It’s widely considered one of the biggest faux pas in our digital age – but a new study shows that there might actually be some benefit in turning off your camera during a video meeting.
According to a study conducted by the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, switching off your camera during online meetings can actually make you more productive and less tired.
The study, which involved a four-week experiment, 103 participants and more than 1,400 observations, concluded that having cameras on can have an adverse effect on the meeting as a whole. According to the study’s authors, this is connected to the self-presentation pressure associated with being on camera.
“Having a professional background and looking ready, or keeping children out of the room are among some of the pressures,” says Allison Gabriel, McClelland professor of management and organisation, and one of the study’s authors.
"When people had cameras on or were told to keep cameras on, they reported more fatigue than their non-camera using counterparts. And that fatigue correlated to less voice and less engagement during meetings.
“So, in reality, those who had cameras on were potentially participating less than those not using cameras. This counters the conventional wisdom that cameras are required to be engaged in virtual meetings."
The study found that the effects were stronger for women and newer employees, possibly due to self-presentation issues. “Women often feel the pressure to be effortlessly perfect or have a greater likelihood of childcare interruptions, and newer employees feel like they must be on camera and participate in order to show productiveness,” says Gabriel.
Rather than expecting employees to keep their cameras on during online meetings, they should be given the autonomy to choose whether to not to use their cameras, and employees should not make assumptions about distractedness or productivity of the camera is off, she suggests.
"At the end of the day, we want employees to feel autonomous and supported at work in order to be at their best. Having autonomy over using the camera is another step in that direction.”
The research has been published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
Over the past year, numerous studies have looked into “Zoom fatigue” – a feeling of being “drained and exhausted after online meetings, a phenomenon fuelled due to the pandemic.
According to Dr Geraldine Fauville, an assistant professor at the department of education, communication and learning at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, having a large face on the screen that appears to be staring at you – even when you are not speaking – induces fatigue. He recommends reducing the size of the videoconference window and moving the screen further away.
Switching off the self-view function, taking micro breaks, trying virtual backgrounds, and using a mix of different forms of communication – phone calls, emails and chats – also helps.