not every work call needs to be on video

When our entire lives went online earlier this year, most of us quickly learned about “Zoom fatigue”: how video calls are generally more draining than ordinary conversations because of the constant gaze of the camera, the lack of many of the nonverbal cues we typically rely on, and the slight delay in virtual responses.

Yet many offices have plunged enthusiastically into video as their primary remote communication method. Often managers assume video can replicate the meetings they used to hold in person. But video, especially video from home during a pandemic, is different.

At Slate today, I wrote about why not every work call needs to be on Zoom. You can read it here.

{ 189 comments… read them below }

  1. Everdene*

    This is so true! After too many days of back to back meetings I am trying out several new tactics.
    – Automatically setting meetings of 30 min to 25 min and of an hour to 50 mins. (If nothing else I have time to pee).
    – When weather and content permits, have one ‘walking meeting’ per day. We are walking separately and talk on the phone. Some people open up more when they aren’t sitting at home staring at themselves.
    – Actively tell my team I trust them and they can make certain decisions without a 1/2 hour meeting with me.
    – Turn my camera off for larger meetings/training/conferences and blame my wifi (we have excellent wifi).
    – I have newly added in ‘Focus time’ so I can have 90 – 120 minutes a day uninterrupted/unscheduled so I can do my actual work.

    1. HS Teacher*

      I like the walking meeting idea and plan to suggest it to my boss the next time we talk. Thanks!

    2. Anony-Mouse*

      Setting the meetings times to be a bit shorter is a great idea. In the office, those meeting times would probably have been set like that any ways, in order to give participants time to move between meetings being held in different places. It’s only virtually that we get this advantage of being able to hold literally back-to-back meetings that we can join with a click of a mouse.

    3. Rachel in NYC*

      I had a conference where I jumped on one of a the meetings following a doctors appointment. I didn’t love the angle of my face as I walked so instead gave everyone a view of my walk through Central Park back to my place. It ended up being very popular and no one wondered why they couldn’t see my face.

    4. Uranus Wars*

      I think this is a great list!

      For me, in larger meetings where I know I don’t have to speak or in listen-only webinars I either go for a run or a short walk with headphones. I have found that I am actually more focused on the discussion when I am not distracted by other things in my home and on my desk!

      If I can’t get outside I have folded laundry or done another mundane task and it helps a ton!

  2. Kimmy Schmidt*

    I’m a teacher and a librarian, and a big supporter of students having the option to turn their video on or off. In my view, it helps promote equity for the students who may not have the bandwidth (technological or emotional) to support a video call. Many students are also embarrassed about their backgrounds due to a variety of reasons, and may be unable to use a virtual one.

    It was still an unnerving experience the first class I taught that was a full screen of empty black boxes.

    1. Lucy Honeychurch*

      As a parent of a late middle schooler and early high schooler, I hear everything you’re saying, but STRONGLY prefer my kids have the camera on, even if it’s during just part of the class. Their teachers said the same. Even popping in with the camera for 10 minutes is helpful.

      1. a username*

        What’s the reason for such a strong preference? Not a teacher and don’t have kids, so asking from a purely curious place.

        1. PhysicsTeacher*

          It’s just way easier to tell if students are 1) paying attention and 2) getting it. There’s a lot of teaching that involves using your students’ facial expressions and body language to figure out if they’re understanding or not, especially when they may be reluctant to say.

          That said, I never force my students to turn their cameras on. We are 50/50 hybrid anyway at the moment, so I see all my students in person a couple times per week and the other days I have them doing asynchronous stuff. But I don’t want to contribute to an inequitable environment, and I know I resent having to have my camera on in meetings MUCH more than just being there in person. My own camera is distracting to me.

        2. Not A Girl Boss*

          As an adult with the freedom to choose camera or no camera, I often turn my camera on as a technique to encourage me to focus. Its so much less tempting to scroll endlessly on my phone when I know people can see me.

          I’m trying to imagine how much of class I would have absorbed as a teen if the teacher couldn’t have seen when I was texting under my desk… probably 1-2%?

          1. Lucy Honeychurch*

            Exactly this, Not a Girl Boss. I know my kids and I feel they pay much more attention when the camera is on, especially one of them (insert wry laughter).

            Again, I understand the reasons for not forcing it and am on board with that, but I do think parents should encourage it, and when we had our virtual school open house to meet the teachers a few of them made a good case of why even a short time on camera is so helpful for both the kids and them (it helps them get to know who is who for one thing). Also, it helps them know who their schoolmates are, which my kids miss (and one of them is even a huge introvert).

            1. allathian*

              My son’s teacher had a sort of “morning assembly” for the kids where she expected them to use a video camera, but at least in his class, the video was off for most of the day. They’re back at school for now, although as the number of cases is increasing in my area again, who knows how long that will last…

        3. hbc*

          Both my kids have a strong tendency to tune out if they can’t be seen. (Heck, so do I.) If they were in the classroom, they wouldn’t be able to have side chats with friends or spin aimlessly in their chairs during learning time, so I don’t consider it a strain on them to be visible during the shorter period that they see their teacher and classmates at home.

          I think there’s also value in the teacher getting as much signal as they can about the amount of attention that is being paid to the lesson. That doesn’t mean that Everyone has to have the camera on All the time, but if the camera is not impeding their learning at the moment, it’s better for the class for my kids to keep it on.

        4. New Jack Karyn*

          I teach at a Title I high school, and I usually let them leave their cameras off. But when I get a few kids not answering when I call on ’em, or clearly not paying attention (by giving an answer a classmate just gave), then I stop class and have them turn on the cameras.

          They can point them at the ceiling, just give me a wave every now and then, but it’s just so easy for them to check out when the camera’s not on.

        5. another worker bee*

          I teach adults and I really hate when the students have camera off. It is a lot easier for me to gauge engagement and mastery when I can see faces. We have also done analysis on this and people who are camera off get lower scores on quizzes and certifications, etc.

        6. Brad Fitt*

          Same as at work: micromanaging gives ineffective managers a false sense of increased productivity when they’re incapable of measuring productivity by quality of output. (Same logic behind making attendance part of the grade.)

          Different people are different and having arbitrary, inflexible standards in place will negatively impact anyone who doesn’t/can’t conform to those standards—at least they’re preparing our future world leaders to work at butts-in-seats jobs without complaining too much I guess.

      2. Kimmy Schmidt*

        I teach college students, so it may be a bit different. I also strongly prefer they have the cameras on because my style of teaching is so interactive, but I would never force a student to use video. Some professors at my college are docking student’s grades for not using video and that just makes me sad.

        1. bleh*

          Same. They have their reasons for not using a camera, even if some of their reasons are I log in to Zoom and walk away for the rest of class. Some definitely do this because they do not respond when I call on them verbally and in the chat. I still would not dock points for such choices. They are going to get what they want from the class.

      3. AnotherAlison*

        My kid is a HS junior. Our base internet speed is 2 mbps. You can strongly prefer it all you want, but when you layer the school’s VPN on our trash bandwidth, it is very difficult to support video. When I was WFH and on video, I basically shut down the internet for everyone else in the house.

        They have just run fiber within a mile of my house in both directions, so here’s hoping it gets there soon. I live in a fake rural area just a couple miles outside one of the first google fiber installations in the Kansas City area. It’s incredibly annoying to not even have access to cable. Not as big of a deal when we first moved there, before Netflix and online gaming were as big as they are now.

        1. Attack Cat*

          Are you lucky enough to have good cell reception, or does that suck as well? I often do walking zoom calls (college), and I am so thankful that my phone provider not only offers unlimited data, but also offers it at a rate my Dad can afford.

    2. oof*

      I think this really depends on the instructor’s teaching style and the learning materials too. I teach language classes, and although it’s not necessary for my students to turn their cameras on, I prefer it when they do because: 1) students have told me that seeing other students on screen helps them feel like they’re part of a group together (especially when they have to do speaking activities) and more importantly, 2) my classes involve a lot of speaking exercises, so I need to be able to see their lips to help them with pronunciation.

    3. HS Teacher*

      I agree with your policy about video, and my district doesn’t even allow us to ask students to turn it on. I’m perfectly fine with that, as we have students living in homes they may be embarrassed by, and major issues with bandwidth, especially for our Native American students who live on the nearby reservation.

      My biggest challenge is when they change their icons. I encourage them to get creative with them and have fun with them, but it seems like just when I get to the point where I can take attendance without even looking at names in Google Meet, they change their icons! It’s a good problem to have, though.

    4. Astor*

      I’ve been enjoying meetings where most of us don’t have our video on BUT (in addition to voice and chatting) there’s liberal use of reactions so you see lots of thumbs up/down, etc, in the way you’d normally see people nodding or shaking their head but not necessarily talking in a meeting.

    5. BadApple*

      Yes, I’m a teacher and I tell them to keep the camera off because we aren’t allowed to record them anyways. I teach foreign language so I have tools (virtual whiteboard, jamboard, conversation back-and-forth, games, etc.) that I am doing all the time anyways, so they are constantly engaged. When they technical issues, they do things on paper and text a picture of their work to my work phone. It’s all about keeping it moving and a good healthy pace … but it’s still very difficult reconceptualizing everything so kudos to all teachers out there. :-)

    6. Beth*

      I feel the same. I’m a grad student and TA, so I’m in some classes as a student and others as an instructor. I’ve noticed as a student how exhausting it is to perform attentiveness the whole session (our grad seminars can get up to 3 hours, but I’ve also had hours-long zoom calls with friends and family, so I can vouch for it not just being the length; being on video in class is just exhausting). And that’s with reliable internet, a background that I’m comfortable sharing, and the ability to go for a virtual background if I prefer!

      My students are undergrads, so they are adults. (Baby adults, maybe–I don’t expect them to have perfect judgement at all times, or perfect knowledge of how they focus best–but adults.) They’re capable of making choices for themselves. In the sections I lead, I leave it up to them whether they want to turn the camera on or not. Some do; most don’t. Many of those that don’t still engage, either via voice or via messaging in the chat. It would be nice to see more of their faces (it can be hard to judge whether they’re really getting something), but I feel like giving them the flexibility to prioritize their own needs is the best I can do for them right now.

  3. Lucy Honeychurch*

    What are thoughts about “requesting” (rather directly, multiple times) that people turn their cameras on during a training that involves engagement or such? I feel conflicted. Part of me feels like, yes, you should be doing this to be present. Other times I feel so burned out and also not “camera-ready.” I struggle with this.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I think it’d be nice, if being on camera is expected, to set that expectation before the meeting so people can prepare as much or as little as they’d like to be on camera. I tend to assume that higher-level meetings are camera on, but not training where I’m just listening/taking notes. My team is 50/50 – we had a good candid discussion about a major change that everyone had cameras on for, but we’ve also had more routine meetings that are mostly cameras off. If the organizer has specific ideas on camera use, they should share them in advance rather than asking mid-meeting.

    2. WellRed*

      I did some tech training last week using a screen share feature. Not sure how video would have worked (or helped!). And, if the meeting doesn’t require engagement, why have it? (Sorry if I am misunderstanding something here).

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Different levels of engagement. Do I need to pay attention and absorb the information? I can leave my camera off, or at least turn it off for small chunks of time.

        Do I need to interact with the speaker, or with other attendees? Camera on.

    3. Tau*

      I was more in favour of this at the start of the pandemic. My thoughts now are more along the lines of:

      If this meeting is relevant to me, if I’m getting useful information, if my participation is necessary – I will be engaged, whether the camera is on or not. If there’s a risk of me detaching, that’s an issue with the meeting (structure, agenda, the fact that it’s not an e-mail, etc.) Asking me to turn on the camera is just putting a band-aid over the gaping wound.

      It doesn’t help that I’m getting steadily more critical of one-directional video work meetings (i.e. video calls where I am almost certainly going to listen 100% of the time). Maybe it’s just me – I have video problems in general – but it’s almost impossible for me to keep focused for a longer amount of time in those. If the point of a call is information transfer instead of discussion, I really don’t understand why it can’t be an e-mail instead.

      1. Quill*

        I was just in one of those and honestly? It was a minor disaster. once you put more than a dozen people in a meeting, regardless of how many are on camera and how many are muted, the technology just does not keep up well. The meeting I was in could have been more easily facilitated via some sort of chat feature, but it did work to test various e-meeting functions.

    4. Charlotte Lucas*

      My Zoom crashed multiple times last week, & part of the problem was the bandwidth needs for video. When everyone’s on the internet checking results (especially in a swing state), video is just too much. (Both technologically & emotionally.)

    5. Aggretsuko*

      I have been watching online stage shows and someone in one of them keeps demanding that I turn on my camera and sound and pings me OVER AND OVER AGAIN to turn it on. It really pisses me off since I am not in the show and I don’t want to put on Happy Zoom Face or subject everyone to listening to the lawnmower outside. I literally quit and log off when he pulls that. I also was crying in a meditation session one time and the presenter insisted on turning on my sound to hear me talk about the experience….

      I think it is incredibly rude and obnoxious to demand my face/voice like that. If I have the camera off and/or the sound off, there’s a good reason for it that I don’t want to share with you. Especially if it’s something non-partcipatory. I am frequently Not Okay and don’t want to share that with the class.

      1. Disco Janet*

        What the heck?! Both of those situations sound awful. Is there a way to report the person who kept demanding you turn the camera on to the organizers? That is not okay.

        And the meditation one sounds like the exact opposite of what should be happening in a class like that. If I were you, I would give feedback to whoever is in charge of that class.

    6. Me*

      My bandwidth does not handle video well. I turn it on when I absolutely have to but that also means there are times I only hear every other word. I would think in a training it would be better that I actually hear everything that’s going on.

  4. Mophie*

    I’ve found a good compromise is to have people turn on the video when speaking, and turn it on when not for larger meetings. This doesn’t work for all settings, but I like it.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      This seems to be what we’ve settled on for large meetings as well. Everyone has their camera on for the first five minutes or so just to say hi, then most people turn them off except when speaking. For small meetings, everybody usually keeps them on, and for short 1-1 phone calls we generally go with just voice (even though we’re still using Teams either way.)

      1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        The nature of my job means most of our week is taken up by short 15-30 minute on-camera videocalls, always dressed professionally. We touched on it briefly at the beginning of WFH, but our policy for internal meetings is simply to be present on the call. There is not need to be on video for anything internal, and unless it’s for a specific thing we don’t have an issue with those who take a call while on a walk or any other place but your desk.

        Because of our relaxed policy, most people end up being on camera at least a few times a week for staff calls without any prompting. I feel, personally, that treating people to act as professionally as a situation needs will lead them to being that professional. It’s when you start trying to micromanage them that humans will naturally chafe simply from a “yeah, well, I don’t wanna” reaction.

    2. Meg Murry*

      I’ve seen from my kids school Zoom meetings they actually often have to do the opposite – when a kid has video on and they unmute themselves to talk, the teacher & other kids just hear a garbled, robotic stuttering – you can tell someone is talking, but the audio is so poor as to be unusable, and the video feed is frozen more often than not. Or as the 3rd graders all refer to it, the speaker is “glitching”.

      I’m assuming it has to do with internet speeds for uploading vs downloading, or perhaps limitations on the old Chromebooks the kids are using – but the kids with poor connections have gotten into the habit of having video on but being muted when not talking, then turning off video and unmuting when the teacher calls on them.

      1. Brad Fitt*

        It’s the bandwidth, and that’s a very odd solution they’ve found. The way it works is text uses very little internet to transmit, audio takes more and video takes the most (this is why streaming music was a thing before streaming video).

        If you have low internet speeds, you generally want to go audio-only because video uses a lot, especially if it’s multiple video streams at once. Cool that they found a way to make it work though.

    3. BookCocoon*

      This is my strong preference, as someone with auditory processing challenges who also doesn’t like having to be on camera all the time :D If I can’t see someone’s face while they’re talking it takes extra energy to process their words and I’m exhausted if I have multiple calls like that. But if someone’s not speaking, I don’t really care if their camera’s on.

  5. Fieldpoppy*

    Thanks for this, Alison. I’m in a slightly unique circumstance in that I’m either teaching (adult professionals) or facilitating groups for the most part, and it actually goes a lot better if people leave their cameras on because we’re in a conversation where it’s not just about “information” but about shared meaning making. Lots of it is small group collaboration. But — it’s true collaboration that needs conversation (not update meetings or just wanting to see each other, and I encourage people not to look directly at the camera the whole time, to stand up, to walk around, etc, and we take “human” breaks every hour for 5 mins.

    The distinction for me is “is this something we all need to grapple with?” If the answer is yes, cameras create a more engaged group — people are less likely to also be doing their email, etc. If the answer is “are we trying to replicate a meeting where one person is presenting and most others are chiming in every now and again?” cameras can be off. Though as Kimmy Schmidt said, the black boxes can be unnerving — I never realized how much of my teaching was dependent on adjusting in the moment to the cues I see from my group.

    1. aa*

      honestly as a neurodivergent person, it’s actually much easier for me to have more intense conversations with video off. if i have to have video on, i’m really distracted with trying to manage my facial expressions, background, etc, whereas with video off, i can more easily focus on the topic at hand. it’s also really helpful for me to be able to type out some of my thoughts to organize what I want to say (whether I send those in chat or use them as a guide when speaking), which may LOOK like working on something else but actually leads to me being more likely to contribute more to the conversation. in my experience, whether people remain engaged is much more related to whether they are invested in the topic at hand and their overall workload rather than if they are visible. not to come at you specifically- i think your strategy is really common (and may work well for your groups)! just wanted to offer another perspective

      1. Brad Fitt*

        Samesies. Someone above said “performative attentiveness” and that pretty much nails the thing I’m bad at. :)

  6. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    My boss wants video meetings. Once a month. And she tells us the day the week before.
    And she leads by example, dressing in super casual clothes, and it’s been working well.
    It’s actually nice…once in awhile.
    otherwise, there is no need.

  7. HoHumDrum*

    I am so glad that people are recognizing that not everyone does best with video on, and we should be flexible about each other’s needs during this time. I just wish people (not Allison, or anyone on this site) weren’t so quick to assume a preference for video is automatically about control or distrust.

    Personally I have a strong preference for video because I have a really hard time being socially appropriate without being able to read people’s facial cues (I have some brain issues that lead me to a tendency to jump in too quick and cut people off, or to ramble on without realizing my audience has disengaged) so when I see video I feel relief.

    Video should be optional for so many reasons, I just wish people weren’t so quick to jump to the worst conclusions. We’re all struggling to be our best selves right now, and so I deeply appreciate all who hold space for me as I try to hold space for them.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Agreed. I have a hard time with audio-only conversations because I seem to rely more on visial cues for when it’s ok for me to speak. I’m part of a management team, and early on during quarantine when we introduced video calls, I told my colleagues about this and said, “If anyone can turn on video during our once a week meeting, I’d appreciate it.” (I couched it in, not every week, as much as you feel comfortable, etc). One person has never done so, which is of course her prerogative, and it’s markedly harder for me to engage in conevrsation with her. I also notice she interrupts others more.

      I have monthly 1:1s with my staff, and that’s the only time I ask that video be on. Other group meetings, huddles, etc, I place the onus on myself to find ways to work with my audio-only processing skills. I end those calls really mentally taxed.

    2. Well Then*

      Agreed! I’m on a team that was fully remote pre-COVID, and we almost always use video. Some of us have never met in person and are unlikely to ever do so (living on different continents), so video meetings are our only way of having face-to-face conversation. I prefer video most of the time! In my experience, it’s good for building relationships with colleagues and clients, and it helps with social cues and not talking over each other. (There’s flexibility – if you’re sick or eating lunch or have a kid on your lap, you can turn off video and no one will mind, but the expectation is to have it on whenever you’re able.) I understand that plenty of people don’t prefer it, and that’s fine, but there are those of us who like video meetings and it’s not for weird or bad reasons!

  8. violet04*

    I’m so thankful my company doesn’t do video calls. I’ve been working with remote teams for years now and the lack of video has not been a hindrance. Also, in many of my meetings someone is sharing their screen so people usually focus on that rather than seeing each other’s faces.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      Same. Some areas of my employer seem to like video meetings, but I am very grateful that my work unit does not embrace them. I have been told that there is a camera on the work laptop I was issued back in the summer, but I have never used it and wouldn’t even know how to turn it on.

      A big part of it for me is keeping good boundaries. I may be working from the spare bedroom in my home, but I don’t want all 20 people on my team peeking into the spare bedroom in my home. That just feels, well, creepy. If I am ever placed in a position where a video conference is required, I plan to hang a plain white sheet from the ceiling placed so that it is right behind me and blocks off all view of anything personal in my home, because that just isn’t anyone else’s business.

      As for meeting with multiple people, we use Skype quite successfully for that. That allows screen-sharing, which is typically the most important aspect of meetings in my work unit. Folks who want to use video can do so, that’s fine, but those of us who don’t are not required to.

      I’m close enough to retirement at this point that if my employer suddenly issued an order that everyone had to appear by video at all meetings, I’d just put my retirement paperwork in earlier than planned and say buh-bye. I don’t need this job badly enough to put up with that. That’s privilege speaking, I realize; for most of my life, I could not have made a statement like that. But if I get pushed, that’s a hill I’d be prepared to die on. I suspect there’d be others who might be grateful that someone pushed back.

      1. violet04*

        We used to use Skype but have moved over to MS Teams and it’s been working well. We’re doing agile software development and all our planning sessions are now virtual instead of in-person. That’s been a bit of a challenge with so many different teams and groups that need to interact, but I feel like we’ve adapted quickly.

        20-some years ago I remember using Micr0soft NetMeeting.

    2. Silicon Valley Girl*

      Yep, we mostly don’t do video because we’re sharing documents, so the faces are tiny anyway & it doesn’t matter. Or we have big all-hands type meetings of 30-50 ppl, so only the presenter or a small panel are on video. I do video for weekly 1:1s, but that’s about it.

      1. allathian*

        This is how it works with my employer as well. On our weekly team meetings, usually only the presenter, most often our manager, is on video. In our monthly 1:2s with my boss and coworker who has the same job I do, we are on video for at least a part of the meeting. In our quarterly 1:1s with my manager, we’re on video. We also have monthly town hall meetings, where the presenter is on video, everyone else is muted. After the presentation there’s a Q&A, but it’s also possible to comment in chat during the presentation. We’re currently on Skype, although my employer has decided to switch to Teams next year. I think it works very well, especially as I don’t have to be on video all the time.

  9. Ahsley*

    Having hosted a large zoom call, given my screen size if more then 25 people are on video I can’t see everyone anyway so people toggling video on and off when they want to talk and using the chat feature can be much more helpful.

    I do think there can be value in a one on one on video sometimes and some small group meetings. Otherwise the video feels a little to much like butts in seats rules where if they can’t see you they assume you must not be participating.

    1. Bostonian*

      I agree that video is much more effective for smaller meetings. I’ve been in the 30-person Zoom meeting where most people have their video on, and it’s extra distracting when someone gets up to stretch, their cat jumps in their lap, or their family member is walking around behind them. So I just end up switching the view to “speaker only”, in which case it doesn’t really matter to me whether anyone else has their video on!

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Definitely agreed. If there are so many people their tiles don’t all show at once, or are so tiny you can’t read their faces anyway, all the supposed advantages fall away.

      I lipread, and somehow I find it harder to try to interpret a slightly pixelated and delayed face than a black box with a name in it. I vastly prefer live chat over video calls!

  10. MicroManagered*

    I make one-on-ones 15 minutes and “video optional.” I turn on video and about 75% of my direct reports turn on video, but I don’t push or say anything backhanded to anyone who doesn’t. So far that works for a mix of getting human interaction, but not forcing.

  11. KD*

    I have to disagree here. If we were in the office, then we would be facing each other, and I think it’s important to emulate a live-office environment as much as possible. When we were in the office, people didnt have the option of calling into a meeting from their desk if they didnt feel like going to the conference room with everyone else. Additionally, as someone with a hearing impairment, I find it very difficult to follow people without being able to read their lips. Finally, there is engagement-accountability when people are on screen. It’s human nature to get distracted and when people know they’re on screen, they’re more likely to pay attention. I understand the occasional “off video” but as a rule, the work-from-home environment should adhere to the same rules as the office. It’s a slippery slope into disaffected productivity.

    1. Ramona Q*

      But people aren’t in the office – they’re in their homes. You wouldn’t open up your homes to your coworkers as a matter of course as an expectation of your job – why should you have to on camera? I also see very little acknowledgement in your disagreement of the cognitive exhaustion of both Zoom and living through a pandemic. Your focus on “rules” is a little graceless in that regard.

      1. TechWorker*

        Whilst I see where you’re coming from and understand especially that being on video ALL DAY is too much (tbh being in face to face meetings all day is also pretty tiring)… I also agree with KD that in my office at least we are trying to replicate the in office environment where we can and video calls help with that.

        I also don’t really understand the ‘you should always let the employee choose whether to be on video’ – like sure, if for the context it genuinely doesn’t matter. But if it does matter, why would it be any more of a choice than anything else at work that you don’t particularly enjoy doing?

      2. KD*

        Well, I guess I don’t see it as “opening up my home” to coworkers, since I’m working and I can put up a virtual background to separate my home from my coworkers. And while I understand people have other things going on at home, I find it difficult to have a productive meeting when I cannot see people’s faces due to my hearing impairment. Additionally, I think it’s kind of rude to the meeting host to not demonstrate visual engagement…and if you can’t maintain engagement at a meeting because of these other things going on at the home, then you shouldn’t be at the meeting. It is not fair to the people who ARE 100% engaged.

        With respect to your penultimate point, “Zoom fatigue” doesn’t resonate with me. When I was at the office, I was in meetings all day, and of course I get tired of meetings, but it’s part of my job. So I do it.

        1. Hard of hearing*

          I would second the point about it being much harder for people with hearing impairments to follow audio only calls. Asking people to turn on cameras would probably be a reasonable adjustment though (?) even if it isn’t the norm.

          1. Tau*

            But it would be enough for people to turn on their video when they’re speaking, or? I know that the calls where I turn off video are usually the ones where I’m not contributing anyway.

            I’m autistic, not out about it at work, and a lot of my usual mechanisms for regulating my body language don’t work well on video calls. Especially if I’m just listening to people talk it becomes really difficult to stop myself from flapping, rocking, or behaving in some markedly non-NT way which I do not want to do around my coworkers. It’s not an issue in the office because I self-censor automatically when around other people, but it’s exhausting to try to keep a handle on it when I’m at home alone but on camera. Zoom fatigue is a huge problem for me, and being able to turn off my camera if I’m not involved in the conversation so I don’t have to worry about whether my body language is socially acceptable and NT-passing in what’s usually the only place I can relax about that really helps.

          2. Nanani*

            Wouldn’t email or other text based communication be even better?

            “Could this meeting be an email” ought to precede “Does this really need video”

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          If I was working with a coworker with a hearing impairment, I’d make it a priority to turn on my camera to make the meeting easier for them. Not to try to prove I’m engaged or to make it like being in the office but because I’d be trying to make my coworker’s life easier by doing what works best for them over what I prefer.

          Trying to make working from home just like what would happen in the office is not realistic under current circumstances. If you can engage with all your meetings 100% all the time, good for you, you win at meetings. I have two kids distance learning at home, a spouse who also works from home and isn’t relegated to his home office (because he was working from home first before the rest of us crashed his quiet time), a cat who is prone to randomly galloping through the house and meowing VERY loudly for no apparent reason, and all manner of things going on here. I hit my marks, my performance is one of the highest in my organization, and, I’m grateful my boss uses those as performance measures rather than whether or not I appear to be paying attention and on camera. Being flexible with people’s going to net better results than trying to pretend that things are normal and everyone should be acting exactly the same from home as the office.

        3. Colette*

          By that logic, I couldn’t be on any meetings on garbage day, or when my neighbours have something loud going on, or when someone else in the house goes into the kitchen for a snack. (In fact, if the bar is “100% engagement” I’d probably never be in another meeting.)

          I think it’s fine to ask people to turn on their cameras if there’s a reason for it (i.e. you need the visual clues to understand what’s going on.) But I don’t think it’s OK to ask people to turn their cameras on because you’d see them in person if you were in the office – that’s just not a good enough reason to ask people to be on camera.

          1. allathian*

            You can keep your camera on and mute your audio, though. It’s sensible to do in most cases anyway, only the speaker has the mic open. For us, the only exceptions are 1:1 meetings.

            1. Colette*

              But all of those things are distracting, and mean I’m not 100% engaged in the meeting, which was the bar KD set.

        4. Oxford Comma*

          I’m looking into captioning for the classes I teach over Zoom. Is that an option for your meetings?

          1. TechWorker*

            We use a different platform to zoom so I can’t speak for how good zooms is, but the automatic captioning on ours is a) not real time (it’s meant for easier catch up rather than participation and b) mostly awful, especially if there’s technical or proprietary terms involved (lots of the words and acronyms we use well, aren’t words), or if anyone has an accent.

            Now, zoom captioning *might* be both real time and 100x better but if not I doubt it’s going to be much use.

        5. Tricksieses*

          Not everyone can run a virtual background. My laptop is great for everything I need, but somehow doesn’t have whatever capacity a virtual background needs. And it’s great that you don’t get Zoom fatigued, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that most people get more fatigued on Zoom than IRL.

          I’ve discovered Zoom is much easier for me when I hide my self-view, so I always do that now.

    2. Oxford Comma*

      I am on a break at this very minute. I have had 4 Zoom meetings just today and I am about to have 3 more. This is not unusual for me these days. I end my work days exhausted. Before the pandemic, I might have a couple of meetings a day, sometimes rarely, 3. I never had 7.

      Most of what was in the meetings today could have been communicated by email. In some cases a simple conference call would have worked just fine or possibly an email followed by a quick conference call, but no, somehow no matter what we have to meet.

      It is extra hard just to do my actual job because I am constantly in meetings.

      1. Clisby*

        This sounds horrible. I worked 17-18 years entirely WFH before I retired and never had to put up with that. We had occasional video meetings (Zoom wasn’t around then) but the norm was … I just worked remotely. I never had even one meeting a day; maybe 2 or 3 a week was the norm, and that was over the phone (I could dial in to team meetings, for example). If I needed to talk to people more quickly, we had email and chat.

        I’m curious – are all these meetings ramping up because of the pandemic/people working from home? Maybe my computer programmer job was an outlier, but there was never a need for more than I’ve described.

        1. Oxford Comma*

          At the beginning of the pandemic, most of the meetings made sense. We were trying to establish policies, protocols, how we would maintain service to our users. There were some sessions on the best ways to use the tech. Also it was nice to have that human connection and see people when we were all locked down.

          Since then it’s mostly meeting to meet. They’re not efficiently run meetings either. For example, my first meeting today took an hour in which the convener shared a document on the screen that he wanted our feedback on. He didn’t send it out ahead of time. We spent an hour on this. The second meeting was so we could prepare for a meeting later on in the week. I don’t see why we couldn’t have done this on Slack, but that was another hour of my day gone. And so on.

          This is what I deal with now.

          I hate it. I hate being on cam all day long.

    3. D3*

      I disagree with your premise that “it’s important to emulate a live office environment as much as possible” and I HATE the whole “slippery slope” claim. It’s patently untrue that being kind means everything is going to slide into chaos.
      I feel it’s more important to be understanding and flexible with the upheaval in our society. You want people to be patient and kind with your needs for seeing people, you need to be kinder and understanding that others have differing needs.
      And “engagement accountability” and “disaffected productivity?” you sound like a joy to work with. Please try to remember that coworkers and employees are human beings, not robots.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      Well, when I’m competing with three other people for bandwidth for video, the kids get top priority and my spouse and I rock-paper-scissors for the next spot. When I’m in the office, I’m not disrupting my kids’ education by being in a conference room; at home, we’re pulling from the same internet pipe.

      I’m also a grown-up, so I’d chuckle if someone told me that they needed to see me on video to make sure I was paying attention to their meeting.

      1. HS Teacher*

        I agree. If you need to infantalize your employees, maybe you need to look at your leadership and policies/procedures.

      2. Massive Dynamic*

        I do this too – when my kid’s distance learning center was recently shut down because of positive tests, spouse and I were firmly video-off if kid was in class- it’s a million times more important that kid can see teacher and vice versa than if our coworkers can see our faces.

        If I had a situation where I had a coworker who needed faces for lip reading, then I’d schedule time with them around the school zooms so I could be on camera and present.

      3. DivineMissL*

        Ugh, I just took a 5-week class, on Saturdays, that were 5 hours each and the teacher INSISTED that we keep our cameras on the entire time because SHE NEEDED TO MAKE SURE WE WERE REALLY THERE, NOT CHEATING, AND PAYING ATTENTION. Like we were in kindergarten. Let me tell you, sitting on a Zoom call for 5 HOURS watching 27 people yawn, eat (blecch) and look totally bored while the teacher droned on about her personal anecdotes of her job was incredibly stressful.

      4. TechWorker*

        I get that bandwidth issues trump everything else – if you can’t be on video then obviously you can’t be.

        But it’s a jump from ‘I think it’s kind of rude to the meeting host to not demonstrate visual engagement’ to ‘I need to see you on video to make sure you’re paying attention’.

        The latter seems to assume the person running the meeting is the most senior and the concern is all about control. In my experience, I run a lot of meetings where I am one of the most junior people but need discussion and consensus from the other attendees. In that case, it can be hard when it’s not clear whether anyone is actually paying attention and I do prefer video where possible. That’s not about ‘control’ – because I have zero control over these folks anyway! It’s about whether they’re engaging respectfully. And yes – they can absolutely do that without video but if they are off video and muted for the entire thing it’s quite difficult to know if they’re engaged or just doing something else.

    5. Not playing your game anymore*

      Starting in 1988, I’ve been involved in a number of teams for our library consortium. Say a dozen people from 8 or 9 different universities in a couple of time zones. Back in the 80’s we actually sent each other letters on paper!!, did conference calls that had to be scheduled at the central switchboard, and maybe 3 or 4 times a year drove to Al’s Oasis at the Missouri River to meet in person. We switched to email, and when the state got a video conferencing system set up we’d each go to our campus e-room and meet that way, but really, there was little video interaction, as there most frequently screen sharing happening. Finally we got the ability to skype/webex/what have you and we never even considered turning on video, cause most people didn’t have a camera and continued to use the phone for voice… just used the computers for screen sharing. I keep waiting for someone to suggest we turn on the video, now that we all have the technology… but no one has and frankly I’m glad.

      There are a couple of people on campus who advocate for us to all turn our cameras on, but no one with the power to require it. If I’m in my office, I do if that seems to be the way the meeting is working, but from home, I just can’t. Both of my internet’s are poor and very flaky. If I use the Satellite WiFi for outgoing and the DSL for incoming (or vice versa) I can manage to have both otherwise I’ve got to turn the video off.

    6. Pennalynn Lott*

      This comment is so contrary to my own experiences working remotely that it’s almost laughable. (In the way that humans laugh when we find something wildly incomprehensible).

      The company I was at before my current one: My office was remote to Corporate and so we had video calls All. The. Damned. Time. They had the same attitude as you, KD — “The employees can’t possibly be paying attention and doing their jobs if we aren’t watching them! There’s no other way to know if they’re retaining information and completing work!”

      I ended up recording all of our team meetings and trainings because I couldn’t follow what was being said while simultaneously making sure my facial expressions were exactly what our VP wanted and that my eyes stayed focus on the camera lens (instead of looking at my screen to see the speaker). Additionally, I prefer to type notes when someone is speaking and — yowsers — all levels of management decided that I was surfing the internet when my eyes occasionally darted to my keyboard and screen to make sure I didn’t have a bajillion typos. When I offered to share my screen and/or notes to prove I was paying attention, I was told I was being insolent. I lost hours of productivity a day (1) trying to prove I was “present” and then (2) rewatching (relistening) to meetings when I could actually pay attention. It was so stressful it affected my health.

      My current company almost never uses video. At least not my department. I am waaaaaaayyyyy more productive now. Massively. In virtual meetings, I mute myself and type away. I am able to ask coherent questions because typing helps my brain understand the material and I have notes from, say, early in the meeting to refer back to at the end when someone says, “Any questions?”

      Current company is also heavy on IM usage and Teams calls. [Though we check if someone is available for a call before ringing them up; but we also used to IM each other for permission before popping into their office/cube back when we were in the same building.] Plenty of connection, tons of conversations all day long, ZERO video. And you know how my managers can figure out if I’ve been paying attention? The quality of my work and the amount I complete in a day/week. It’s super, duper simple.

      1. allathian*

        Oh my goodness. That sort of performative attention is stupid. I expect your former company was very butt-in-seats in before times and only accepted WFH when forced to do so.

    7. allathian*

      I’m so glad I don’t work with you, you sound awfully inflexible. Granted, you have a hearing impairment and no doubt video makes things easier for you. Other people have other issues that make video hard for them to deal with in a way that being present in person isn’t. You seem to demonstrate exactly zero understanding for that. I have a slight hearing impairment, too. Not to the point of needing to see someone’s face to understand what they’re saying, but given the choice between choppy audio and video and decent quality audio with no video, I’ll pick the latter every single time.

      People on video can look like they’re paying attention, but who’s to say if that’s really the case? It’s just performative and some people internalize things better when they aren’t forced to perform paying attention.

      We had one person in a remote location on my team. That’s why even when most of us were at the office, we had out team meetings on Skype, because that was more equal to everyone, rather than the hybrid where we would be in a conference room and the remote person was remote. Then they didn’t get as much attention as the rest of us. Although I must admit that being in the same Skype meeting with someone in the next cubicle was weird, because there was an audible lag between the sound that I heard in person and the sound that came through Skype. At least I don’t have that now…

    8. Anon For This*

      My grand-boss has this attitude. With zero regard for the fact that my husband is also WFH and my high-schooler is online and while we bought a router and boosted our signal at our own expense, there’s a limit. I’m not going on video if it’s going to freeze my kid’s physics class. And all the chirpy repeated “can we see some more faces?” just pisses me off. The “we’re all in the office now!” ‘tude is not actually based in objective reality. I am losing respect for people who insist upon it at all times.

    9. Brad Fitt*

      “It’s human nature to get distracted and when people know they’re on screen, they’re more likely to pay attention.”

      No, you’re more likely to pay attention. I’m more likely to start obsessing about how I look on video, whether I look engaged enough, whether my RBF is acting up, whether the rest of the group is following along at the same pace, etc, and I also worry about whether I can take notes or not (I really, really need to) or if that makes me look distracted. Ugh. Sometimes is fine, I’ll suck it up, especially if the purpose of the meeting is active participation with the group, but otherwise it’s a nightmare and also my internet is slow af.

  12. Bostonian*

    I think I relate most to this person’s perspective:

    My team is finding that having at least some of our calls be over video is helpful in feeling like we’re all in sync. Not everyone is on video for the entirety of every call, but going for weeks or months without being “face to face” with our closest coworkers doesn’t work well for us. I know some remote teams manage it, and that’s great for them, but it’s too out of sync with the collaborative workplace culture we had when we were all in the office together.

    We’ve been doing meetings where video on is the default, but it’s OK if not everybody has it on all the time. I like being able to still see my colleagues while also having the option to opt out of video if I’m not feeling up to it.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      “We’ve been doing meetings where video on is the default, but it’s OK if not everybody has it on all the time. I like being able to still see my colleagues while also having the option to opt out of video if I’m not feeling up to i”

      Yup. I think it’s important to have norms where there is some video but people don’t have to be always on- that’s just too much.

      I think in greetings at the start of a call, and perhaps when really presenting it should be the norm. At other times, it should be OK to be off. That said, as much as possible, if people are going to have their video off the should try to have a headshot or other image displayed – it’s much friendlier.

  13. JI*

    I have a job where I am often presenting my screen, evaluating and responding to new information.
    I am spectacularly bad at multitasking, so I find having to regulate my face as well makes it challenging.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      Same, I’m usually the host of the meeting and the one presenting. On top of that, I have a desktop that doesn’t have a camera, so I have to log on under one username to the do the presentation, and then log on a different one on my phone for the audio. I’m not always the one talking, but I’m the one who has to put all the materials that need to be discussed up on the screen. If the conversation flows to a different subtopic, then I have to quickly find that document and put it up on the screen to keep things flowing. No one needs to watch me while I search!

  14. Mel_05*

    I’m on a monthly interdepartmental video call. That’s it. Sometimes my boss does a conference call with just our department and those can be good. Everything else is email or chat and that works very well for us.

  15. Sasha "Potato Girl" Blause*

    Huh, I’ve still never experienced “zoom fatigue.” A sticky note over the little self-view picture takes care of any impulse to preen for the camera. I’m actually really glad that video calls are replacing the phone. Tbh I wish all phones were automatically video. Traditional phone calls are so difficult to focus and comprehend that I often have to imagine the other person sitting in front of me.

    1. Filosofickle*

      Yeah, me neither. If I’m a little more tired, it’s because I’ve been focusing and paying better attention than I do on audio. But that extra is typically offset by being more energized by the eye contact / face time. And I say this as a strong introvert! My learning and retention are almost always better when I have something to look at even if it’s just a floating head. I don’t drift as much. It’s also a ton easier for me to appropriately take turns talking when I can see faces.

      As a consultant with long-distance clients & teams, I’ve used video for many years. I recognize others don’t share my affinity so I don’t force it, but I do encourage it bc in my work it’s been a very distinct pattern that teams that are willing to show up on video build much stronger trust and connection. We definitely have a come-as-you-are ethos, which helps.

      There is one time I dislike video, and that’s when the team or project is annoying. Putting on a neutral/pleasant/listening face when I want to smash my head into my desk is truly hard work.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I think all this shows, though, is that there is no universal preference, so a little grace on both sides is in order. I would be miserable if I had to switch my audio-only calls to include video and do not have auditory processing issues. I find myself more distracted trying to concentrate on both audio and video simultaneously. Clearly, neither of us will be happy all the time.

      1. Filosofickle*

        Right, just as WFH is perfect for some people (me!) and dreadful for others. I wonder what the future will look like, if we’ll find ways of work that accommodate more folks, build in flexibility, and allow everyone to get what they need at least some of the time. I’m not sure how, but maybe?

    3. Dancing Otter*

      All video? Ever had someone call so early they woke you up?
      Or late at night?
      Or just as you got out of the shower?
      In my home, there would be a lot more unanswered calls.

  16. WantonSeedStitch*

    My own video preferences are:

    1) If we’re having a small meeting with more than two people, but few enough that most of the people at the meeting will be expected to talk, I like people to use video. Not necessarily the whole time, but if they are presenting information or asking a question, it’s nice to be able to see their face (though if they’re sharing their screen and doing PowerPoint or something, I don’t feel the video of their face adds much).

    2) If it’s just me and one other person, I am neutral on video. For scheduled meetings, I tend to default to it because it makes it feel like I’m sitting down with the other person in the same room. For unscheduled touches, I am more likely to use a Slack call that’s just audio, like I might pick up the phone to call someone.

    3) If there’s a meeting with a lot of people, but only a few of them will be speaking, I don’t think everyone else needs to have their video on. Large all-staff meetings, for example, or trainings, or similar.

    In general, I prefer that if someone isn’t going to have their video on, that they have a still photo of themselves up to take its place, so it’s easier to tell at a glance who is present. Plus, I think it feels a little less weird to the speaker/s than a screen full of blank black boxes.

    1. TechWorker*

      I do broadly the same as you, except for #3 the presenter often asks if a few people (say 6-10 out of the ~70 present) can use video. It is *so* hard to present engagingly to a silent invisible audience.

      (I’m obviously aware that people do this – but it’s definitely harder, so when presenting is a small part of your job, it’s a kindness to give the presenters an audience!)

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        I know that feeling! I agree. I think there are usually SOME folks who are happy enough to have their video on regardless, which can help.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        I have a nice headshot in my account, which I think is a fine middle ground for large meetings where I’m just listening. (And I mean large like 200+ — there are still a good number of people leaving their cameras on!)

    2. allathian*

      Did I write this in my sleep? Spot on.
      We use Skype for now, so the presenter doesn’t see the audience anyway. At some point next year, we’re going to move to Teams, though.

  17. Luke G*

    At the vast majority of our meetings we’ve settled into using no video at all, with the presenter sharing a screen containing one of two things:
    – A summary of the information being discussed (charts, graphs, records, or other visuals)
    – A word document so notes/action items appear real time

    This has helped us stay in sync way more than video would, since we can say “this part of the graph here” and circle it for everyone to see, and so everyone can see the meeting summary taking shape and the action items being typed. It makes for way less confusion or chance for different interpretations of the meeting contents. In fact, it’s so beneficial that a number of our recurring project meetings will almost certainly say on as conference calls in this format even once in-person meetings are practical again.

    1. juliebulie*

      Yes! This is the kind of “video” that I need. Notes, examples, etc. on my screen.

      I don’t mind being on camera for a casual chat or a one-on-one, but when it’s a real working meeting, seeing all those faces is more of a distraction than anything. Plus there’s the weird sensation of being stared at, sometimes!

      1. Zoomed out*

        I agree! And seeing everyone’s faces the entire time, is definitely *not* emulating how we would be if we were still meeting at the office. In the past, I was constantly moving my head around to look at every co-worker’s face. I was looking at the front of the room-~85% of the time looking at the projector screen and the other 15% at whichever one colleague was speaking.

        Anytime I hear someone say we have do everything by video, all I hear is worrying over control.

  18. Former Retail Lifer*

    I work in property management and I’ve been going to work every day this whole time. I guess since we’re all more comfortable with the technology now, our corporate people have been calling us via Microsoft Teams with the camera on. Pre-pandemic, it would have been a phone call.

    Please stop.

    1. Searching*


      Working outside the home just as always, and people are just *shocked* when I explain my workstation doesn’t have a way to do a video call.

  19. LogicalOne*

    I was never a fan of being on video for Zoom work meetings, especially because I feel like I need to do my hair and dress up like I am at work and such. That and I feel like there are those people who internally make comments about your home when they see it on camera. Unfortunately my laptop is a little too old (2015) for Zoom to be able to change the background on my camera otherwise I would! Apparently you need a newer laptop/computer to upgrade Zoom for this capability. But since the Pandemic started, we’ve never forced anyone to be on camera. We don’t want to add another layer of awkwardness or uncomfortable feelings during a pandemic.

  20. Bookworm*

    Thank you very much for writing this piece. My organization is apparently in the works of requiring all of us to turn on our video for every single call and it’s becoming soul-crushing. I’ve gone from a few meetings, many of which were bi-weekly, once a month, etc. to multiple daily calls. It’s becoming difficult and increasingly tiring. So I appreciate this.

  21. maggggghie*

    The execution and oversight of industry-sponsored clinical research has been decentralized for decades. Contract research organizations (though very often not the industry sponsors, biotech/pharma companies) have a workforce that can be/usually is up to 90% remote, and the bigger companies have employees all over the world. I have worked from home full-time for eight years and before the pandemic and zoom (and Microsoft introduction of Teams), I can count on one hand the number of video calls I have had. There are people I have worked with for multiple year projects who I have never seen. We all manage just fine.

    1. violet04*

      I’ve also been on projects where I’ve worked with people in India and scattered across the country who I’ve never met in person. Even when I was going into the office, I would be on conference calls. It’s been several years since I’ve actually had co-workers in the same physical location. For a while, my boss was in a different state. I guess for companies like mine the transition to full time WFH hasn’t been that big of a change since we never had that much in-person collaboration to begin with.

  22. Phony Genius*

    Where I work, none of our meetings have been on video. Since our work computers don’t have A/V equipment, we phone into most conference calls, even from home. WebEx and similar services allow a phone-in option, and you can still share documents and screens. Sometimes, one person will use their own video equipment. They are often the only one anybody can see.

  23. A Person*

    I was just pondering why my office is so video centric (video isn’t required, but generally people use video especially in smaller meetings). This was true even before the pandemic. Then I realized that since we’re an international company I can imagine that someone who needs a little extra context for the language or if you’re working to understand someone with an accent it’s helpful. Certainly it’s useful to see immediately when my report has failed to understand the strange English idiom I just used.

  24. NW Mossy*

    If nothing else, video should be optional-not-required to accommodate for bandwidth issues. Having a high-speed connection at home isn’t a given, and even for those that do have them, you can easily overload it. A typical weekday in my house involves 2 video calls, a device streaming video, and large data transfers all happening at once.

    Video is helpful for a lot of reasons, but trying to do it with someone whose connection is unstable is way worse than audio-only.

  25. Jackie Paper*

    I’ve been job searching and so far I’ve had 8 first round interviews. Normally in my field these would all be phone interviews, but so far all but one has been by Zoom video instead of phone (and that one was still on Zoom but without video).

    One place even did my reference checks by Zoom video call!

    1. Searching*

      Yikes! as someone who cannot work from home I wouldn’t know what to do with a Zoom call interview…seeing as my “laptop” has half the memory and RAM of my smartphone.

      Definitely would prefer a regular phone call.

      1. Not playing your game anymore*

        You can do a zoom call from your smart phone. I do that sometimes when my home internet is especially troublesome.

  26. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    My team is 100% WFH until at least Jan 20021. We use Microsoft Teams for all our calls, but I was happy to discover that no one on the group of 20 ever turns their camera on. It was a little weird during my interview, as I couldn’t see anyone’s facial expressions to see if I was doing well or not, but now that I’ve been onboarded I’m thrilled to not have to be physically presentable.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      My team is 100% WFH until at least Jan 20021.

      Now *that* is a commitment to Remote Work! =)

      1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        They closed the campus in mid-March and no one has gone back. The rumor is we won’t be going back at all and will be able to WFH permanently, which I’m very on board for it it happens.

  27. LCH*

    i work in a satellite office and have had a call every 2 weeks with my supervisors forever. we switched to video because it made conference calling easier from home. but someone high up at my company does not like zoom so we use google meet. and i can’t get the sound to work on it no matter what i do. works fine on zoom, skype, etc. so i just call in on the phone. no need for video! plus i hate watching myself.

  28. Pam Adams*

    I do academic advising- primarily one-on-one meetings with students. Meeting via Zoom works about as well as our former in-person meetings. Students actually prefer it in some ways because waiting in a virtual queue is easier than doing so in person. However, at least half of them don’t use their cameras in our meetings, and I don’t require it.

  29. Hello Hello*

    My organization does work that’s very people-centered and takes a lot of collaboration. As our work-from-home situation has gone on and on, I’ve noticed people are using video less and some have stopped completely. Our employer helps pay for our internet service and equipment, so it’s not a financial thing or a technology problem. Honestly, I think the “no video” trend is hurting our teamwork: some people are staying off camera every day, for every meeting. Those same people seem to contribute less to discussions; when the person leading the meeting asks for feedback or ideas, the “off-camera” people need a lot of nudging to participate. It’s also much harder to judge non-verbal feedback and reactions when there are no faces in the meeting. I support staff taking a break from video, or strategically using it less, but never joining by video seems like it’s also harmful to collaboration, productivity and morale. I’ve often been that person trying to wrangle ideas and resuscitate a discussion in a meeting attended by a bunch of dark, muted boxes – doing that takes a toll on the meeting leader, believe me. Has anyone been through this and found ways to get at least some video participation from people?

    1. WellRed*

      I think it’s possible it goes both ways. I never have my camera on, but I participate as much as if not more, than others who do. Is the problem really that they are off camera (it may very well be) or is there a problem with the meetings themselves (in our cases, they tend to drag on a bit long or go off track or get repetitive). Maybe a problem is the muting. As to non-verbal feedback, I don’t think that’s a thing people should be looking for nor interpreting. Trust me, some of my non-verbal feedback is best not taken out of context (eye rolling, for example, especially if it’s reflexive).

    2. TechWorker*

      Honestly I think the easiest way to get around it is to make video the default for those collaborative meetings. Sure you can have exceptions if there are technical issues… but if you need everyone to contribute then I don’t think making it a bit less optional is a cardinal sin. (Many of the commenters and possibly Alison might – but you know your team.)

    3. allathian*

      How often do you have these meetings?

      How about asking everyone to use headshots if they’re not on video? It would at least make it obvious that there are real people rather than dark, muted boxes.

      Muting is good, unless everyone is using good noise-canceling headphones. Otherwise you’ll get a lot of extra noise on the line and if someone has issues with hearing, that extra noise is really bothersome.

      These are weird times. The people who aren’t contributing may be burned out or suffering from depression or anxiety, or whatever. Please show them a bit of grace and allow them to coast for a while. They may simply not have the spoons to contribute, and that should be okay as long as they’re doing the other parts of their jobs.

  30. Texan In Exile*

    Yeah, I don’t get it. In my previous job, almost every meeting I had was on skype – almost all of my co-workers were in a different state or country. The person running the meeting would share the meeting presentation on the screen. That’s what we looked at. We didn’t need to see each others’ faces. There are some people I worked with for years without knowing what they looked like.

  31. Estelle*

    My team isn’t enforcing video – some of us have had spotty internet, so it helps with bandwidth. I’m also not in a lot of meetings, after years of encouraging coworkers to leave me out of meetings I don’t need to be in because it interrupts the flow of my work.
    I have my own personal policies for video: I’ll turn it on at the beginning of the meeting & for discussions. I’ll turn it off when someone is presenting, which happens in almost all my meetings.

  32. TC*

    I have found the whole video thing this year really fascinating, as someone who works for a global company that was somewhere in the range of 50% remote before the pandemic.

    There’s a couple teams I’m aware of (mainly creatives) who do video, but in my daily work, we essentially do 100% of all our conference calls with no video. There’s occasionally a person or two who puts their video on, but never commentary from them or others about turning it on or off. It’s just basically a non-issue. I’ve had my camera on I believe 2 times this year… one to have a private call with a colleague who I really like and who had their video on, one when shortly into the pandemic, my department did an optional non-work-related video call just to kind of commiserate and chat. That’s it.

    From everything I’ve read about the stresses of video fatigue this year, I really wish that were possible with more companies.

  33. CameraShy*

    We rarely did video meetings before, and when we did, our entire group sat in one room.
    Now I have a camera at my desk and I’m really trying to get used to it. The whole idea of “focus on the camera and not on the screen” is hard for me. It makes me feel like I’m not really focusing on the people I’m talking to.
    I attended a professional-society mixer a few weeks ago, except I didn’t realize that’s what it was going to be. I thought it was going to be another webinar with keynote speakers. Instead we got broken up into groups to chat with each other. I wasn’t ready for it. I’m usually a behind-the-scenes person. Didn’t feel I looked polished enough to be on camera.
    Also, the executives in the office can’t/don’t/won’t start their own meetings. I have to setup their meeting, explain how to turn the camera/mic off/on, run back to my desk to participate, then run back to help them because they couldn’t remember how to do what I just showed them.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, this. I’ve skipped the focus on the camera bit and definitely always focus on the screen, because otherwise I get distracted. I’ll glance at the camera occasionally, like I would in person. I don’t stare at people when I talk to them.

  34. WFH Tutor*

    I work for an online tutoring site as a side gig, and we’ve heard recently that they may be trying to roll out video sessions in the (vaguely near) future. I am dreading this for a number of reasons — I don’t want children and teens I don’t know seeing into my one-bedroom apartment, which may or may not be tidy at any given point; I don’t want said children and teens screenshotting my face and using it without my permission; I don’t want to have to worry about what I look like when I am sitting down for a 2-hour tutoring shift on a Saturday morning. One of the reasons I picked this job to make some extra money (a pilthy amount, really, not enough to justify video tutoring) is so I don’t have to worry about my attire. Are we going to have a dress code now? And that’s not even taking into consideration whatever will appear on my screen.

    All this for English tutoring. I can think of virtually no reason why this would be a good idea or helpful in any way. I spend most of my time reading and assisting with essays.

    I ramble. Video on might be helpful sometimes, under some circumstances, but it’s so, so important for companies (and schools, etc) to consider whether the benefit outweighs the downsides. I will quit my tutoring job if they make video tutoring a requirement. I’m lucky to have that option.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      A thought I’ve been having …you know all those political signs aging on street corners? They have lightweight metal frames that could be joined to make a stand for a green screen or a bedsheet backdrop.

  35. Elizabeth West*

    Dear Managers,


    A magical thing that has existed since before COVID, a useful thing that nearly always has enough bandwidth, a life-changing thing that began in earnest in the last century, circa 1956, and has remained a staple of business ever since:


    1. Disco Janet*

      Right?? I don’t get why we suddenly need to be on video when before if people were working remotely, phone conference worked fine. I have actually suggested a few times if we could “just get on a call” instead of a Zoom. It works sometimes.

    2. all the time*

      But that usually costs $$ where Teams (don’t know about Zoom) is included with our Office 365 – as the IT person for my company I am encouraging teams – but we rarely do video! So it is a conference call without $$$.

  36. GMN*

    This is so interesting to me and completely out of sync with my experience. I work in a Scandinavian country and I can’t imagine anyone having a problem with video, or finding it invasive. You see less of the person than you do in in person-meetings, and you just see a small section of the wall of their home, unless they purposefully turn the camera toward something personal. I am trying to understand how that can feel invasive but coming up short.

    Possibly some of the reason is that there is great internet here and bandwidth is not a problem, but I strongly prefer video as long as we can’t do in person, since I get at least some of the non-verbal ques that phones remove.

    What do other non-americans say, is this an american thing?

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I mean, or it could be an individual person thing without any connection to their country of origin.

    2. Tau*

      Germany here, tech company with many international employees. We’re fairly mixed about video – some always have it on, some always have it off, most probably switch it up. The smaller the meeting, the more likely people are to use video. It hasn’t been a big issue – every now and then in a meeting the presenter will ask if people would like to turn on their video because they’re speaking to a wall of black boxes, but so far no one’s suggested that it’s a problem as a pattern or that video should be mandatory.

      I will say:

      and you just see a small section of the wall of their home, unless they purposefully turn the camera toward something personal.

      If you can set your equipment up that way. I have my desk in my bedroom and my back is to my wardrobe, I always have to check in the morning that I haven’t forgotten to close any doors so you don’t see my clothes spilling out and that I haven’t accidentally angled the laptop so you can see my bed. There is simply nowhere else I can put it! I have a lot of coworkers who also show large chunks of their flat, and I generally assume it’s because they weren’t prepared for permanent WFH and their work spot isn’t well set up for video calls, like mine isn’t. The whole thing does feel a bit invasive, tbh – and Germany is very privacy-conscious, culturally speaking, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the reason some of my coworkers don’t do video.

      1. Matt*

        Austria here – my office is 90 % audio only. Occasionally some of the participants will have their video on, but the default is no and no one has ever been asked or pressured into turning video on.

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      It’s an Ask A Manager selection bias, this group skews towards extreme introversion.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’m totally extrovert and I don’t feel the need for lots of videocalls. I’ve flipped it on to say hello to new co-workers in other countries — but I did that before covid-19 too. And I flip it off afterwards. However, if I hadn’t moved two years before pandemic, I would have not wanted someone to see my home. We had outgrown it. The sheer number of people and things in that house made it look messy and chaotic even when it wasn’t. I prefer simplicity and minimalism, but I’m married to a pack rat. The dichotomy? No video calls there.

        1. GMN*

          I guess I am assuming laptop cameras – they dont show a whole lot except your face. Of course, people can have different setups.

          To add to that, I generally don’t mind if someone turns their video off and I don’t “feel the need for lots of videocalls”, as you say either, I just don’t understand the big repulsion to video that most people here seem to feel.

      2. GMN*

        Although not wanting to be on video can have reasons beyond introversion, in general I have thought the same. This is one example, but there are more:
        – People seem to detest social interaction with coworkers outside work
        – Apparently phone conversations are terribly uncomfortable to a lot of people and written communication is preferred

    4. Attack Cat*

      A factor other than bandwidth is the size of meeting. A few people talking, I get the impulse, but an extra large meeting? A meeting where your company has to buy the extra large meeting upgrade from zoom? (free and pro caps at 100, enterprise at 500, large meeting upgrades offer a cap of 500 or 1000) No thank you, why do you need to see my face passively listening? I had a class (that I quickly dropped) where 100 people were expected to tune in live or show up masked and follow along with the electronic polling software. In situations like that, it just doesn’t make sense to turn on video. (The live requirement is not why I dropped, it was the format of the testing, something that wasn’t the instructors fault) A lot of businesses have meetings that have a similar function. A few people drone on and on while everyone takes notes. I cannot imagine being in a zoom lecture with over 600 students (biol 100)

      1. Attack Cat*

        Thankfully, some classes that were supposed to remain synchronous, like that biol 100 class, gave up on that pretty quickly. And they changed the class schedule in the University’s enrollment/schedule software to indicate that. Those class times now say: to be announced, the format they used for the few online asynchronous classes available pre-pandemic.

      2. GMN*

        I completely agree for large meetings. If you routinely have meetings with more than 100 (or 20) people we have very different jobs.
        My statement applies to collaborative meetings were I am participating in discussions and decision making, not presentations where I am passively listening.

    5. allathian*

      I’m in Finland and dislike video. It’s not the same as being present in person, because there’s no true two-way communication. I also find the camera itself a distraction, most of the time. I do like using video for our weekly “coffee break” calls just to get some human interaction with adults who are not members of my family. But my job requires mainly asynchronous collaboration, so most of it can be done over email. I despise unnecessary meetings and I’m glad our leadership agrees.

      Internet bandwidth as such is not a problem, but my employer’s VPN can’t support an unlimited number of video calls. I would much rather have clear audio and no video than choppy audio and choppy video.

      Scandinavia has the largest proportion of single households in the world, I think Sweden tops that list. In Scandinavia, it’s almost unknown for people to share a household with someone who isn’t a family member or a romantic partner. Even college students, at least in Finland, vastly prefer living in one-bedroom apartments rather than sharing with strangers. In some areas of the US, roommates are very common even for professionals, because housing is so expensive.

      In most Scandinavian countries, daycares and schools have been open most of the time, even during the pandemic. For essential workers, they have been available all the time. Life in Sweden has been, at least judging by the news, pretty unaffected. Bars and stores have been open and there’s been no lockdown in spite of a large number of cases. The only concession seems to be that people who can do it are encouraged to WFH. If you’re stuck at home except for essential trips to the store, or even getting everything delivered, and homeschooling your kids, trying to care for preschoolers who would otherwise be in daycare, it’s entirely understandable that you don’t necessarily want to be on video calls all the time.

      1. allathian*

        And even if you live alone and can organize your workspace to look okay, it’s still perfectly normal to dislike being on video.

      2. GMN*

        Well Finns are known to be introverted, I know you are all longing for COVID to pass so you can stop 2 meters social distance and return to your standard 4 meters :)

        Having gotten the obligatory Scandi jokes out of the way, it seems likely that the general high standard of living and relative low intensity of covid problems might be a factor. However for me, the more I am trapped at home the more I prefer video for some human contact. People are different.

      3. Anon For This*

        Here in NYC we have been more or less trapped in our small apartments since March. Maybe that’s why these demands feel so intrusive. My family is miraculously getting along in 1000 sq feet for 8 months with no real end in sight and the grand-boss insisting on waltzing in and MAKING A COMMENT about my space makes me feel violent. (It was a positive comment. I still wanted to scream.)

    6. Lumio*

      I see a tons more of everyone in a video meeting then in a real life one, because all participants are twitching and wiggling frontally at all times in pixelated delay instead of me facing the projection on the wall in a darkened room and not seeing the other meeting participants unless I’m looking for them.

      And it’s nice that your setup only shows a small section that you don’t mind sharing, mine shows the whole living room and virtual backgrounds don’t work, because they actually need enough visual distinction to separate you from your background. And I’m certainly not interested in putting up a screen in the middle of my living room, since it’s a pain in the asd to get up and down and a danger of toppling shelves over.

      We have been doing international conference calls via WebEx without video for years, I see no reason why the local ones suddenly need video. Fortunately we are discouraged from doing video calls, because the company wants their vpn bandwidth to go towards production data instead of people guessing what’s that behind their colleagues.

      1. GMN*

        Sounds like we don’t go to the same kind of meetings. I completely agree that video is meaningless in meetings where you would typically listen silently to a presentation, as you say – facing the projection on the wall in a darkened room.
        Typically my meetings are less than 10 people (often less than 5), actually talking to each other, discussing and making decisions. I find video highly useful for that kind of interactive meeting.

        1. Tau*

          I think that may explain some of the disconnect! I’d almost always turn on video in that sort of meeting, but it’s the minority of what I get dragged into. Most of my meetings have more than 10 people, a bunch have more than 30, many are the “listen silently to the presentation” ones, and the thought of being on camera for all of those makes me break out in hives.

    7. Nanani*

      Considering the amount of letters about management requiring people to show their entire outfits, up to shoe checks, and all the complaining about how unprofessional it is to do video calls in anything less than a dedicated home office, I suspect the cultural differences go beyond the availability of good broadband.

  37. WellRed*

    My company doesnt do a ton of video calls but I noticed today that only two out of 10 people had their camera on. Between that and the difficulty three of us had (for varying reasons) logging on in the first place, it seemed all very silly and time consuming when a phone call would have sufficed.

  38. The Rural Juror*

    We use Zoom quite a bit for meetings with our team and our client’s team. We set the precedent early that no one needed to use their video if they didn’t want to, and it seems like most don’t want to be on camera. However, one thing that’s driving me crazy is people will be on the Zoom call on the go or in the car. I share my screen because I need to visually show the clients technical specs or other documents in order for them to make a decision. It’s frustrating when I put something up on the screen and they say, “Oh, sorry, I’m in the car and I can’t see anything. Will you just email it to me and I’ll look at it later?”

    The whole reason we do these video meetings is because they’re so slow about looking at anything via email and it takes forever to make decisions. And then they wonder why we’re behind! So I’ve had to start sending our agenda out ahead of time and specifically say, “I have documentation to show today and it will be much easier to get through the meeting if you’re in front of a tablet or laptop.” We do these meetings weekly and sometimes it definitely feels like an uphill battle!

  39. Stephanie*

    We actually never use video at my job. I switched teams and I have no clue what people look like unless they have a headshot up. But I’m ok not using video all the time…would be rough.

  40. all the time*

    My company isn’t forcing or even encouraging video – we use teams and even though most have a camera very few use it -we love it!!!

  41. Michaela*

    I just started a new job and tired of having to use video all the time – five hours yesterday, and then my boss wonders why I haven’t gotten anything done. My pre-covid work clothes don’t fit any more, due to lack of exercise and constant take out, and I’m not sure I’d want to wear them WFH anyway.

    I like being able to do other things during conference calls – even in the office I’d be walking around with a bluetooth set, and have no issues piping in when necessary, unlike some of the other commenters who seem to think no video means not paying enough attention.

  42. Mia*

    All of this is so true. I’m now training people via Teams, and most of us just don’t put our cameras on and use it as a voice call because it’s less awkward and also we can focus on the screen-sharing better, but one of my trainees insists on cameras and I think it actually works less well – plus I definitely get distracted by my own face sitting in a corner of the screen! In meetings etc. I do think it’s a little like working in an open-plan office (or in my case, studying in public) – when you’re on video you can be focusing more on APPEARING to be paying attention and making the right faces than actually, you know, listening to what’s going on. I think this is more the case than it would be face to face because, you know, you’re not looking at yourself usually in meetings and also because we’re now working from home a desire to prove you’re actually being productive is stronger.

  43. Tabby*

    I admit to nope, nope, nopity noping the Zoom meeting the owner of my dog daycare business wanted to do with everyone back when COVID first started, because seriously? Why? I don’t even have an account with Zoom, PLUS she also had us set up a google hangouts which also does — you guessed it — VIDEO. We all had emails, and I think most of us were a little bit annoyed with her for being so… pushy with the ‘support each other, team!’ We wanted to set our own pace with that. I also never use video for anything. I keep my camera blocked. I don’t do cameras.

  44. natter*

    I can’t believe how hard it is for me to focus when I’m on video!

    Even when my self-view is off (and it usually is – typically I check myself in the video settings right before the meeting starts just to make sure I’m okay, then turn it off when the meeting actually begins) I’m weirdly hyper-aware of my facial expressions and body movements and worrying if I am angled such that I have 9 chins. None of this bothers me at all in-person. On zoom, this distraction seems to just crush my output. I’m also super aware of what other people have going on in their backgrounds, also a useless distraction that saps brain power.

    But there are always those people who say in the zoom, “IT’S SO NICE TO SEE YOUR FACES” and then I feel hella guilty for shutting the camera off.

  45. seven*

    I recently left a position where video on for calls was definitely the default. I personally liked it. Since I joined a different division in the company in April, I remember a lot of those recent coworkers only video squares in my mind’s eye. If I were making the policy, I’d say the default should be video if you are able, just for that opportunity for a personal connection, but it should be no-questions-asked, zero pushback if someone isn’t on video — we can assume they have a good reason.

    1. Video Fan*

      I completely agree. My workplace has defaulted to video on (with an understanding that if you need to go video off for whatever reason, that’s totally acceptable). I think it has done a real service to a company that previously had a lot of separation between senior management and the lower levels of the workforce. Now, everybody’s camera is on and just as I can see in my colleague’s kitchen, I can see in the CEO’s as well. I

      I work in a satellite office of our HQ, and have found that my meetings with HQ are a lot more effective with video on than they ever were on a normal conference call. Being able to read body language and facial expressions is important, as is getting to know people on a more personal level than we ever were able to in the office.

      1. seven*

        Your satellite office comment makes a lot of sense to me. One of the reasons I think video felt normal at my previous company was that in the past few years a few satellite offices had opened in other states. As part of this initiative, they installed video teleconferencing equipment in some conference rooms in both HQ and the satellites, and encouraged us to use it when possible. It was never a mandate, but they made it an easy recommendation to follow by supplying the necessary equipment.

  46. JC*

    I have a disorder where my eyes involuntarily close/I blink a lot, and staring at video is one of my triggers that makes it worse. I’m okay when my treatments are working but when they start to wear off, video meetings can be excruciating. I’ll turn my camera on when my eyes are cooperating, but when they’re not I don’t. Luckily video isn’t always the norm in my org, because some people live in areas where the wifi options are poor and they can’t take the bandwidth of using video.

  47. mgguy*

    I’m a professor who BEGS for video on(but doesn’t require it) because it’s really difficult to just talk to 20 gray boxes.

    Many other professors do require it. I was initially told that wasn’t allowed, but the dean told me that I could require it just as long as I was willing to make acccomodations for reasons not. In that same discussion, she mentioned to me that there are a lot of resources available to students, including several spaces on campus being open and free for student use, to counteract busy environments and bad internet.

    Lately, I’ve been using the Zoom break-out room function, and I’ve visited break-out rooms with 4 students in them where every single one was camera on, and it was nice to “see” students I’ve had no idea what they looked like prior.

    For me, a lot of it depends on the size of the meeting. If I’m in a meeting of 100 people, I’ll start with video on and if a lot are video off, I’ll slink into the background. If it’s say, 10 people, it’s definitely camera on the whole time. When it’s a 7AM meeting as I had last week, I might or might have used the excuse of “my internet is spotty” this morning since I didn’t really feel like getting dressed. To be fair, it was, although a modem reset usually clears it and I didn’t bother to fix it.

    One place where I do absolutely draw the line-if you want to meet with me one-on-one over zoom, it’s camera on. If you don’t want to be on camera, we can talk through email. I only do one-on-one meetings at the request of the students-my part in it is saying “Here’s when I’m availalble” and confirm when they give me a time. Of course I’m understanding if a last minute issue comes up, but that’s the case.

    Video is exhausting I think for everyone involved. My father in law is a teacher, albeit, bless his soul, 5th grade and not college. He and I have discussed many times that two hours of teaching on Zoom wears us out more than a full day of teaching in the classroom. It’s gotten better, but is still less than great.

  48. nm*

    Everyone may have different preferences, but either way there’s no denying that a lot of us simply don’t have sufficient internet connection in our homes for everyone to be on video in all their calls. Employers need to acknowledge that. If video is really SO essential then they must pay for their employees to receive more robust internet plans.

    1. Lumio*

      Which may involve paying the internet provider opening several kilometers of street to put new cables in or erecting a new antenna mast.

  49. Brain the Brian*

    I continue to find it incredible that so many employers don’t understand just how discriminatory video requirements for remote work are during a public health emergency that forces employees who would otherwise be in the office to work from home. Not everyone can afford fast, reliable Internet connections — and even among those who can, their families may need to prioritize those for the kids’ remote school or some other need. Not everyone has a house that affords them a clean, professional workspace suitable for video. Not everyone has the *financial resources* to set themselves up with an ideal work-from-home situation — Internet and video suitability included.

    This is *especially* the case in light of this summer’s mass movements around racial justice. “We need to examine our practices and root out discrimination,” employers say, in the same e-mail where they make explicit a requirement that employees turn on their video. We understand why poorer families need help with Internet and devices for their kids’ schooling — in fact, lots of school districts have applied for grant funding or government aid flexibility specifically to provide this; and plenty of State Department-funded overseas direct education programs made the requirement to provide students with free devices / Internet a precondition for moving classes online — but apparently we can’t see why it’s important to be equitable in an employment situation. Ugh.

  50. Raven*

    I’ve been in grad school remotely since March, and since this semester started, I’ve only turned my camera on once, by choice. Every other time, I’ve just had a photo of myself. It’s literally never been a problem. No one’s ever called me out on it or asked me to turn on my video. It’s so, so much easier and better for my sanity to have video off.

Comments are closed.