Wishing participants would turn their cameras on. Is that a reflection on them or on you? (Part 2)

Last time, in “Wishing participants would turn their cameras on. Is that a reflection on them or on you? (Part 1)”, we talked about us humans having various modes of learning, information intake and processing. Switching cameras on is only one mode (visual). The burden is on the speaker to create and maintain a welcoming and inclusive environment for participants, 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. We also discussed that our environments have changed. So stop clinging to how things were when we were in office, instead ask ourselves why we do what we do and think about how we can do things differently to achieve the goals. I also offered a few things that we can and should do.

Today, I’d like to continue telling you about my discussions with folks on this topic. The same people who made the comment that “the simple step to increase effectiveness for online settings is to switch on the camera” continued, “Now we’re online, there are so many other distractions. We’ve got emails, slack messages, texts, etc. So much is demanding our attention that it can be difficult to focus on meetings.” Wait! Do we not remember those office meetings where one person was talking while everyone else was looking at either their computers or their phones with hardly anyone paying attention? There were just as many distractions when we were in the office.

“Personally, if I switch off the distractions and switch on my camera, I commit to being present for that whole meeting. I want to collaborate and support my colleagues.” As stated, that’s “personal”. We don’t all prefer the same thing. Before the pandemic, some companies mandated no computer or phone during office meetings. How did that work out? To be honest, if the meeting was engaging and useful, people would pay attention.

Our discussion concluded with, “I wonder if there’s a lack of psychological safety which causes people not to turn their cameras on.” Whatever the reason that causes people not to turn their cameras on is irrelevant. Stop focusing on people complying with the preference of switching on cameras, instead, go figure out ways to be engaging to all. When the focus is on people complying with our own preference, there is no psychological safety for people who don’t share the same preference. That is how we exclude people.

Recently, my colleague and I gave two talks. One of them, we were the only ones with cameras on. Yet everyone was engaged and we had a wonderful conversation. The other one, half of the participants had their cameras on. At the end, after we had another fabulous conversation, everyone (both cameras on and off folks) thanked us for an engaging talk. We never once mentioned anything about cameras. So, it’s obviously doable. The question is, do you have the skills to allow you to be creative and inclusive? Part of that skill is facilitation, especially remote facilitation, which will also help with hybrid environments. There are places where you can acquire these skills. Molood Ceccarelli’s Remote Facilitation class is one such place.

Remember, part of what 21st century leadership does is not to tell people what to do, but to create and maintain an environment where people feel safe and motivated to contribute to their fullest. Are you willing to be flexible and try different ways to accommodate others? Or do you exclude others who are not like you?

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