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There are some colleagues of mine who really love the idea of meetings being recorded, especially if they are out on vacation. I, on the other hand, feel incredibly uncomfortable in a recorded meeting; it feels like everything I say is being immortalized, and I can't proofread my speech in the same way I can proofread a textual message. Often, I have no control over these situations, and just turn my camera off so that I don't have everything around me recorded.

Recently, I was asked to record a meeting that someone was interested in, but isn't able to attend. Plainly, I refused, because it made me uncomfortable, but I did offer to provide them with a summary of the outcome of the meeting so they can be kept in the loop. They were initially unhappy with this as a solution, but came around. Am I being unreasonable? It feels like I'm the only one at my company who cares about this (or at the very least, am the only one speaking up about it). In the same situation in person, I would feel weird about someone having a camcorder in the room, and I don't really think this is much different.

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    – Kilisi
    Jan 26 at 19:00
  • A country tag would be good for this question.
    – Carsten S
    Jan 28 at 17:42

9 Answers 9

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Am I being unreasonable in not wanting meetings to be recorded?

For not wanting them recorded, no, you're not being unreasonable, and you can offer alternatives such as a summary. Summaries can be produced with little effort nowadays thanks to AI, and many times they're even more useful than the recording, since they're a lot faster to consume.

However, if you're outright refusing to record a meeting, then you are being unreasonable.

Some (non-exhaustive) reasons why someone would want a recording of a meeting:

  • The meeting is or includes a presentation, which has already been determined as the best way to convey that information (otherwise you wouldn't be having the meeting in the first place)
  • Context and reactions are as important as the discussion itself

Note that these aren't true for every meeting, but they are true for some of them.

Advice: Offer alternatives such as summaries, framing them as the best option for the person who would view the recording. But also get comfortable with meetings being recorded, since some meetings will need to be recorded.

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    A video is worth a million words, on the open market. Still, I love reading transcripts. Jan 25 at 23:49
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    But.. but... @Bib the computer says that AI is the only way in the future, and the computer is never wrong!
    – FreeMan
    Jan 26 at 17:16
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    In this particular case, AI is an effective tool to summarize meetings compared to manually summarizing the meeting. I use it as a starting point and it saves a lot of time. Not mentioning it simply because its overused in other cases even though it works well in this case, would be wrong.
    – jmathew
    Jan 26 at 17:40
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    @Bib, faulting people for suggesting any AI tools is just as "campy" as people who think AI is the second coming. This is a case where an AI tool is highly effective so you need to take that into account.
    – johnDanger
    Jan 26 at 18:17
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    Note that AI-summarized meetings need to be recorded for the AI to be able to do the summarization. For compliance reasons, most of those products do an extra effort to automatically share the recording with those involved (they're entitled to that data).
    – Alpha
    Jan 27 at 0:42
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In a professional environment, requesting to have a meeting recorded is perfectly normal and very usual practice. It is no different than presenting to the audience if they were there in front of you, in the same room. A meeting, not being recorded does not allow anyone the liberty to act / behave in a way that is different as compared to meeting being recoded.

I'd advise, learn to get along - meeting recordings are usually very useful, especially if you're on the presenter end (saves a lot of time repeating the same info / context to different set of audience, for example).

On the other hand, having a video stream on and recorded in a meeting, is not usually needed, unless that video adds context to the discussion or meeting. You can have the video turned off, if you'd like - there should not be any problem with that.

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    meeting. presentation - not much different in the context of this question. I truly understand you, as I was in your position many years ago, but that did not do much good to me. now, it's different for me, and frankly, it does not matter whether it is being recorded or not. Subject and context matters, and ofcourse, time. :) Jan 25 at 17:26
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    the "there is no difference" part is a bit strong, no? It is a lot easier to be held accountable (correctly or incorrectly) based on recorded meetings than based on attended meetings. You also need to plan more carefully what to say and include because you have far less control over the potential audience group. among your friendly terms team, you can include some banter in a presentation, if there is a chance your "stiff" CEO gets to see it, you need to be more neutral. Is that necessarily bad - perhaps not, but it is a difference. Jan 25 at 22:24
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    @FrankHopkins Ultimately it depends on what Sourav meant to say, of course, but it's not necessarily too strong. E.g. in my own work environment, I would 100% stand behind the statement that the behavior expectations for a recorded meeting are the same as those for a non-recorded meeting, with occasional exceptions where the recording is meant for some specific target audience that markedly differs from the audience in the meeting itself.
    – David Z
    Jan 26 at 6:48
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    @DavidFoerster I have online meetings that count as confidential in the sense that the participants of the meeting agree which parts of the things said there can be told to people who didn't attend which things are not. With a recorded meeting I would generally assume that anyone higher up in the company hierarchy can see it.
    – quarague
    Jan 26 at 8:44
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    "In a professional environment, requesting to have a meeting recorded is perfectly normal and very usual practice" I've worked in software for 20 years in multiple western countries. I've worked in start-ups, banks and government departments, and have never once had a meeting recorded. Telling people it is normal is not correct.
    – Player One
    Jan 27 at 12:46
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This sounds like a You problem to be honest.

I understand your reservations, I'm quite vocal in meetings and I like to engage in a light bit of banter - which might not be to everyone's taste, especially if taken out of context.

I also get that privacy and not wanting to be recorded aspect.

However, this is quite normal practice to record meetings, I've done it for technical hand-overs so that I can refer to material at a later date or for trainings where I had a conflict and couldn't attend.

I've also been recorded.

Some times if I know something is being recorded I might be a little more careful with the flavor of banter - but apart from that, I just plod on as normal.

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    See this page about laws about recording phone calls in various jurisdictions: knowledge.hubspot.com/calling/…. An online meeting isn't a phone call, and many jurisdictions allow recording without consent, but many don't. Those laws are created because there are lots and lots and lots of people out there that find recording without consent creepy, intrusive, and offensive. I think it's unfair to tell the OP "this is a you problem." Jan 27 at 1:38
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    @SyntaxJunkie - The problem is that if it's an internal meeting, I'm not sure if it's covered by the 2 party consent legislation. Furthermore, almost all teleconferencing software (Teams, Zoom etc.) have a notice when recording happens and these notices are designed to be compliant with all regions. Also comparing a Business meeting with a general phone-call (which is what these laws were designed to protect) is not a fair comparison. Jan 27 at 1:51
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    I'm not saying the recording is legal or not. That wasn't the OP's question. I'm just saying that since so many jurisdictions mandate consent (in various combinations of circumstances) that the OP's feelings are not uncommon. The fact that so many teleconferencing software companies feel the need to post a notice is more evidence that they are attempting to address a not-uncommon concern. So telling the OP this is a concern unique to him/her seems unwarranted to me. Jan 27 at 2:10
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    @Graham so you rather have a police state at work where everyone is a robot? This is not a black and white issue. Your company is entitled to enforce a certain level of professional behaviour otherwise you DO have a a right to a certain level of privacy - most civilized countries have laws for that. It's just the same way around that those rights don't protect you if you violate other rights. There is always a balance. The more of your interactions are recorded and supervised the more this balance is shifted, so it can be a valid stance to try and stand your ground against such a shift. Jan 28 at 16:59
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    @Graham I don't appreciate the assumption that this is a question because I'm scared about the consequences of how I treat others. Of course I should treat everyone the same (and with respect) whether the meeting is recorded or not. I asked this question because I felt uncomfortable, and was curious what the broader workplace-comminty thought (e.g. is this a culture problem at my company or do I just have to get over it). Jan 28 at 18:30
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No, you're not being unreasonable...

The key feature of a meeting is communication. This form of communication is bidirectional and tailored to those conversing in the meeting. Recording the meeting means that some participants are kept outside of the context of the people present, the message targeting, and the present time, which can change the interpretation of the message.

Put another way, a recording is [usually] not the right tool for the job, and can damage the effectiveness of the meeting for those present.

... but it might not matter.

You need to be effective with your team. If most of the team finds recordings useful, then you'll probably have to deal with it.

It is worth considering why people want these recordings. Some reasons I've heard:

  • "A recording makes it easier to catch up on what happened."
    Decent notes of the meeting should be much more digestible than hours of video. If someone gives this reason, then the meeting notes are likely very bad or not distributed properly.

  • "I can set the recording to 2x speed and listen faster."
    Meetings are probably too long, involve too many or the wrong people, and are not good uses of time.

  • "I couldn't make it to the meeting."
    This may be unavoidable, but try to be flexible to everyone's working hours. Do what you can to fit comfortable working hours for all the working timezones and lifestyle requirements. Don't make the same people sacrifice their normal schedules each week if you can help it, or you'll lose their input.

If after addressing whatever meeting issues your team has they still want video recordings, you'll have to do it to make sure the team is effective.

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    +1 for spelling out that the wish for recordings may be a symptom of other things being wrong with the meeting organization. (Though for speed up listening, I'd say that at least in my native language I am able to listen substantially faster than anyone is supposed to speak.) Jan 27 at 16:16
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In my environment, a lot of meetings are recorded, for the benefit of people who cannot attend. There is usually a point where the recording is turned off to let people ask questions "off the record"; that may be a useful practice for your organization to adopt. It depends on the point of the meeting, whether it's primarily one-way transfer of information.

If you are concerned about your environment being on the video, most conferencing software lets you blur it or use a virtual background. If your organization has a social norm of video on during meetings you may want to discuss changing that -- people may be uncomfortable with their video appearance for many reasons.

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There are very good reasons to be nervous about conversations being recorded.

Look to the UK Covid Enquiry -- large numbers of WhatsApp messages which essentially replaced in-person informal conversations, which featured unredacted personal opinions about important political figures have been broadcast into the public domain. Those who deleted those records at the time now look like they had something to hide, despite it being an excellent policy. All will be significantly more circumspect about offering frank opinions in seemingly private online media in future, which is a great loss: it is vital that our politicians are allowed to talk honestly behind closed doors.

Whilst several years ago it would have been utterly infeasible to search video for specific words and phrases, this is a feature provided by most videomeeting providers these days. This makes those videos easy targets for GDPR and legal discovery, meaning that off-hand comments might be carefully scrutinised by people with your worst interests at heart and used to challenge those decisions.

I'd consider making inquiries at work into how those videos are managed -- are they retained indefinitely? do they have a retention period? who are they accessible by?

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    I would agree with this - while it's important to keep track of the important points in a meeting, and the human memory is indeed fallible, I would hate the thought of every inflection, sigh, groan, off-hand remark or easily correctible mistake being retained for ever more, and every word of what I said being searchable. For most meetings it would be better to just have someone writing down the important points / minutes of a meeting.
    – komodosp
    Jan 26 at 12:45
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    You could argue that we should all be professional in work meetings, but meetings are boring enough without everyone feeling the need pause for thought before everything they say, like they proof-read an email - or even worse, withholding their honest opinion, for fear what they said will later be scrutinised. It doesn't make for an open and relaxed workplace. But the upvote was specifically for the idea of a limited retention period.
    – komodosp
    Jan 26 at 12:48
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    I disagree completely with your notion that deleting records, even if personal or somehow informal is an excellent policy.
    – Bib
    Jan 26 at 16:09
  • @Bib I agree that deleting records is not a good policy. I would remind you that it is common for politicians and the likes to keep a diary which is of their meetings etc., and that the president of the USA is /obliged/ to have recordings of what goes on in his office. Jan 26 at 17:14
  • @MarkMorganLloyd - can you cite any law, regulation, etc that supports the claim that the president must record conversations in the office? I believe that once made, the recordings must be retained, but I can find no requirement they be made in the first place. In particular, if you're referring to audio recordings, there are numerous citations that such a system does not exist. See for example this.
    – Llaves
    Jan 27 at 5:04
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European here...

It's against the law (GDPR and all that) to record a meeting whenever a single person says they're against recording a meeting in Europe.

Although most people will agree to record a massive meeting that will be recorded and stored for training purposes, and not object to such recording, some people will then just apologise and drop off and it is understood by the rest of the audience they will watch the recording instead!

I've had a US supplier just starting to record meetings without asking anyone (with a majority of the public being European) and then I'd just turn recording back off and they'd start recording again and I'd turn it back off!
When it came to a point they started disallowing anyone but the meeting organiser to turn recording on or off, I gave the following speech:

Please record this for internal training purposes.

This is cultural, so I'd like to let you know it is impolite in most European countries to start a recording without asking everyone's permission and highly offensive in some countries, so I'll speak up for my German colleagues...

Whenever doing business with Germans, it is in bad taste to mention the war 1, not only because none of the people in this meeting had anything to do with WWII, but because the Nazis never got a democratic majority, but came to power through a coup d'état.

The Nazi's Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, Secret State Police) spied during the entire Nazi regime on their own citizens and hence the Western German Basic Law, which is their equivalent to the US constitution, drawn up after WWII, has as the first article that Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.

On the other hand, there was no such article in the Eastern German constitution and the Stasi (Statsicherheit, State Security) continued to spy on their own population until East and West Germany ware reunited.

It is therefore highly offensive to any German that a meeting is recorded without everyone's consent as it violates the first article of their Grundgesetz.

I apologise to my German colleagues for mentioning WWII, Nazism, the Gestapo and the Stasi, but German law allows these to be mentioned for educational purposes only, which this was.

You can now turn off this recording and save it for internal training purposes.

To say you could hear a pin drop, would be an understatement, and the meeting recording was stopped by the organiser.

I then immediately (before anyone could speak up) volunteered to take meeting minutes, start a project tracker and did such a good job that the project tracker and note taking were taken over by the supplier's Project Manager in all subsequent meetings.

So if I were you, and a meeting recording would start, I'd:

  • Thank everyone
  • Apologise and say you'll listen to the meeting recording.
  • drop off without any further explanation.

If you would not be European and anyone would dial you back in, or ask you for an explanation afterwards, just say that you're of German heritage and have a lot of family in Germany and then recite above speech.

¯\(ツ)

Note 1: German children are educated about the horrors of WWII in primary school to ensure these horrors will never happen again in the future and why you can get fined while taking selfies, climbing on monuments, ... while visiting concentration camp museums in Germany because it's culturally highly offensive.

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    Up-voted because this is the only post so far to mention legal implications. When I was growing up in Pennsylvania in the 70s, according to the front matter in the phone book, it was illegal to record a call without permission. I don't know if that's still the case, and an online meeting may not be the same as a "phone call," but the situations are similar enough to warrant caution. Even if current law allows recording without permission, it may be worthwhile to look at company policy to see if it gives guidance. Jan 27 at 1:17
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    You went over the top here. All of those on the meeting could have chosen on their free will to not be included in the recorded content. Comparing the presentation to the nazi and the stasi is a bit much but at least you got to make yourself feel superior. Jan 27 at 14:18
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    The question isn't about being recorded with no consent at all, it's about being pressured to give/say you give that consent. I agree with Matthew Whited; you are flirting with Goddard's law here. In addition, saying "this is the law, so this is how everyone in the country feels" is itself kinda fascist. It's one thing to say "It's considered rude in German culture", it's quite another to say "any German would consider it rude". You do not speak for every single German. Also, the fact that you feel the need to give a legal justification for mentioning Nazis is rather disturbing. Jan 27 at 18:43
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    It's against the law (GDPR and all that) to record a meeting whenever a single person says they're against recording a meeting in Europe. source please. I don't believe you.
    – d-b
    Jan 28 at 0:20
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    Oof. As a german, this "answer" made me highly uncomfortable. It is wrong on many levels. "I apologise to my German colleagues for mentioning WWII, Nazism, the Gestapo and the Stasi, but German law allows these to be mentioned for educational purposes only, which this was." This is complete and utter nonsense. Sorry to word is this strongly. but where the heck do you get that information from? Displaying Nazi insignia outside of educational or informational purposes is illegal, but mentioning WWII, Nazis, the Gestapo or Stasi most certainly is not. Freedom of expression exists in germany.
    – Polygnome
    Jan 28 at 10:50
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The traditional approach is for someone to take minutes, and then everyone is supposed to review the minutes before the next meeting and submit corrections to be voted on. In fact, to be perfectly formal the first thing done at a meeting could be to read the minutes and vote to amend if necessary before accepting them as accurate.

That's a lot of hassle. When the discussion isn't reporting out a formal decision, and it became a standing joke that the first motion of any meeting run by formal rules was usually to waive the reading of the preceding minutes.

These days it's a lot more common for just the people who have concerns about the minutes' accuracy to review them. You could ask for the opportunity to review the recordings, saying you aren't sure you expressed an idea well or some such. Or you could volunteer to take minutes and mail them out to people for informal correction as needed; that make people feel less dependant upon the recordings.

But they can decide to record the meetings, and if you want to attend them you will have to learn not to mind. Seriously, everyone knows that humans don't speak perfectly or remember perfectly, so you'll sound fine. If you make a mistake you can correct it; that too is human. And if every meeting is being recorded, then like the minutes there's a good chance nobody will ever look at the recording.

(If it's a video recording, you can always decide you will punish viewers by wearing clothes with a fine high-contrast pattern that creates eye-watering moiré patterns when processed by video/computer cameras...)

Seriously, unless you have religious grounds for objecting, you sorta have to live with it. It really isn't that bad.

(If you do have religious objections, talk to your boss and your religious counselors. There may be minor changes to the procedure that will make it acceptable, and that your company can reasonably implement.)

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    "I wave we move the meeting of the minutes of the last reading! --- Right, Dad?"
    – keshlam
    Jan 26 at 1:05
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    Is "month nurse" an autocompletion or autocorrection for "minutes"? If so it's a pretty bad one. Jan 26 at 5:20
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    Yep. Autodefect. My fault for not proofreading. The tupo has been foxed.
    – keshlam
    Jan 26 at 7:18
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    This is a good answer except that "Seriously, everyone knows that humans don't speak perfectly or remember perfectly, so you'll sound fine." - the reality of dynamic conversations is that people tailor what they say to what they think others they are talking to are thinking, or what they know at that moment about the contemporaneous context (but may forget later). Things can sound radically different because the explicit talking is recorded, but not the contextual understanding. This is partly why courts of law don't always accept recordings as evidence. (1/2)
    – Steve
    Jan 26 at 11:39
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    I wouldn't say this is widely well-understood at all. We are more accustomed to watching choreographed television or watching experienced public speakers deliver a monologue (with perhaps a limited Q&A), and very rarely have significant life experience of watching recordings of informal two-way communications in ways that reveal serious ambiguities. (2/2)
    – Steve
    Jan 26 at 11:39
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There's your personal feelings of awkwardness on the one hand, and the efficiency of the business on the other. Depending on how much of an effect the latter has, your position could be tenuous.

However, there are further considerations. For instance, as soon as a meeting is recorded, it becomes a business record subject to business record retention policy, and to subpoena.

It can be a rather large legal headache; if you want to delete it, you have to go through the entire business record deletion administrative process.

If you keep it, you have to make sure it's being stored in manner that is accessible to authorized people and not to unauthorized people, and you have to worry about copies, and you have to track it and make sure it isn't violating policy by not being deleted.

As soon as there's any regulatory or legal process, the company will have to make a determination as to whether they need to turn it over. If they turn it over without valid reason, then they open themselves up to being accused of violating privacy rights. If they don't turn it over, then they could face a legal battle over whether it should be turned over, and possibly contempt proceedings.

If your company is of significant size, it should have a policy regarding recording meetings. If you can't find one, you should ask around. While you're doing so, you do have the out of saying "I haven't gotten that cleared by Legal yet" any time someone asks you to record a meeting.

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