Wishing participants would turn their cameras on. Is that a reflection on them or on you? (Part 1)

“In the current environment where meetings, workshops and training courses tend to be online, we’re always looking at ways to make the online experience more effective. There’s a simple step to increase effectiveness. It’s not complicated, it’s not difficult, all you need to do is switch your camera on. What a difference it makes to each of us when we can see you.”

Do you share the same belief? I know many people do. Even if you don’t, you surely have experienced this sentiment expressed to you more than once. We humans have various modes of learning, information intake and processing. It’s called VARK: Visual, Aural, Read/Write, & Kinesthetic. E.g. Do you like to talk things out when you try to process new information? Or do you learn by reading? Turning the camera on is only one mode (visual). The burden is on the speaker to create and maintain a welcoming and inclusive environment for participants, which means to engage in as many of the participants’ modes as possible, so that they can participate in the mode that they are most comfortable with, not the mode that the speaker prefers.

Some people say they don’t insist on having cameras on because they understand some reasons are out of your control. However, when the speaker only concentrates on people who have their cameras on, it’s hard for those who don’t to participate. They would feel like second-class citizens. That’s not welcoming. Also, using “turning cameras on” as a metric to gauge the participants’ engagement is not the right metric. It only shows that whoever is running that meeting, workshop or training course is imposing and projecting their preference to others. That’s not an inclusive environment that fosters participation.

When I mentioned that, some people said, “We’re adapting to a new way of being with events being online. If we think back to times when we were in offices, we’d all show up and be present for meetings.” That’s the first problem: We are not all in the office, we are online. The environment has changed. So, stop forcing a square peg (office-based practices) into a round hole (changed work environment). Besides, when was the last time someone held a mirror in front of you the entire time during your in-person meeting? Your brain would have to process your every physical move. That is cognitively draining, hence the “Zoom fatigue”.

So, what can/should we do?

  1. We need to ask ourselves why we do things the way we do instead of insisting on going back to how it was. We need to be clear about the goals we’re trying to achieve. Are those the right goals? If so, can we do things differently to accomplish the goals?
  2. Up-skill ourselves so that we have new tools which allow us to do things differently. Learn how to facilitate, especially remote facilitation. The moment we have one person remote, our environment is no longer completely in person. We can’t do what we used to do when everyone is physically there, otherwise we would exclude the remote person. Remote facilitation skill is crucial in this new environment. 
  3. Be creative instead of insisting everyone to adhere to our preference. It is a time for experimentation.

In the first few months of lockdown, I actively seek new facilitation skills, and I have been experimenting. I’ve since conducted countless meetings, workshops and training courses online. Not only did I never mention cameras on or off, sometimes I actively tell people to turn their cameras off, and yet people are engaged. It’s doable!

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