12

I am between junior and mid level in my team and new to my company. Everyone works from home all the time and our meetings are on video chat due to the covid pandemic. I often feel that some teammates are hardly attentive or not fully involved during important meetings with me. So, I often have to repeat simple things. Its not always due to mic and bandwidth problems!

Sometimes, it appears that they are far away from the mic, possibly doing something else during the meeting. Sometimes, I hear sounds of chores quite loud in the background. So, they are either doing their chores or are working very close to the area of chores. For example, one time, I heard frying pan noises and the other person was asking me to repeat things too many times. Moreover, their volume went up and down a lot. I repeatedly asked them if they are away from the mic and they said no. But, next moment they sounded like they came closer. Anyway, I don't have a problem with kids coming in occasionally and talking in the background. They are kids after all.

Unfortunately, my current company does not require the camera to be turned on during meetings. So, people NEVER turn it on. In my previous company, camera was mandatory in video meetings, unless there were obvious network bandwidth issues during the meeting or if too many people were present.

How do I ask my manager to make camera mandatory in video meetings without making it look like a complaint? I don't want to be direct and take names, but I'd like to say that videos might make people more disciplined. But, it seems pragmatic to be indirect and use excuses like team bonding etc. to justify video meetings.

PS - I am okay with reasonable exceptions, for example, mothers who need to nurse a needy baby during meetings etc. But, I'd like my team and maybe even the whole company to have their cameras on in meetings.

  • 41
    Your question seems structured around 'how can I force people to work like my old company', which is a bad way to approach it (especially as a newcomer). Just because cams are on doesn't mean people won't leave their desks, if that's how they're used to doing meetings. Which matters more to you: having cams on, or having people pay full attention during meetings? – Xono Oct 29 at 2:35
  • 34
    @Kilisi You're assuming they can. Do you know how many people live in 1 bedroom apartments? – Gabe Sechan Oct 29 at 2:43
  • 24
    Your issue seems to be that people aren’t paying enough attention during meetings but you’re asking how to get a mandatory camera policy passed. You’ll probably get better advice if you ask about the actual problem instead of just one possible solution to the problem. – AffableAmbler Oct 29 at 3:04
  • 23
    @Kilisi If you're in a studio or 1 bedroom apartment, there's literally no place to put them unless you're working literally from your bed And even then it may not work, with multiple people doing meetings and doing remote learning. It's a completely unreasonable expectation. You said you can kick them out of one room. If you live in an apartment, that pretty much means you lock them in a bathroom. And that's assuming they don't have meetings. – Gabe Sechan Oct 29 at 4:31
  • 21
    For example, one time, I heard frying pan noises and the other person was asking me to repeat things too many times - Yes, people have families, and when everyone has to be at home because there's a global pandemic, that means that their home "office" is full of other members of their family trying to get everything done that they all need to survive. Don't assume it's your coworkers making that noise - everyone's trying to make do in a tough situation. Being draconian won't help. – J... Oct 30 at 13:58

11 Answers 11

30

You would focus on your difficulty. "Hey manager, I feel like I'm having trouble communicating without visuals, and am feeling kinda isolated from the team since we're all remote. At my last place we used the cams and it helped with that." That should be enough for him to start a conversation with the team about it, ask if others are having the same problems, and possibly encourage camera use to help with it.

I'm a pro-camera user myself. In other contexts everyone knows that face-to-face communication is better and more bonding than a call, which is better than chat, which is better than an email... And in a pandemic+remote environment where now no one gets any face to face interaction at all it’s a major hindrance to teams working together effectively. Video calls are the next most engaging type of communication so many find themselves leaning on them heavily so their work team has more coherence and teamwork than that of a random stack exchange site.

At my last job I convinced my boss that camera use was beneficial; he didn't order everyone to use it but he and I both would turn our cameras on all the time to show leadership and eventually it peer pressured most of the rest of the team to do so as well. “Encouraging” is better than “making mandatory” especially in the pandemic as there are legitimate pressures (lack of child care, close quarters) that mean it’s not appropriate to expect office levels of total engagement all day.

At my current workplace we all use cams most of the time to facilitate more effective conversation and build bonds within the team, but we have set a culture that is very understanding of need to handle other things. We do say if you’re present you should be engaged and if you can’t be engaged just take some of our unlimited time off - so if someone’s like “During the calls tomorrow I’ll have my kids because of whatnot and will be distracted” we’ll usually say “just take that off then, we’ll catch you up later.” If you are forcing meeting attendance when people have other mandatory needs then you’ll get this kind if dynamic.

Obviously if you're having pointless meetings that's a different issue, but there's no hint in the OP that's the case. When working from home it can be easy to be distracted and part of the new remote by default workforce is finding ways to manage that.

| improve this answer | |
  • Nice approach but that won't help the fact that people don't care about OPs meetings in the slightest. Even if he were to mandate video, he'd be back here 2 days later with the same problems – Hobbamok Oct 30 at 16:22
  • 5
    "everyone knows that face-to-face communication is better and more bonding than a call, which is better than chat, which is better than an email" Better for you, not better for an introvert like myself and very dependent on what needs to be communicated. I don't bond with people who take an hour's meeting to talk about all the aspects of a policy I understood from the three lines of text that were the meeting invitation. – Dragonel Oct 30 at 17:09
  • Nice answer. It will take time to achieve this, but its better than just declaring something mandatory. Besides, enforcing such things is a waste of time and silly. Better to bring in a cultural change slowly and gently. – DigitalNomad Oct 30 at 22:10
  • 3
    I would be very unwilling to turn my camera on. I don't like people looking at me and a Web cam will feel like everyone is watching me. But face to face feels different and normal. I wouldn't complain but it would be another reason for me to look for another job. Plus I'd secretly hate the person who suggested it in the first place. – Monstar Oct 31 at 13:11
  • 1
    @dragonel No, it’s just better in general. Only 10% of information is conveyed through text, and a big portion of that is lost without video, though the only way to get all 100% is to hold a face-to-face meeting in person. – nick012000 Nov 3 at 2:32
75

How do I ask my manager to make camera mandatory in video meetings without making it look like a complaint?

Don't. Some/Many people aren't comfortable being on camera. This is their personal space. Don't invade it. I don't mean that their home is their personal space (even though it is), I mean that making the choice to be on video or not is a personal choice about their personal being.

I don't like being on camera. I find it to be profoundly intrusive and upsetting.

From where I sit, there's nothing positive to be gained by mandating this, and it may in turn have a negative impact if employees become resentful of what they perceive to be "over-reach" or an invasion of privacy on the company's part.

Find other ways to address these issues, with the understanding that WFH is a new paradigm for everyone and that everyone needs to find ways to navigate it that work for everyone, employers and employees alike.

| improve this answer | |
  • 7
    Why is the choice to be on video or not a different choice from choosing to be seen when attending an in-person meeting? And would something like Zoom's custom backgrounds fix the "home is personal space" thing, as the personal space would remain hidden? – Andrew Leach Oct 30 at 11:15
  • 5
    If "Some/Many people aren't comfortable being on camera", coming into the office must have truly broke them before then... 🙄 – Tom Oct 30 at 11:55
  • 9
    No @Tom, not the same thing at all. Coming into an in-person meeting or to the office doesn't mean they have to see themselves all the time. At least it's my impression that that's the problem for some people I know. – Lizzan Oct 30 at 12:20
  • 14
    I know many people, @AndrewLeach, who, for whatever reason, are very outgoing and personable, have no issue whatsoever with public performances and speaking, yet hate being on camera - even for a good cause (as opposed to "just work"). It's an irrational thing, like a fear of flying - you can tell people all the stats about being safer in the plane than on the drive to the airport, but it doesn't make a difference. – FreeMan Oct 30 at 12:43
  • 9
    This. Might also be worth mentioning that some (many?) people might not even have cameras to turn on. I dislike being on camera, therefore I didn't have one when quarantine started, and I declined to buy one. – senschen Oct 30 at 12:45
29

Make it mandatory to turn camera on in video meetings at work?

There is a big difference between strongly encouraging or discouraging a given behavior, and requiring or banning that behavior.

In the US for example, people and organizations have communicated the harms and dangers of smoking for a long time, but cigarettes themselves were never made illegal. What has been most effective in reducing cigarette use is the change in societal norms over that period.

I think you'd be better off demonstrating the benefits of being on camera yourself, sharing your ideas with others, and talking to your manager about ways to communicate those benefits to the larger group.

Once you require that people be on camera, then someone has to enforce that rule. Will that be people reporting each other? Or will someone need to record or observe each meeting? What if a person's camera isn't working? Will they have to prove that somehow? What will be the punishment or consequences? If you can't or don't enforce a rule, it's the same as not having the rule in the first place. You also take away individual judgement as to when to appear on camera.

The voice-only conference call has been a standard method of communication for many years. Unless there is a specific reason someone needs to be seen, perhaps to physically demonstrate something visual, it seems more reasonable to allow each person to use their own standards that still benefit the meeting overall. If someone is making noise or being too loud to the point of distraction, then that's the real problem, and not whether they are on camera.

Ultimately the standard should be: is a given meeting participant being a responsible member of the team, and providing the best possible input to the work? I'm not sure that a camera is always part of that equation.

| improve this answer | |
16

Is this question about seeing people you're having a meeting with, or about hoping that being forced to sit on their chair will magically make them care more about your meeting? Because it sounds like it's the latter, and I don't think forcing people to have their butt in a seat is going to make them more engaged with your meeting.

People don't cook dinner while in a meeting they care about. There's something else going on here that's making people disengage with these meetings and their work, and you're better off figuring out what it is. It could be the time, the subject, their surroundings, it could be anything. But until you ask people what's going on, forcing their behavior into something you think will work better for you is just going to counter-productive.

We're going through some weird times, and people are having a lot of things on their mind right now. If you want them to be actively engaged with what you're doing, try to work with them to find out how that will work, don't just force things on them. (I mean that should be general advice anyway, but it's even more relevant now)

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    It shouldn't be assumed the person in the meeting was cooking dinner, many people live in places where it simply isn't possible to spread everyone into different rooms. – eps Oct 30 at 13:57
  • 3
    Obviously, but you'll find out which it is pretty quickly if you talk about what's going on. It might be that "guy with frying sounds in the background" was the most attentive colleague in the meeting. But if he turned on his cam, someone'd still be cooking in the background, so it wouldn't help with anything, which was the whole point :) – Erik Oct 30 at 14:16
  • 2
    This. OPs question is completely flawed because it is about his solution to a symptom of the actual problem. People don't care about his meetings, thats the actual problem (very likely), and nothing regarding video will fix that – Hobbamok Oct 30 at 16:23
6

You're trying to fix a problem before you fully understand it. As such, your solution is unlikely to succeed.

The question you need to ask to gain that additional understanding is: why are coworkers not paying attention in meetings? The simplest, and therefore most likely correct, answer is that there are too many meetings and "meeting fatigue" has set in.

But ultimately, the only way you can know this is by asking. Start by discussing with your manager if there is any feedback from your coworkers to him/her about the meetings you're in - perhaps your team members feel that you are scheduling too many meetings, or making them too long, or asking too many questions; but are too polite to say so to you personally. If that doesn't give you enough insight, you can move on to asking your coworkers these same questions individually and directly.

At the end of this exercise, you'll better understand your coworkers' positions, and can then work with them to find an outcome that will work well for all of you going forward.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Generally: just less meetings. Fewer people in meetings. Always ask if this reqlly requires a meeting over an email. And if it necessitates a meeting, does everyone has to be there. Because if its just me and 2 others in a meeting im WAY more attentive – Hobbamok Oct 30 at 16:08
  • this is the best answer in my opinion – Danny Coulombe Nov 1 at 12:20
5

You don't. There's no way to request this without sounding whiney. It would be a career limiting move if it came out that you were the cause. These people are all adults. Treat them as such- they can judge whether its best for them to turn on the camera or not.

And quite truthfully, cameras on won't have any effect on people paying attention. I'm more likely to be paying attention while I get up to grab a glass of water (the sink is 4 feet to my left and I'm on speakers) than I am when on the computer- the computer has a web browser, my email, and my slack. The distractions are far greater.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    While I agree with the idea of treating colleagues as adults, saying that you'd pay more attention while leaving to get a glass of water undermines it completely - it sounds like something my 9 year old son would say. Justifying it by saying you'd pay less attention if you were there is something he wouldn't even try... – Player One Oct 29 at 10:18
  • 8
    @PlayerOne No, its reality. THis is an audio meeting. Getting up and walking around, doesn't mean they aren't paying attention. Sitting on the computer doesn't mean I am- in fact I'm frequently working on other things (answering slacks, emails, programming, or even non work things on occassion) during meetings when I'm in front of my computer. Assuming that sitting in front of the computer==paying attention is idiotic and generally not the case. – Gabe Sechan Oct 29 at 16:08
  • @GabeSechan: While I agree with your points, I doubt that many people are paying more attention when "doing chores" (which is probably different from getting a glass of water or walking around) than when being in front of their computer. This may hold for you, but I'd surprised if it holds for the majority of people. – guest Oct 30 at 9:36
  • 3
    Many people focus in different ways. I knew a guy who put his head down on his desk and, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be asleep during classes. Every now and then, he'd pick his head up and make very relevant points/ask pointed questions. He could recite the last 2-3 minutes of conversation/lecture nearly verbatim. Teachers quickly learned this was the way he focused and left him alone. The rest of us tried to get away with it and failed miserably... ;) – FreeMan Oct 30 at 12:50
  • @FreeMan: From the question it seems the collegues in question don't make relevant points, but ask to repeat things. – guest Oct 30 at 17:39
5

Actually I think that making it mandatory/strongly encouraged to have people turn on their cameras during online meetings is a good way to help keep everybody engaged during the meeting. I personally also think it's nice to actually see the faces of your colleagues sometimes during this period.

However I also think that having a lot of people clearly doing other stuff during an online meeting indicates that maybe their presence and their input are not really important for that meeting. So I think it is a good idea to accompany such a camera-on rule with some serious culling of the amount and length of meetings.

| improve this answer | |
  • 4
    I'll disagree 100% with "camera on = engaged". I've sat through many meetings where people have their cameras on, and they're obviously doing something else. I know of a couple of people who process a lot of paperwork - I can see their heads turning from papers to the monitor and back again through the whole meeting. I agree 100% with "not engaged = not necessary/not interested/not an important meeting". – FreeMan Oct 30 at 12:48
  • 1
    It is indeed not guaranteed that having someone sit in front of the screen with the camera on will make that person pay attention. However I think it's far more likely that someone in front in the screen is engaged than someone in the kitchen frying stuff (as the OP observed). – thieupepijn Oct 30 at 15:04
  • 1
    and then? They'll just be working on other stuff on the computer instead of bein elsewhere. THe result: even less focus on the meeting. The camera does NOTHING to help here. People dont care about OPs meetings and he's just refusing to see this actual problem. You wont help him a bit by discussing a potential solution to a SYMPTOP of his actual problem – Hobbamok Oct 30 at 16:26
4

It's not your job to police this.

Instead of getting annoyed about it why not take a leaf out of their books and try improving your own work/life balance a bit? As long as the work gets done a good boss probably doesn't mind exactly how people choose to manage their work.

| improve this answer | |
2

How many people are in on these meetings? Is all of their input or attention required?

How do I ask my manager to make camera mandatory in video meetings...

sounds a lot like an XY Problem (asking about your attempted solution rather than your actual problem). Your solution is akin to "beatings will continue until morale improves". If your start requiring cameras then prepare to be amazed at how many peoples' microphones work but the camera doesn't want to do video.

Your problem is:

I often have to repeat simple things. Its not always due to mic and bandwidth problems!

There. Tackle that issue.

Quite frankly, you sound too nice. Repeating yourself several times without making them feel uncomfortable makes you a doormat.

  • Repeat it once if you feel the request is genuine
  • Upon second request, single that person out and ask if they're having technical issues. Suggest they get in touch with IT about their "connectivity" issues
  • If your talking point wasn't directed at them then let them know and move along
  • They're not dumb, they know their actions are distracting and so does everyone else in the meeting
  • There's probably more than one person that wishes you didn't have to repeat yourself and for the meeting to finish sooner

You need to set the tone when you're speaking. If you expect undivided attention then act like it.

One good route to explore is ask your manager about your experience with meetings. Ask them if they put up with that crap too or if things go differently for them.

| improve this answer | |
  • I often have to repeat simple things. Its not always due to mic and bandwidth problems! That is likely not his problem. It's that people dont care about his meetings. Which is how 99% of company meetings are – Hobbamok Oct 30 at 16:19
1

The real problem here is not solvable by you watching them

The real problem is that they don't take the meetings seriously

Set a few ground rules

  • If you have noise in the background use a decent headset
  • mute yourself when you don't speak
  • If you are addressed in a meeting, stop other things you are doing
  • if the meeting contains information relevant for you, don't do other things
  • Decline beforehand if it's not relevant to you.

For the organizer:

  • Keep meetings small and short
  • Have an agenda that people know if things are relevant for them
  • Take a protocol
| improve this answer | |
-2

You are asking a question that will not solve your problem.

Your problem:

People are inattentive at meetings.

But people don't pay attention at in-person meetings anyway.

some teammates are hardly attentive or not fully involved during important meetings with me

Are those meetings important to them? I don't know you but I can almost guarantee you the answer will be NO in 90% of cases. That meeting could've been an email. Or just a meeting between you and the 3 others that it actually affects (who will also be far more likely to be attentive). The rest isnt involved because it literally does not involve them. They're just there because they have to be. So they're not really there.

Meetings are a modern office plague and nobody wants to be there. So, to fix your problem, minimize meetings. Put stuff in an Email, Sharepoint post etc. if it can be. And if you want/need meetings (which some things do): Make them as small as possible.

It seems you're already known for meetings that don't really matter. So people assume that. But if you always only do meetings with exactly the few people that actually matter for the topic AND involve them they will start to catch on. People will eventually know that when you schedule a meeting with them, the other dude on the project and you that it'll be important and they will be mentally fully there.

Also our companys solution to your

I hear sounds of chores quite loud in the background

is the absolut opposite of what you demand. It's having their mic muted. It's company policy to be muted unless actively speaking (or wanting to speak), and its WONDERFUL. No more breathing into the mic, dogs barking in the background, NOTHING. And if people don't care about the meeting they don't listen, but they wouldn't have either otherwise.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    I'd also add that sounds of chores could be OTHER members of the house doing something, not necessarily the attendee and having a camera on could be counterproductive for that (children running around, significant other cooking in the background et cetera). Having MICROPHONE OFF and CAMERA OFF is also the standard we go by and only the person presenting CAN (not mandatory) be on camera or share his screen. – mishan Nov 1 at 12:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .