45% of teams at work are feeling less connected because of Covid-19. Leaders everywhere are trying everything to keep their teams engaged. Not an easy task when everyone’s remote.
One hot topic on every leaders mind is how to have engaging meetings. Most leaders are trying to figure out a version of the following:
- “Should I have video on for all my meetings? What about my employees❓”
- “My employee never turns on his camera, should I bring it up❓”
- “What’s the best practice when it comes to video or no video in meetings❓”
TL;DR: There’s no best practice, only guidelines. Sorry 🙁
Instead of asking whether your video should be on or off, a better question might be:
Does turning on video add value to the conversation?
Lets divide “conversations” into three buckets:
Bucket #1 – Weekly 1:1s with employees.
Bucket #2 – Weekly or bi-weekly team meetings.
Bucket #3 – Regular project meetings.
Weekly 1:1s with direct reports
As the leader of the team, I encourage you to keep your camera on all the time during 1:1s. However, I don’t mandate others to be on-camera all the time. I prefer teams be on at least 80% of the time.
Having managed remotely for 6+ years, I find that employees either have a really good reason for not turning on their camera or don’t because they feel it’s not an expectation.
What about an employee who’s struggling?
If I’m meeting with an employee that’s not performing well, I’ll request them to turn on their camera. However, I’ll make this request in advance.
Why the advance notice? The advance notice builds safety in the process and allows people to opt-in. It gives them more ownership and allows them to plan better.
It’s a good idea to have video turned on during virtual meetings when coaching a struggling employee.
Does video solve everything? No. Does it help? Yes.
A couple of years back I was having issues with an employee based in our London office. Our 1:1s were regular phone calls and contentious, to say the least. We decided to switch the format to a video call and eventually the tension died down. Both of us could read each other better and understand what was at play.
1:1s with new employees
During normal times, regular onboarding is far from perfect. In sharp contrast, 100% remote onboarding is significantly more complicated. If you’re onboarding a new employee, try to be clear with your expectations. It’s a good idea to let your new hire know in advance that you’d like them to turn on their camera.
⚠️ Please don’t ask your teams to turn on their camera if you’re not doing it yourself.⚠️
[SCRIPT] How to request a new employee to turn on their camera
“Hi Sarah, I’ll make sure to keep my camera on for our 1:1. I’m hoping you can do the same for most of our 1:1s. Please know, I’m not expecting you to do this all the time. I’m hoping we can do this most of the time in the beginning as we get to know each other and build a relationship. I’m always here if you have any questions.”
A 100% remote onboarding can be tricky and full of stress for the new employee. One way to reduce some of the confusion is by being able to see each other regularly.
The onboarding period is a critical period for your new employee to succeed and seeing each other virtually can help. It’s also extremely important for you (and them) to read each other’s non-verbals to avoid misunderstandings. It can be challenging to read those signals in an audio-only conversation.
I like to follow the same guideline here as I do with my 1:1s. I’m on video 100% of the time and I prefer the team is on camera at least 80% of the time.
You’ll find most people will have their video turned on. If you notice that one person keeps their video turned off all the time while the entire team keeps it on, it might be worth inquiring with them privately. Please assume positive intent here. Chances are the employee has either forgotten or assumes that you’re fine with it, given you haven’t brought it up with them before.
Department meetings with 10-20 people.
If you’re leading a department meeting, I’d encourage you to keep your video turned on. Please don’t expect others to do the same unless they want to or you’ve asked them to.
Video meetings involving more than 10 people can create too much visual stimuli, which ends up overwhelming and distracting us. Audio-only may be more conducive to deep listening for larger meetings.
Become explicit with your expectations
I find a number of managers make the mistake of expecting an outcome without clearly communicating what it is that they’re expecting.
I’ve made this mistake plenty of my times in my career. I remember being irritated with a direct report for never turning on their camera during our 1:1s. Eventually, I realized it wasn’t his fault. I had never communicated my expectation with him. All this while, I was “hoping” they would just turn it on.
There’s a lesson here: If you don’t communicate your expectation, you’ll enable the existing behavior. It’s a good idea to clarify your expectation so everyone’s on the same page and there’s little to no room for confusion.
Why some people may prefer to be ‘off-camera’?
A number of leaders struggle with the idea that if they’re comfortable on-camera, others should be as well. This is a misguided assumption.
Here are some examples of employees who have reasons to stay off camera on certain occasions.
Been remote working for a year now. Our team almost always do conference calls with video off – audio + screensharing when necessary. Makes calls more flexible for team members. We augment it with in-person work sessions every few months, though.— Kyle Baxter (@kbaxter) March 17, 2020
I do a bit of both. It’s on if we are all up and dressed and off if the wife or kids aren’t dressed— James Bricknell (@keridel) March 17, 2020
In a nutshell – you can request your employees to turn on their camera but you shouldn’t be demanding it.
DOs & DON’Ts
- Try keeping your camera on during meetings.
- Request your teams to keep their camera on at least 80% of the time.
- Request new employees to turn on video most of the time where possible, during onboarding.
- Communicate your camera expectations clearly and in advance.
- Mandate people or berate people during a call if they’re not sharing their camera (I know this is a given, but it happens frequently)
- Ask your teams turn on their camera if you’re unwilling to do the same.
- Make fun of someone’s room.
- Assume you know why someone’s not turning on their camera