Do you recognise this situation?
You are facilitating or participating in an online meeting and see that many webcams are not switched on. Your gallery view looks patchy with some faces and many black frames.
How does this feel to you and how do you deal with this situation when it happens in online meetings you are leading?
Using the webcam or not?
We – Corinne and Nadia – love to see everyone in our workshops. We hear often from our clients telling us that using the webcam is not a habit in their working environment. Especially in larger and more hierarchical organizations this seems to be the case. But not only.
In our meetings and workshops everyone can see everyone. This contributes to a lively and connecting atmosphere.
Frankly, we don’t like a gallery view with black holes. It looks strange. And it feels strange. Having half of the group members present with their webcam and the rest not creates an unequal atmosphere. This can even influence the group and the process.
Sure, most video conferencing platforms give you the option to hide participants without a camera. But then they are literally out of sight. Hidden.
In principle, it is easy to switch (the inbuilt) webcam on (at least in most of the cases it is not a technological problem). Sure, connectivity and bandwidth must be taken into consideration. Quickly seeing each other though to say hello might be possible?
At the same time this seems quite a step.
Switching the webcam on is more than a simple click. It reaches deeper into the patterns of human collaboration and communication.
Why is using the webcam not a habit?
Why do people behave in a certain way? Why is someone not switching on the webcam? Our observations and assumptions.
People are too busy and decide to do other things. – This could very well be. Multitasking is easy and the temptation is a mouse-click away. And with the webcam off, the person does not need to pretend to be present.
Another reason we heard of is about participation on demand. Especially in compulsory meetings and training this could play a role. People join because they have to and not because they want to. In this case the hiding option is a welcomed and practical one.
Someone once shared on social media (we cannot recall the person’s name) that not switching on the webcam is like putting a bag over your head when entering a physical workshop room. – This is funny. But also rude. And almost eerie.
Blaming individual participants is not fair. There are worthy reasons for people to do what they do.
We often hear the argument that some people are timid and introverted and therefore decide to hide. – Frankly, this explanation is too simple for us. We do not believe it. There is more to consider.
Build the habit of meeting with “webcam on”
We think in most of the cases the reason lies buried elsewhere.
The question is more complex and is directly linked to the practice of organizers and facilitators and to the collaboration culture of the team, group, organization or network.
When someone joins our meetings without a webcam on and muted, we address it in a gentle and helpful spirit. We do this for the sake of the group and a good group process. This works out fine. We remember a person with a really bad connection struggling with the camera. We immediately talked about it and found a good solution. We could see the person’s face during the check-in and then she switched the camera off again. The group found a way to work creatively around the lacking camera during the five highly interactive sessions.
In our experience it is not about choice but about setting and clarifying expectations. If switching on the webcam is no practice, then probably participants are not invited to switch it on. Or it is not discussed or reflected with the group, team, audience. The common ground is not established at the start of the event.
Without this reflection there is also no awareness on the side of each participant that this behavior could have an effect on the whole group and atmosphere and that it can be disturbing for those present and engaged.
And this leads us to the collaborative culture of a team, network or organization.
- What principles are guiding your learning events?
- What is your shared understanding of how a group works and learns best together?
- Do you really want to talk to an anonymous audience and put your slides in the center? Or are you interested to see, hear and connect with the people present?
Are you keen for engagement and interaction? Really? So set the ground for this from the beginning. Collaboration is team play. An online meeting is done together.
Sure, really big events are a different chapter we are not talking about in this blog post.
Here some ideas for what you can do concretely:
- Communicate your expectations before the meeting starts, in the invitation process.
- At the start of the meeting, establish a common ground. Using a webcam is part of good online meeting etiquette.
- During the meeting support and facilitate, help to establish clarity for everyone.
- Have a conversation with your team or the group, have a look at it from different perspectives. Try to find an agreement on how you want to handle this together and create some equal experiences.
- Leave aside the blaming and judging. Explore your own willingness to put the people in the center and to see them all. Invite your colleagues or participants to show themselves and inquire with curiosity what might hold them back from switching the camera on.
What are your experiences and thoughts on the use of webcams? We are curious to learn from your practice.
Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash