To My Webcam, with Love: For the Sake of Our Relationship, Sometimes We Need to Be Apart

There are few bigger webcam proponents than me. In a recent post, I discussed the importance of webcam-enabled virtual meetings and touch-bases in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, when they can be so much more engaging and do a better job replicating real-world presence than the phone. They feel more connected and human, which we need more than ever during these crazy times.

And yet! Working by webcam has quickly become our new normal, and that comes with its own challenges. It can be surprisingly exhausting to be that visible all day, every day, especially when we’re likely already dealing with mental fatigue from the changes and anxiety.

So, what’s a responsible webcam advocate to do? I say, like all good things, a little moderation goes a long way. Here’s what I’m trying:

For the “big-deal” things, keep that webcam on.
For high-stakes conversations or real dialogue, the webcam is a must. Some situations really do benefit from seeing other faces such as:

  • One-on-ones with between supervisor and direct report, or mentor and mentee
  • Performance review conversations
  • Team health check-ins
  • Giving important recognition or hard-to-hear criticism
  • Celebration

For some virtual meetings, use the webcam only at the beginning and end.
If you’re meeting using an online platform such as Teams, WebEx, or Zoom, consider using webcams during the opening for greetings and community building, then turning them off for presentations, screen sharing, or document co-creation (speakers and/or moderator may remain on camera). If discussion would be useful, turn the cameras back on at the end for that segment.

  • In these cases, active use of the chat and virtual hand-raising are helpful for engagement, and attendees should still plan to single-focus on the meeting by shutting out all other distractions.

Consider a few webcam-free scenarios.
Missing the vintage days of phone calls? Of course. Consider those times where the visual wouldn’t really be additive, or the team simply needs a break. Examples of phone-friendly meetings include:

  • When all attendees agree that it’s an off-mode situation
    • Caution: AVOID so-called optional camera times where some attendees self-select to be on or off camera. It’s better to align beforehand on the go/no-go decision for webcams
  • When you just want to do a quick catch-up or progress update, or to keep in touch without needing to reference documents online together or co-create
  • Team or group status meetings where each speaker will be providing a one-way verbal update, and the leader can easily moderate with no visuals

Whichever mode of virtual engagement you prefer, the key is to strike the right balance for you and your collaborators. Not sure which direction to choose? Check with in with your team or stakeholders to see what they’d prefer. In any mode, be mindful to accommodate a variety of communications preferences by sending agendas in advance where possible, connecting personally during the meeting, and following up in writing for easy reference.

As always, I’d love to hear what works for you and your team. Reach out and let me know.

Amanda is a 23-year veteran at Ketchum. In her current role as the leader of organizational effectiveness and learning and development, Amanda provides strategic direction and consultation on strategy implementation, team development and dynamics, organizational effectiveness, leadership team alignment, and personal productivity for the agency and its employees. She also serves as a certified executive coach and lead trainer for Ketchum University. Prior to her role at Ketchum, Amanda was a Director at Stromberg Consulting where she was an external management consultant for 13 years. She holds her Master’s in Organizational Psychology and Executive Coaching certification from Columbia University. Amanda received her bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Michigan Honors College. She lives in New York with her husband and daughter. She’s an accomplished home cook, avid reader and novice Netflix-binger.