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  • Writer's pictureDawn Wray

Camera on/Camera off: A debate

Liz Evenden from The Business Speakeasy posted an article on LinkedIn last week, she is asking questions about the use of cameras in online meetings, and is keen to keep the conversation on the evolution of at home/online working going.

It raises questions for me, both professionally and as a trainee of relational gestalt psychotherapy. Below is my immediate felt response as input to the debate.

I agree in organisational settings, or therapeutic ones face to face is best, but camera on is preferable to talking to a blank screen, a faceless set of initials. In a world where I am deprived of actual human contact, a camera, and being able to ‘see’ someone uses more or my sensory inputs and the conversation feels less one dimensional.

When cameras are on I find that people joke and banter, they contribute to the meeting, focus on the people, and do less ‘multi tasking’. We have evolved to sense other people, to pick up on imperceptible signals that inform our understanding, e.g. ‘I’m ok’ on the face of it seems ok. If I can see and be with the person, I might receive a very different message. So when I read Liz’s post, I started to ponder, why when I am an advocate of camera on, do I feel so fatigued by a day at work?

1. Why am I SOOO tired after a day on ‘TEAMS’?

After reading Liz’s article, I became very aware of how still I am when I am working at home on a screen. This is not a natural way of being for anyone. We are used to moving from meeting to meeting, stopping by someone's desk to chat, or to make the ubiquitous cup of tea. Online working doesn’t provide these natural breaks in attention, in location, in seating position.

Also, I scrutinise the screen more, almost like I am searching for those natural clues that in ‘flesh life’ I don’t need to. Or I zone out, if the faces are too small, too far away or not there at all then I feel an almost physical ‘off switch’ in my head.

I am aware of all the other channels people can contact me on. In a meeting room, I cannot see my inbox, the teams messages. I am fatigued almost by sensory overload

It is also true that after a day of back to back meetings in the office, I am tired. But it is a different kind of tired.

2. How do my kids, digital natives, behave with this technology? My kids are still as eager to have zoom calls for playing ‘among us’ or family quizzes, or just hang out with their friends. When they do this, they sometimes put the camera on, and then carry on playing, doing whatever it is they are doing, and occasionally checking in with the other person. If they have to call grand parents and ‘talk to’ them, they don’t like it, it’s a chore. Staring at a screen talking to a head and answering questions they cant be bothered to answer. So maybe there is something nullifying about the ‘talking heads’ phenomenon. This is supported by my therapy work, where the ability to be aware of and work with the ‘whole’ body, has recently become very figural for me.

3. When people don't use their camera, what does this mean, if anything? People I work with have said a number of things: ‘my home is my sanctuary,, I don’t want to let people in’, ‘my hair is a mess’, ‘I’m in the back bedroom and its messy’. This might mean anything. There may be very personal reasons for not having the camera on, and I respect that. Life is hard enough at the moment without putting another obligation on people. I also work with people who never have their camera on, and I feel further and further distanced from them. I also worry that they maybe struggling with something, and the camera off is a way of protecting themselves and maybe stopping them from reaching out for the support that they might need.

The camera on option also seems to bring formality to some meetings where it didn’t exist before, examples include very polite introductions and asking for permission to speak. This maybe a generational thing (see point 2) but maybe as we get used to online working, the perceived formality of the medium will change.

The original post from Liz is here.

And don't forget to check out The Business Speakeasy.

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