribly obvious, especially if your screen is small on other’s computers.
    I use Twitch and it’s shown me some cool video sharing/streaming skills.

  60. Kettricken Farseer*

    I’ve largely stopped wearing makeup and because of my own medical issues I often look very tired/in pain. I put a bright lamp right above my laptop camera so it completely washes me out so others can’t see me clearly.

  61. BeenThere*

    I just want to say to OP: hang in there!! I hope you’ll have better days soon.

  62. NuckingFuxNix*

    HR Person here: Assuming you are in the US, get this submitted to your HR department as an official accommodation request ASAP. Not being on video is likely a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and is a very easy way to ensure that you will not have any consequences of not being able to be on video at work. Additionally, you might qualify for FMLA or other accommodations that make balancing your chronic pain and work life a little easier.

    You may have already done this but since it’s not mentioned, I wanted to be sure I brought it up. If you’re not in the US there may be something similar in your country that can offer you some protection.

  63. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    Good suggestion.

    Also if/when turning the camera off, have a nice headshot to show instead of nothing.

  64. employment lawyah*

    No, you’re fine. Medical provides an excuse.

    Frankly, “present on phone but not video” may well be an ADA accommodation, so you may want to consider going there if this gives you so much grief.

    Of course, if you feel uncomfortable you can always say “excuse my appearance, it’s a medical issue” and leave it at that, but this is not by any means required. If your manager is nice–and it sounds like they are–you could also ask them to spread the word for you, if you prefer, though that is not always as controlled as folks may like.

    Practically speaking, if you want to preserve video: A lot of this may improve with camera position and lighting. If you are able to conference on an iphone you may find that a camera tripod or, better yet, a microphone stand (with an adjustable boom) allows you to position yourself to make the video come from a better angle. I think there are also ipad mounts for such things. Lighting-wise you might also want to dim things down a bit; there’s a reason restaurants do it.

    You may also want to try things like using a formal-ish covering behind you (arrange it first and then put covering over the pillows), etc. A piece of matte black cloth can do wonders.

  65. Scarlett10is*

    Not sure if anyone has mentioned this, but my quarantine uniform for being on camera is blue light glasses and a bun, maybe a headband. I haven’t worn makeup in months, and the glasses not only save my eyeballs from disintegrating staring at a screen all day, but they’d hide any eye irritation/swelling. I’m in higher education so it’s a more relaxed field than Corporate America, and there is a lot of support in my industry for people navigating the pandemic with all kinds of context that has never been in view before, like parenting, health issues, mental/emotional stress, and of course working from spaces that were not designed to be worked from. You say you have a supportive boss, so maybe think about the rest of the culture in your industry as well. It’s doubtful most people have the bandwidth right now for “I wonder why Titania is propped up on pillows,” let alone “I will draw wildly unsubstantiated conclusions from this observations.” If it were me, I’d probably admire your pillows, ask where you got the green one, and try to order it online during the meeting :-p

    Hang in there friend! You have come a long way and you are doing GREAT!

  66. Kira*

    You mentioned that these meetings can have 20+ people in them – that probably makes it much harder for anyone to notice that your specific video is off, so I hope it’s not a big deal to them. I can’t imagine trying to make sense of dozens of videos all at the same time!

  67. InfoSec SemiPro*

    I also have a chronic pain condition that has become unmanageable during the pandemic.

    Turning your camera off on days where the choice is between wearing real clothes and being able to sit through the meeting is totally valid. Staging a background and careful camera angles are wide spread tactics for this world in general.

    Consider getting equipment that can support you working reclined – I got a really flexible monitor arm and put it on a bookshelf by my sofa and a medical “desk” that can tilt and go right over the sofa so I can work laying down when I have to. I also got a big gaming chair that has good head and back support and can recline back to fully flat, so I can find a position that works that day (or hour) and hang my laptop over me. (My condition is super sensitive to ergonomics, so the angle of my knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists, etc all matter.)

    The chair looks more officey, even when I’m half reclined, I just adjust the angle of my monitor and it’s attached webcam to be a “normal” angle. It gets a little wonky when my background is mostly my floor, so when I’m fully reclined I leave the camera off for big meetings.

    You’re not the only person to work professionally while not able to sit at a desk. There is equipment for this. (It’s not super affordable, but maybe your boss can get it covered by ADA or ergonomic support?)

    This sucks. Hang tough. Do what you have to.

  68. quaint irene*

    Adding a vote for headshot + audio only. Completely professional and you look like you’re “there” when you speak if people have it on speaker view or it’s a small meeting.

  69. Malty*

    Just adding my love from the chronic pain community – you’re amazing. There are great tips all over this thread. If you’re using zoom there’s a ‘touch up my appearance’ option which might be helpful for post crying.

  70. justabot*

    One of my friends had a very professional corporate-y head shot done, wearing a blazer etc, and she puts that up as her zoom picture when she doesn’t want to be on camera. At least that way instead of a black screen or generic image, people are seeing a professional picture of “you” and have that image in their mind when they are hearing your voice on the call.

  71. Antisocialite*

    I have EDS, which in turn causes a TON neurologic issues affecting my balance, hearing, vision, you name it. I work from home all the time because of it, and can *so* relate to both the propped up with pillows thing, and the crying.

    I get facial and hand tremors too so always did non-video Slack and Zoom work meetings. Recently they started requiring everyone to turn on video because the people who are temporarily remote for the pandemic have been abusing their telecommuting privileges. I’m so angry and upset because I do not want to be on camera when I’m symptomatic, but management insists everyone must do it.

    Also, I use Zoom backgrounds so no one can see if I’m on the couch etc. There are some really cute ones out there like famous TV set backdrops, but also things like naturescapes. Definitely look into them!

    If your manager is understanding, then that is great and I hope you can continue. If there does end up to be some pushback, maybe asking for it as an accommodation would be a good solution.

    Hope you are feeling better soon!

  72. Jeanne*

    When you are video conferencing from your couch, can I suggest that you get a small table to place your laptop on. An image that moves and jiggles as the person is moving around is very distracting, and in some cases, nausea causing – especially if it is only little wiggles!
    Get someone to take a nice head and shoulders photo of you and set your system up so that it shows when you turn video off. Unless you are talking, many people will not even realise that you have your camera turned off.
    Take care! Allow yourself and your body time to heal. Sometimes getting better is more important than maintaining career progression.

  73. Another Zebra*

    I second the many suggestions. Because of my chronic illness and pain, I was one of the few people totally prepared for work from home. (our corporate culture was opposed to it) If the zoom call is more than ten people, my default is video off and professional picture of me.
    I love the support from the commenters and would like to add that I also get pushing through the pain to get things done. I never know when there will be a totally debilitating day and it is not as simple as pacing. Take care and know that you are not alone.

  74. Dancing Otter*

    Maybe arrange a quilt or afghan over the pillows, so it just looks as though you’re sitting on an upholstered chair or couch?

  75. char*

    Honestly, I wouldn’t even blink an eye at someone propped up on the couch in a meeting. I probably wouldn’t even notice. Lately, I’ve been on calls where a client’s unmade bed was prominent in the background, calls with coworkers lying down IN bed holding their phones above their heads, calls with someone who works in a makeshift setup that looks like it might be a loft bed covered by a sheet… I’m beyond caring where people are sitting while they’re on calls with me.

    My office has always been very casual, though, so take that as you will.

  76. Gadfly*

    A more structured pillow setup might also help or allow you you to use a desk chair. They make ones usually listed as for wheelchairs that also can be used in many desk chairs, arm chairs, etc. They then cocoon you on both sides, the back and underneath. Usually run $30-ish.

    1. Gadfly*

      I just bought one the other day for a friend who is trying to work from home with a long overdue double hip surgery (bone on bone-ugh) and having some similar problems with how to remain seated upright as comfortably as possible. We’re hoping this gives him more choices in chairs

  77. Duvie*

    These are all great suggestions, LW! I have a chronic pain problem myself, and the most important thing you can do for yourself is stop worrying about how you come across. In the long run, the folks who matter won’t mind, and the ones who mind won’t matter.

  78. lilsheba*

    You do what’s comfortable for you. Comfort and freedom from pain is way more important than how you look on video.

  79. Senor Montoya*

    I encourage you to work with your employer for an ADA accommodation.

    Possibly you can get a better chair or orthopedic pillows to help make sitting more comfortable. (They tend to be covered in black material). You may be able to use a brace — I have one with a removable ice pack.

    I’m slowly mending from a back injury and it’s very hard to sit thru zoom meetings that go longer than maybe an hour. I turn off the video when I need to get up and walk or when I just need to shift in my chair (because sometimes the pain makes me cry).

    And I’m wearing loose dark colored tee shirts because professional blouse and shirts are impossible to get in without some serious pain killers.

    I have not looked into ADA for myself since it’s not a long term problem (I hope). If that changes I will certainly do so. Sound like that would be a good option for you OP.

    I hope very much that you will be able to find ways to manage your pain OP. I’ll be thinking of you, please let us know how you are doing!

  80. Madison*

    I always do my Zoom calls from my reclining chair. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that it looks unprofessional. I don’t even turn on my camera a lot of the time anyway because my dogs are always crawling all over me. Most of our company wide Zooms are bosses going on and on about things that could have gone into an email, so I can’t be bothered to give my full attention, so that’s another reason why I prefer to have my camera off. I only turn on my camera if the meeting has less than 15 people or I know I will have to speak.

  81. agnes*

    Kudos to you to continuing to contribute during this difficult time. I also at times am not “camera ready” due to some medical issues that come from lots of GI surgeries a few years ago. If someone says something about my camera not being on (it’s usually oh we miss seeing you) I have decided it’s fine to tell a little white lie because it’s not anyone’s business that I am stuck in the bathroom. I say my internet is spotty (I live rurally) and turning off the camera makes it more likely that I can remain on the call and hear everyone. I also have a nice photo of myself that shows when my camera is off. I also make sure my mic is off unless I am speaking. (yeah that would be embarassing!)
    Good luck to you.

  82. NowWhat?465*

    Ah something I’m very familiar with! I was out on medical leave when the pandemic started, so I also had to quickly adapt.

    We keep our meetings regularly scheduled, so I know from 9:30-10 I need to be upright and on video, but I have flexibility with the rest of my calls throughout the day. Thankfully since most people know I have some health issues, it’s pretty easy to go off video.

    One thing to consider, is it possible to get one solid color blanket to cover the pillows? that way it could just look like a lumpy couch, or you could even put up a virtual background if your bandwidth allows.

  83. blink14*

    Keep the camera off! I absolutely hate video calls, they make me very uncomfortable, and from the first day I started working remotely in March, I have kept my camera off. My colleagues have somewhat jokingly asked me to turn it on a few times, but I politely refuse. It feels really invasive to me, and I will not do it unless its a requirement for a doctor’s appointment or something like that. You could totally blame it on bandwidth issues, which is a legitimate problem for me as well, and if someone outside of my department asks, I’ll use that excuse from the start.

    I would also just mute yourself in meetings where you may be mostly listening and not talking much. Harder to do in smaller meetings, but doable if you closely pay attention. I do this all the time to kill background noise on my end.

    Hope you start feeling better soon! If it’s possible, maybe just take a day or two off if you can, sounds like you just came off of a really heavy workload, and maybe a break would be beneficial.

  84. SecretASD*

    I’m seeing so many comments here that say no one cares about video, and it makes me want to cry out of frustration and exhaustion.

    Just to clarify before I get to the content of my post: this isn’t meant as feedback to the letter-writer, who has very legit reasons to keep their camera off. This is meant for the various comments instead.

    Maybe I’m the only one who it bothers, but as someone with a hidden disability (high-functioning autism), I have been finding it super difficult to be on frequent calls with no video. In regular conversation, I lip-read and also look for facial expressions to help follow along in conversation. Voice-only is absolutely exhausting, and since I don’t want to reveal my disability I can’t really ask people to turn their video on. In a non-COVID world where I can have in-person conversations, I do just fine and rarely struggle.

    Please everyone, I know there are legit reasons (like today’s letter-writer and people with bandwidth issues), but if you are just keeping video off simply because it makes you a little uncomfortable, please consider that it might be having a negative impact on others who rely on non-verbal information. I don’t want to out myself at work, and I suspect I’m not the only one.

    1. blink14*

      How do you do with regular phone calls? We all use physical cues in varying degrees during a conversation, some if which is lost even with video. I actually find turning off the incoming video completely, unless there is a presentation, makes it a lot easier to concentrate on the conversation, because you are now picking up on listening clues, and not the slightly delayed video cues.

      1. SecretASD*

        Honestly, I try to use email over phone whenever possible – but the other consideration is that phone is easier because it’s one-on-one (so no need to quickly refocus on who I’m listening to).

  85. Org4Good*

    Could you be on video but use the feature to replace your background with a template one so people can see you but not your background?

  86. Hobbit*

    Is it possible to have a professional photo of yourself as part of your profile, so that when your camera is off it will show your picture; that way people can see you, but your camera is off? I’ve seen lots of people present while their video was off. They used the same picture as in their Outlook email/icon.

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