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Asian young woman wear earphones talking in video conference with business partners and worker team via online internet at her home.
ATD Blog

Camera Shy? Ideas for Getting 100 Percent Participation in Virtual Meetings

Monday, April 19, 2021
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Much of our workday is spent in virtual meetings, and for the most part, we’ve adapted well. While technology can’t always compensate for physical distance, it does a great job. Seeing people’s faces, hearing their voices, and reading their body language increases the likelihood of candid dialogue and meaningful connection. But what happens when you have colleagues who refuse to turn on their camera? Teammates who opt-out of the visual that is so important to building relationships and ensuring productive conversation?

While it sounds like a simple challenge, it’s actually a big deal. Our recent research suggests that people are feeling a loss of interpersonal connection with their co-workers. Despite the tools and technology, many people are communicating less with their teams, and some report that the quality of communication has suffered. And the disconnect is only amplified when people fail to wholly engage in routine virtual dialogue.

So, how do you appropriately and politely ask people to turn on their cameras during virtual meetings? The ideas listed below provide tips for making the ask to turn on your camera as well as for building an engaged team where people are eager to participate.

Make Time for Chitchat

Most meetings start and end with casual conversation. It’s in these few minutes that we learn what our colleagues did over the weekend, what happened in the big game, or the latest funny antics of their kids or pets. This kind of interaction is incredibly important. If employees don’t occasionally slow down and connect with each other, they get burned out. The work itself may be rewarding, but if you don’t also enjoy the social aspect of your work, you may find yourself liking your job less and less.

When you get to know your colleagues, their interests, their families, and their sense of humor, you build connections that foster trust, innovation, and dialogue. You don’t have to be best friends with your co-workers, but you should remember that you’re not working with robots, and you’re not one either.

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Keep Meetings Brief

Sometimes people disengage because the meeting is too long and lacks purpose. And we all know that some meetings feel like a waste of time. Most of us are required to attend meetings, but that doesn’t mean the meetings have to be long and aimless. So, if you’re in charge of the meetings, consider these questions:

  • What is the purpose of this meeting?
  • How quickly can we accomplish it?

Give Participants an Active Role

If your intent is to engage people—to get them to talk, to answer a poll, to chat, to read—then the best thing you can do is ask them to do these things. People are often disengaged because their role has not been defined. Without a clear, defined role, they are more likely to sit back and answer emails during your meeting. Also, invite participants to do something every few minutes. If needed, call out specific people in a complimentary way, “Hey Sarah, you have some of the best experience working in the APAC market. What are some of the challenges you think we should watch out for?”

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Make It Safe

Sometimes people don’t contribute to meetings because they don’t feel safe to do so. They may not feel invited, or they may be unsure of how or when to share their views. So, help them see their role clearly and tell them why you value their attendance. If you can’t do that, then maybe they shouldn’t be in the meeting.

Make It an Expectation

If you’re in a leadership role, then simply ask the team to turn on webcams during meetings. If you’re not in a leadership role, you can also ask your teammates to turn on their cameras, or you can involve your manager in setting this expectation. Once the expectation has been communicated, add a reminder to meeting invites. There are a number of implicit norms when it comes to face-to-face meetings. Work to make cameras that way for virtual meetings by inviting and reminding.

Call People Out

If the expectation has been set and people still aren’t turning on their cameras, share your concern using these three steps.

  • Share the Facts: “Hey, team. I’m noticing that most of you don’t have your webcams on, and we discussed as a team how we’d like to see more webcams on to foster better discussion and involvement in the meetings.”
  • Tell Your Story: “Whether right or not, this causes me to feel that you’re not engaging in our meetings. I’m concerned that if we don’t use our webcams, then we’ll be disconnected, which will lead to poor results, and we don’t want that. We value everyone’s view and really want you to contribute.”
  • Ask for Their Help: “Would you please turn on your webcams for our meeting? And if you have any concerns, please send me a private message. I’d be happy to talk.

Notice that several of these ideas involve going back to the basics of team culture and engagement. Be intentional in your efforts to foster a team culture that is fueled by communication and connection at all times—not just in meetings. If your coworkers don’t feel connected, valued, or a part of something meaningful, then it’s no wonder they don’t want to turn on their cameras.

About the Author

Justin Hale is a speaker, training designer, and master trainer at VitalSmarts. He has been a lead engineer in designing training courses and facilitated classes and delivered keynote speeches on the skills and principles to 300+ clients and audiences around the world.

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