Camera on or off?

A while back, on a rough day during a rough week, I was heading into a video call and I wanted to leave my camera off because it just felt like too much. After a brief internal debate, I told my coworker exactly that.

And she thanked me.

We talked about how much energy it takes to run a so-called new normal daily life. And how there are days when leaving the camera off is a form of self-care. Not because of how you are dressed or how you look — purely because of the energy it takes to be on camera. And how when you pour all that energy into your work day, your family gets the leftovers, which is not a good scenario for anyone.

At certain companies, on certain teams, there is an expectation, either stated or implied, that cameras will be on, should be on, why wouldn’t they be on. It’s a part of work culture that doesn’t work for everyone, but that most, I suspect, put up with rather than rock the boat.

I am all for being on camera when I’m meeting with one or two people and there’s a lot of direct conversation. That’s when it feels like it helps real communication happen. But when it’s a larger group, it often becomes a distraction. I look at everyone’s faces, and admire the cool stuff behind them, or try to decode the blurred-out shapes behind them. It’s also difficult to resist the impulse to look at myself, weirdly. I start wondering what to do with my face to show I’m listening, and if I speak, I wonder why my mouth does that weird thing, ew!

Sometimes I’ll minimize the meeting screen so I can concentrate on what’s being said instead of studying a sea of faces. I’ll take notes with an actual pen and paper to help me absorb important information. If I hear someone is sharing their screen, I’ll switch back to the main screen (and cross my fingers that I can actually see what’s being shown).

That’s my system for coping with the most unnatural meeting format known to peoplekind. What’s yours?

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