The “Virtual Mask”: The Importance of Camera-On in Virtual Meetings

Oct 2, 2023 | Networking

The Silver Lining of the Pandemic: Virtual Meetings

The COVID-19 pandemic had its fair share of downsides, but one silver lining was the normalization of virtual meetings. Platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams became as ubiquitous as morning coffee, serving as vital channels for collaboration and strategic planning.

The Masked Challenge: Losing Nonverbal Cues

During the peak of the pandemic, one common complaint revolved around the mandatory face masks. Some people were concerned about health implications or had political reservations, but a significant portion lamented the loss of crucial nonverbal cues. Covering half of our faces essentially hamstrung our ability to communicate effectively, leaving us to interpret messages based on eye contact and minor shifts in posture alone.

Why Nonverbal Communication Matters

But why is this loss so significant? Effective communication isn’t simply about talking; it’s about mutual understanding. Research indicates that only 7% of our communication effectiveness comes from the words we use. The tone of voice accounts for 38%, and a whopping 55% is derived from facial expressions and body language.

The Irony of Virtual Communication

Despite knowing the importance of nonverbal cues, many of us still choose to keep our cameras off during virtual meetings, as if we’re wearing a ‘virtual mask.’ In a recent meeting with executive leaders, I was alone in having my camera switched on, ready for genuine interaction. This leads me to wonder: Why do people still keep their cameras off?

The Three Main Reasons for Camera-Off

Based on my observations, there are three primary reasons:

  1. Unsuitable Environment: Someone may be in a location that doesn’t offer an ideal background, or they may wish to keep their current location private. The good news is that virtual or blurred backgrounds can easily solve this problem.
  2. Appearance Concerns: Perhaps someone isn’t feeling ‘camera-ready.’ But given the casualness that remote work has brought into our professional lives, a casual t-shirt isn’t a deal-breaker. Keep a dress shirt or a blazer close by if you’re concerned.
  3. Lack of Full Engagement: This is the most troubling reason. Some people may keep their cameras off to multitask during the meeting. Full engagement is necessary for effective communication, and the only way to achieve this is by turning your camera on. If the meeting isn’t worth your full attention, it may be best to excuse yourself.

A Call to Leaders: Set the Standard

Leaders, if we expect our teams to be fully present, we must lead by example. Turn on that camera. Effective communication is as much about what you don’t say as what you do say. Let’s not allow the ‘virtual mask’ to become an impediment to authentic communication.