This article provides a list of pros and cons in considering the question: should we turn on our zoom cameras?
Written By: Timothy P. Gauthier, Pharm.D., BCPS
Last updated: 15 April 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down usual systems of interactions and social distancing is the new norm. As we have trended downward in number of in-person interactions, it is not surprising that we have trended upwards in online-interactions. With this has come an increased number of conference calls on platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Cisco Webex, and GoToMeeting.
Historically when participating in conference calls I have almost always dialed in and been an audio-only participant. In speaking with some friends and peers, the case seems to be the same with them. It was not until recently when social distancing went into full effect that I began thinking more about if and when it is a good idea to turn on your conference call camera. In listening to a recent SIDP podcast entitled “What is Happening Right Now? COVID-19 Challenges and Silver Linings” Dr. Julie Justo comments “…how we have maintained efficient communications? It’s actually pretty simple. Turn your webcams on…” and then she goes on to discuss the benefits of seeing people’s faces during a conference call.
Dr. Justo’s comment got me pondering the question of if we should turn our Zoom cameras on or not and is the motivation for this post. Note that this is by no means an exhaustive list of considerations. Factors such as who is participating and what the topic of the meeting is are likely to influence a decision to turn cameras on or off.
Here are five pros and five cons in pondering when to turn on webcams during conference calls…
Pro #1: People can see your face as you pay attention
Social distancing can be a bit lonely and as social creatures it is important for us have healthy interactions. Letting other people see your face allows them to get a pulse on your emotions and see that there is more than a voice on the other end of the line. It may also offer enhanced group dynamics during the call when both verbal and physical communication takes place.
Con #1: People can see your face as you don’t pay attention
We live in a world where multitasking is difficult if not impossible to avoid. Throughout our days we receive many alerts, texts, emails, and other notifications. If you are not looking at the camera because you are managing other issues, you have the potential to be interpreted as being unfocused, rude, or disengaged. If others on the call are going to be able to see your face, it is something to be mindful of for the entirety of the call.
Pro #2: Video allows us to have a window into each other’s world
Beyond seeing faces, video allows us to see what others are wearing, what their immediate environment is like, and what is happening where they are. These items are often the focus of chit-chat during in-person conversations, which helps with the overall flow of our interactions and gives us a chance to talk about things besides work.
Con #2: Video allows people to see what you are doing and wearing (or not wearing)
Everyone has heard the stories of people at home in their underwear (or nude!) who did not realize the video camera is on. This is one of the more extreme circumstances, but illustrates the point. Particularly with people who have room mates (including children), sometimes it is better if the distractions we are dealing with locally do not become distractions for the whole group.
Pro #3: Using video in a conference call can force us to take the call more seriously
There is a big difference between jumping on a telephone line and getting in front of a video camera. It is fairly easy not to think about a telephone call until moments before it is occurring. Composing an appropriate physical appearance for video takes some level of effort which can trigger greater mental preparedness for the work that is to come. If being on video translates into being more prepared, that could be a good thing for efficiency and productivity.
Con #3: Video conference calls can mean more preparation ahead of time
It is much more convenient to get on a telephone line than it is to get in front of a video camera. Audio-only calls allow us to be on the go and can be easily initiated on a whim. Video calls require participants to have a set-up prepared and ready for the call.
Pro #4: Video conference calls can be fun
Since social distancing is a priority, events such as happy hour amongst friends have been re-imagined and are occurring via video teleconference. If the call is expected to be a bit playful, then video may be the way to go.
Con #4: Video conference calls can be painful or awkward
Having a video conference call for 30 minutes is not too bad, but having one for more than an hour or two sounds a bit horrid. Everything has its limits.
In addition, when the technology does not work seamlessly it can make for a choppy conversation filled with statements such as “oh you go first”, “sorry I could not hear you”, “what was that”, and “sorry you were breaking up there.” It just makes the whole thing unnatural and awkward.
Also, once you have started the meeting with your camera on, you may be stuck with it on for the duration. It may have seemed like a good idea at the start, but 10 minutes in you may be regretting it if you are the only one or one of a few using the video feature.
Pro #5: Video conference calls can be recorded and shared with others
There have been some great video conference calls between healthcare providers during the COVID-19 outbreak, which have been shared on Youtube. Here is one example from Italy. To this point, any valuable exchange can be easily recorded and shared. In this capacity content provided to a few has the potential to reach and benefit the many, assuming the necessary permissions are granted.
Con #5: Video conference calls can be recorded
Sometimes knowing that what you are saying has the potential to be “on the record” means a less natural flow in conversation and more reserved communications. Healthy conversation requires honesty and openness. If video conferencing causes people to censor themselves, that can be a bad thing.
Will I be turning on my video camera or recommending it to others in the near future? I am not sure, but definitely maybe. It is clear to me that there are benefits to employing the video aspect of platforms like Zoom, but it should probably be used selectively under the considerations of potential pros and cons. I am grateful to Dr. Julie Justo for prompting me to reflect on this and I hope to learn more about how to use video conferencing more efficiently during this era of social distancing.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article represent that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of any previous, current, or potential future employers or other organizations in which he serves.
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