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Put On Some Real Clothes – It’s Time to Turn Your Camera On Again

Nadine A. Jack

Nadine A. Jack

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It’s February 2022, and the pandemic is sticking around longer than a toxic ex, except that it’s much worse and apparently more persistent. I’ve lost track of all the various mutations, strains and restrictions, and while I’m not quite a shut-in (yet), a social butterfly I definitely am not.

It’s been almost two years of this resurgent rodeo and while working at home can be a joy (snacking on cookies and chips while in your PJs anyone?) when it comes to interacting with others online, admit it, some of us have gotten lazy. We’ve taken it for granted that our presence at company meetings via audio is enough. So we don’t groom our hair, our background may be messy and we wear our comfy tees, bottoms optional. 

If your co-workers could see you now, they would be appalled.  Or maybe not, because they’re probably rocking the same dishevelled-chic look as you are. That, or their kids are driving them nuts in the background. Remember them yelling  “Come out de fridge!” mid-meeting while unknowingly unmuted?

Yes, having our camera off during video calls does give us a (false) sense of security, but (trigger warning!) have you ever unexpectedly been asked to turn your camera on?? 

Now that’s a new level of anxiety people! 

At that moment you must think fast and either invent a somewhat plausible tech excuse, end the call abruptly and then later claim a power outage, or, be honest with your boss/client/child’s teacher, and fess up that you may not look the most presentable and prefer to keep your camera off. This is usually followed by an awkward silence or passively judgemental comment, but off your camera stays, and along comes the slight guilt about what you’ve just done. We all know the possibility of this scenario happening, yet every day so many of us are still unprepared. Why?

Well, collective common reasoning might be “No one can see us so they can’t judge us and we still get our jobs done right?” (Fave PJs with the holes be damned!) Guess what though? Something substantial is missing when we don’t commit our presence fully while interacting online, and we unknowingly miss out on a few things. 

Where’s the Connection? 

According to this Edutopia article by Youki Terada, The Camera-On/Camera-Off Dilemma | Edutopia, when we have meetings with our screens off, we miss out on that intangible yet necessary human-connection element. Also missing is the body language and those non-verbal cues that help employers and employees alike, observe and evaluate if something is understood, or not. It was also noted in a Cornell University study of students, “that being able to hear and see each other in real-time helped construct a more complete picture of their peers.”

It’s not just about having a sea of black screens either, it’s really about our ever-increasing lack of online etiquette. 

So how do we curb these bad online habits formed when most of us were sheltered in place with snacks, alcohol and copious amounts of toilet paper back in 2020?

Let’s Start With the Basics. 

Yes, you’re working from home now, but try to have a manageable routine the same way you would if you had to commute to the office. Now that your commute might be just from your bed to your sofa, hopefully with a shower in between, you should still make an effort.

Wake up at a reasonable time. 

Do not consistently hit snooze just because they’ll be no traffic to deal with. Hit it maybe once then get your butt out of bed! Shower, groom yourself well enough that you actually look like yourself, and sit down to a healthy breakfast. Giving yourself the same time to prepare that you would need to if commuting, shows that you have a certain level of respect and appreciation for yourself.

Also, at some point during the day, try to allot some time to free up your headspace. Whether this is a meditation moment, a bit of yoga, a run, a good quick read, or listening to a couple of your fave tunes. Take a moment, just for you.

Many of us are doing even more work now that we’re remote, and it’s good to set healthy boundaries between work-time, and you-time. Note that I suggested a moment, so don’t be slacking off all day as that’ll be stealing time from your employer. Intervals of 5 to 10 minutes are reasonable and scientifically proven to actually improve productivity.

Now back to those meetings. According to a Harvard Business School study:

  • People now attend 13% more online meetings.
  • Each meeting is 12 minutes—or 20% shorter, reducing the number of meeting hours by 12%, or 19 minutes.
  • The number of people invited to each meeting has risen by 2, or 14%.

So since the Zoom calls are here to stay, let’s do them right. Below are some quick tips for proper online etiquette which you can apply to any online interaction, not just work:

  1. Be prepared for your meeting and log on 10 to 15 minutes before the start time. This allows for a punctual start and you don’t miss any vital information by being late.
  1. Verify that your screen name is your actual name and not something inappropriate. (69Kitty, yes, I’m talking to you.)
  1. If you’re using a profile photo, please make sure it’s a simple front-facing headshot of you. Keep the pics of your pecs, bikini photos and group shots from your last fete for your personal social media platforms. (Besides, everyone knows you haven’t been partying since 2019, duh.)
  1. Ensure that your camera is on and your mic is muted unless you’re speaking.
  1. Ensure that your camera is positioned correctly and you can be seen clearly. If your background is messy or busy, use the ‘blurred’ effect option available on most platforms.
  1. Use the raise hand feature if you have a question or comment. Do not abruptly interrupt the presenter. *The only caveat to this would be if you have an emergency.
  1. If you need to step away (or snack on something) do turn off your camera, and double-check that you’re muted while you do so.
  1. Keep things professional. During the Zoom meeting, that flirty, slightly salacious message you thought you sent directly to your ‘work wife’ or ‘work husband’ actually ended up in the main chat. (…and now it’s a love triangle cause oh lord HR gotta get involved…)

So now that we’ve determined what we all need to do to get work done efficiently, and how to effectively communicate, dust off those cookie crumbs, look at yourself on your phone screen, and make a decision that tomorrow you will do all these things, and you will be better!!

But for now, open up that pack of chips, pull up your boxers or fix your nightgown, finish those reports that were due two days ago, and WhatsApp your boss that your power went out earlier this morning.

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