Bags on or bags off?
I’m a big fan of Quentin Tarantino movies – I love the intense contrast of good vs. evil, the extreme characters, the farcical violence and that in the end the good guys always win.
One of my favorite scenes is from Django Unchained and involves a big attack by the Klu Klux Clan on a bounty hunter and a freed slave (Django). Just when the tension is at its highest, a massive argument breaks out between the Clansmen about the bags they are wearing over their heads – it seems that they were poorly made by one of their wives and nobody can see properly. In the end they decide to attack with bags on, “as long as the <expletive> horses can see”. It does not end well for them.
The Clansmen had good reason to attack with bags over their heads – if people knew who they were, they would be vulnerable to attack or prosecution themselves.
So why do people attend virtual meetings with a bag over their head? What are they hiding from? I’m talking about people who attend Zoom meetings and elect to keep their cameras off. Since COVID hit in February of 2020, I have been consistently facilitating workshops over Zoom and have been grappling with cameras on / cameras off question since the beginning.
Here are some specific observations:
- The people who contribute most to meetings are generally going to be the ones with cameras on. Those with cameras off are far more likely to watch passively.
- The willingness to share video of oneself tends to be company specific (i.e. it’s part of company culture). With some organizations, 95% of people have them on at the get-go while with others only a handful of people will put their cameras on. I believe this is due to some combination of company policy (not wanting to force it), role modeling by leaders and herd mentality (why should I turn mine on if they won’t?), while technology issues play a far more minor role.
- The quality of meetings is severely impacted by the lack of video – by eliminating the ability to communicate through body language, people miss important social cues leading to misunderstanding and a lack of connection.
- The “excuse” that cameras are off because of something in the background (room clutter, kids running around) is highly suspect given that tools such as Zoom and Teams both allow the background to be blurred out.
- In many of our workshops we put people into breakout rooms to do activities. Sometimes a few are left in the main room as they have not clicked the button to enter the breakout room. Almost invariably, these are people with cameras off. This (I believe) is the clue to why people have their cameras off – they are partly checked out, likely doing something else (work or personal).
Consider these questions as you examine your company policies related to virtual meetings:
- Would you tolerate people attending in-person meetings with bags over their heads? How would this impact meeting effectiveness?
- Would allowing people to attend in-person meetings with bags over their heads be a reasonable way to address privacy considerations? If not, then why is it reasonable with virtual meetings?
- When people attend in-person meetings, is it OK if people do other work while the meeting takes place? If not, why tolerate it virtually?
Russel Horwitz, Principal