Suddenly Remote Struggles, Part 1: What if your meeting attendees refuse to turn on video cameras?

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Now that we all have been forced to work from home for almost a month, did you run into these 2 scenarios:

  1. You’ve never worked remote before and you’re suddenly forced to work remote, so you’re searching online and asking people all the tips on how to do it, and do it well. One of those “tips” is having everyone in the meeting turn on their videos. But you run into resistance. You ask yourself, “What can I do to encourage people to turn on video?”
  2. You have been working with distributed teams for years and you have a way to work with them. Yet, for your colleagues who work in the same office as you do, since you now find yourself suddenly all isolated, you want to “see” everyone, and to replicate the kind of connections you enjoy in the office, so you mandate everyone to turn on video during online meetings. But you run into resistance. You are bewildered as you’re all accustomed to working with distributed teams. What’s going on?

To find out, I would suggest you ask your meeting attendees. In this unprecedented time, I suggest all of us to be extra understanding towards each other and listen to the different situations and challenges that people have to deal with when the entire family is holed up at home all day every day. The goal is not to make sure everyone is as productive as they used to be (at least not yet), but to be patient for people to adjust to this new paradigm. 

Here’re a few answers that I received and my suggestions on what you should/can do about it:

  1. Joe’s internet doesn’t have that much bandwidth and video takes a lot of bandwidth. So, Joe turns off his video in order to hear and participate in the meeting. This can happen anywhere in the world, especially when the family is also using the internet, maybe playing games or streaming movies. So, you just leave them be. No point mandating video on.
  2. Jane can only work at her kitchen table. Her family commandeers the rest of the house and she doesn’t want people to know she’s working out of her kitchen. You can suggest that Jane try using a virtual background. This helps me resolve a number of hesitations. I get to see how creative people are with their virtual backgrounds. It even becomes an ice breaker when the meeting first starts.
  3. John overslept and barely got to the meeting on time. He doesn’t want others to see his “bed-hair”. That has happened to me before. One suggestion: Let them be. They will figure out how to at least look decent enough to join the video if they deem it being useful. Or, you can tell them you want to “see” everyone at the beginning and/or the end of the meeting. That way, they have time to prepare to be “seen” for only a brief time.
  4. You suspect Josephine is multi-tasking but you have no proof. You can probe by naming this as a potential reason when you ask. You can tell Josephine that you, as the meeting host and facilitator, would use “people not paying attention” as an indicator to improve the next meeting, so it’ll be more engaging for everyone, or to rethink if all the meetings are necessary and how to do them differently to achieve the same goal. That way, there will be fewer meetings, the meetings can be more focused and people can be more engaged.

Have you tried any of those mentioned above? Do they work for you? Or do you receive different answers? Did you try other methods to encourage people to “show their faces”? I’d love to hear them. Jot me a note below.

In the next post, I’ll talk about how to decide what meetings to call.

The entire series:
Part 1: What if your meeting attendees refuse to turn on video cameras?
Part 2: Meeting as usual? Think again
Part 3: Wonder why you are more exhausted after a day of online meetings?
Part 4: Tips on how not to feel overwhelmed in this unusual time

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