I have started working on a project several months ago and suddenly our Product Owner is insisting on using webcams during our weekly virtual meetings. Both me and my colleague that do most of the work on this project currently do not use webcams at work and we prefer not to do this.

Not sure about my colleague's reasons, but personally, I prefer not to use webcams because whenever I can (i.e. not disturb anyone in the office) I stand and/or make several steps, things I cannot do if the webcam is working.

When being asked why we do not use webcams, we said that we do not feel like using them and most of the time the screen is used for sharing of some files and a JIRA board. After this, the PO told us they she would buy webcams for us to use.

AFAIK there is no policy related to webcams usage (some use them, others don't) and it is the first time in years when someone insists on using them.

I do not know how to approach this. The project is going well and we have a good professional relationship.

Some context information: we are located within an Eastern European branch, she is located in company's HG (Central Europe).

Question: How to convey the message that I prefer not use webcam during meetings, if not really necessary?

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    I find the use of web cams useful. People communicate both verbally and also non-verbally. In addition it is nice to see other team members as this aids in the feeling of membership of the team. – Ed Heal Nov 16 '18 at 16:43
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    @EdHeal My office is a sister office to another location (somewhere else in the country) There were people I had never seen before. Last summer we were actually in that part of the country and I went to work site to meet them. Best decision I ever made. There is something about seeing people or being with them in person that strengthens teamwork IMO. – SaggingRufus Nov 16 '18 at 16:47
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    I get the impression from your question that you've not voiced your reason for not wanting to use the webcam - namely that you like to use that time to stand up and maybe walk around a little. That's perfectly valid, maybe you think better like that, but unless you voice that you can't expect the PO to know - she might be fine with you being on and off camera as you walk around, maybe she just likes the idea of you all greeting each other face to face before the meeting. – delinear Nov 16 '18 at 17:04
  • @Abigail - they are not, thus I have removed this. Thanks for pointing out. – Alexei Nov 17 '18 at 5:42
  • Would you be using them at home offices or at the company office? – Juha Untinen Nov 17 '18 at 9:06

They probably can't "force" you to do it, but the question is: Do you really want to be that guy?

The addition of the webcam is to make things feel more like your in the office and in some cases people are more effective when they can interpret body language. I know myself, I have a hard time telling if someone understands what I am explain over the phone. This is because their body language usually tells me.

Do you really want to try and fight this? It seems like a small and reasonable request. When you say you stand and pace, would you do this in a formal in person meeting? If not, then I would advise you not do it in a virtual meeting.

If I was PO and there was no real reason, I would just think you are being difficult because you can be. Now maybe I am just a jerk, but if I thought you were being difficult just because can, it would probably change the way I interact with you.

My advice to you would be, if there's really no other reason than "I don't want to" just suck it up and do it. It's a job, it's not supposed to bend to your every whim.

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    +1 FWIW I actually agree with the way the OP feels about webcams in this context - but it's just not a hill worth dying on. – motosubatsu Nov 16 '18 at 16:54
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    +1. Yes, I have to agree with "It's a job, it's not supposed to bend to your every whim.". Thanks. – Alexei Nov 16 '18 at 16:57
  • Also it's worth noting that talking to a voice without a face on it significantly changes the nature of communication and you will find people less receptive of your ideas and more combative since they can't read your face or body language as you speak. – Mavrik Apr 9 '20 at 11:24

Not sure about my colleague's reasons, but personally, I prefer not to use webcams because whenever I can (i.e. not disturb anyone in the office) I stand and/or make several steps, things I cannot do if the webcam is working.

I want to analyze this you wrote here. To me, that reads like: "I prefer not to use webcams so I can do other stuff while on meetings without everybody noticing it."

If you only have these meetings once a week you should be engaged and closely paying attention to them, not standing around or making other things... Otherwise you could be missing key points discussed and that will affect your performance and the project.

I am not the PO, but perhaps they want to increase such engagement and productivity of the meetings by having everybody on camera, so the experience is more visual and immersive.

Perhaps there is no "policy on webcams", but if the PO and the whole team dynamics depends on it's use it will be wise for you and your colleague to use them. It's only once a week, and for a portion of that day's time, so I think you would be better if you agree to use a camera and be more engaged in the meetings (who knows, perhaps you will finish earlier), instead of trying to push back such request.

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    I am not doing something else except for a few steps. However, I agree that I must be fully focused on what is going on and I dislike when others are not doing this. – Alexei Nov 16 '18 at 16:59
  • @Alexei yeah, it would be better for you and for the team. Being more focused would help you have a good grasp on where the project stands on that week, so you can allocate your time and resources for the next one. It's a critical meeting, so it is best if you give it the priority it needs :) – DarkCygnus Nov 16 '18 at 17:05

You're not working from home in your jammies or heaven forbid in the buff (nobody does that anyways, right....right?!), so maybe just suck it up?

Presumably you did bathe and groom, so you are (should be) in a somewhat presentable state.

Then again, this does depend on your line of work and clothing might be optional (; - I kid, I kid....

Look at it as respite from your mundane tasks and a chance to communicate, even socialise while working. People tend to be more relaxed during sessions, at least at the beginning before workmode kicks in - this could be a chance to strengthen bonds.

Also, as has been said, many people prefer to look at another person while interacting with them and you could pick up on expressions that hint at issues, differing opinions etc. People convey subconciously a lot about their inner dialogues and involuntary reactions through body language.

To your question however:
You already hinted at a possible "excuse" ehem explanation:

If indeed your office is set up in that way, you could say that webcam sessions disturb others in the office and you go into the hallway or somewhere else.
This actually is something you even should do if you might disturb coworkers.

I've gotta say though, pretty much any company with more than a handful of employees has at least one meeting room with a webcam and pc/tv set up.

You also can say you prefer not to use a camera or are camera shy or something along those lines, but in todays selfie world you'll come off as somewhat weird or out of place.

Obviously they can't really force you to use it, unless your supervisor tells you that it is standard procedure...so they could force you after all and you could only go through HR and the court system to possibly get out of it...but at what cost?!

...so pick your battles I guess (;

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