Plus, a cameras-off approach has the potential to create more inclusive organizations, says Gabriel. Research shows that newcomers to organizations can experience more Zoom fatigue, because they think showing their face more often to their new colleagues is especially important, she says. Women are also impacted, because they are more likely to work from home due to childcare. Additionally, that same research found that introverts experience Zoom fatigue more acutely than extroverts. Turning off the camera could help mitigate stress for workers in these many groups who might be most affected.
What’s best practice for the future?
The good news is that things could be changing. While Gabriel believes seeing people on camera genuinely helps workers who miss their colleagues, video call burnout and a greater push for worker flexibility could shift Zoom etiquette into a new direction.
Some companies have already made cameras optional, especially as more research asserts a cameras-optional approach is better for people’s mental health. Gabriel says we’re at an “inflection point, to let people really craft work settings and workplaces that work for them instead of against them”.
People will find different balances. Shen says that while seeing people on video calls is beneficial, “it may not always be necessary”. She suggests a team could do three days with cameras on a week and two days off, or something similar, to mitigate Zoom fatigue. “I think that’s something companies can be a little more judicious about, or at least give people a break,” she says.
Bosses also need to trust workers and accept that if cameras are off, it doesn’t mean people are disengaged. “Often, we look to the camera as being the only indicator of engagement, but what if we more carefully used other features, like the polls and the chat, where it doesn’t matter if someone’s camera is on or not?” says Gabriel. She says Zoom has lots of functions – besides the camera – that demonstrate workers are participating in meetings.
It’s also crucial, she believes, for whoever is running the call to set the right tone, and tell participants that having cameras on is not a requirement – whether that’s the leader of a one-off meeting, or the company when setting any far- reaching policies or rules in place.
Companies and bosses still committed to ‘cameras on’ should ask themselves why they think they need them. If it’s because they fear workers are goofing off, Gabriel and Shen point out that the workforce functioned well on old-fashioned telephone conference calls for decades. Having new platforms like Zoom doesn’t necessarily mean everything about older practices is outdated.
“Just because the technology can do something, doesn’t mean that it always makes sense for us,” Shen says.