My colleagues and I think about communication in very broad terms. We define our communication as more than just our words or our slides. Our communication is everything we bring into the interaction… our words, slides, body language, facial expression, attire, silence, questions… all of it contributes to what we communicate to people around us.
And as of March 2020, we now need to add the “decision to turn on video or not” to the list.
My colleagues and I use a term to describe the empathy and understanding we give to each other, as we manage the collision between our personal and professional lives. We call it giving each other “grace and space.” In other words, we give each other plenty of room to navigate everything that needs to be managed in our lives. And sometimes that means that life in the home office is a little too chaotic to turn on the video. We joke with each other that from time to time, we might not be “video ready.”
Perhaps it is because you have not had a chance to get ready for work and are still in your flannel pajamas… or it might mean your kids are in the house with you, and things are little chaotic… or it might mean you just don’t feel like being on video yet. There are lots of reasons why you might not be ready to turn on your video. And if you know the people on the call well, and have a close relationship, then it will be easier for you to make that choice and let them know that you need a little more time before you are feeling “video ready.”
But regardless of the legitimate reasons to choose to leave your video off, we must all understand that the choice is a form of communication unto itself. And like any other choice we are faced with, there are consequences to our choice. If you know the others in the meeting well, and can tell them why you are not video ready, then all is well. But what if you don’t? What if you are not comfortable or able to explain to others why you will leave your video off? That’s where we need to think through our choices carefully.
Turning your video on puts you more in the spotlight, and means you now have made yourself more visible and accessible. It means you now have to do a few things differently. You have to think about your facial expression and body language, where you are sitting for the meeting and what is behind you, how you are dressed, whether you are multi-tasking. Yes… all of those things now matter. And that raises the stakes. Connection is easier… but you are much more on stage.
But leaving the video off is not without its own consequences. Leaving your video off, especially if others in the meeting have theirs on, could be interpreted (or misinterpreted) in many ways. It could suggest that you are not as interested in connecting, or the meeting, or that you want to multi-task. It could communicate a level of detachment.
The point here is that we need to think about both sides of the choice of whether to turn our camera on. If we choose to turn it on, there is risk because we are more “out there” and visible. More things matter. But if we choose to leave it off, there is also risk of misunderstanding or detachment.
When you are with people that you know well, give them the grace and space to make the choice in a risk-free way. And if you need to leave it off, communicate with your team and let them know why. But in situations where you don’t know the other people well, just be careful how you navigate the choice. And if you have a strong expectation to have cameras on, or if you have a strong need to leave yours off, we would advise you to communicate that ahead of time to manage expectations.
Have a great day, and stay safe.
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