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home : columns : dear harriette August 15, 2020

7/3/2020 7:45:00 AM
The videoconference debate continues

DEAR READERS: Clearly, I hit a nerve with the discussion about videoconferencing from home and whether you should turn your camera on. Because so many of you continue to write in about this, I have chosen two more letters to share with you. Working from home and navigating professional engagements without the supports and rhythms that we had only a few months ago has changed the dynamic of our lives dramatically. We are all working to figure it out. Here are some of your ideas on this hot-button topic.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I agree with so much of what Reality Check said but also with Professional Coach regarding women showing their faces on video conferencing. I am a woman who is currently not in the workforce. I care for our 4-year-old full-time. However, my husband, now working from home, is a full partner in this. I'm sick some days, and I can't just take my child to drop-in care (in the current coronavirus climate) while I get rest. So my husband needs to do the care. And he does.

He has reminded his work team that everyone has a life that intersects with work, especially now, and he lives by that. My kid has interrupted, been half-naked, and thrown fits on client and co-worker calls my husband has taken. He never flinches. It's not ideal, but it's life. And I hope that being a woman, I would behave in the same unflinching way. Caring for children while in view of paying clients or everyday co-workers doesn't demean anyone. It humanizes us. -- Just a Normal Family

DEAR JUST A NORMAL FAMILY: Perhaps the fact that people who are part of our working lives periodically get glimpses of the juggle of our home lives may help us sensitize each other to the whole of our lives.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I'm disappointed you've come down so definitively on the side of people who think participants in virtual meetings should willingly show their faces. In my experience working from home, most of these "virtual meetings" are really just conference calls with cameras. No visual aids are being shared. We talked on the phone for over a hundred years without being able to see one another and it worked fine, so why do we now suddenly need to show our faces?

I don't need to see my co-worker's basement office, their laundry room or their dog licking itself in the background. Being off-camera lets me discreetly tend to other work while I listen to the conversation, whereas having the camera on obligates me to sit and stare attentively at a little dot so I appear engaged. Seen only from the shoulders up, this is a type of "performance" that negates nuances of body language and expression anyway. It doesn't replicate the feel of a face-to-face meeting, and we shouldn't pretend that it does. -- Camera Skeptic

DEAR CAMERA SKEPTIC: I agree with you, to a point. I do not believe the camera has to be on at every moment through your calls. I do believe, however, that seeing your face when you are speaking to people adds a bit of dynamism and gravitas that can prove helpful, especially when person-to-person engagement may not return any time in the near future. By the way, videoconferencing is not new; it's just expanded. Many businesses conference in remote participants all the time and have done so for years -- via phone and projected image.

My recommendations are not meant to create more pressure on anyone. I do believe, however, that seeing each other's faces occasionally on videoconferencing calls can give you a leg up in terms of people remembering you in relation to the ideas you present and as an active team member.

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