More than a year after many of us started working remotely, we’re still asking the same question, often several times a day: During a meeting, should I turn my camera on or can I keep it off?
In the second episode of Fast Company’s new podcast Hit the Ground Running, my cohost Christina Royster and I tried doing the latter, keeping our cameras off for all meetings for one week. The results were mixed, but I failed right out of the gate.
It turns out that whether or not you have your camera on or off can have serious consequences when it comes to our colleagues’ perceptions of us. To learn more, we talked to Dr. Courtney McCluney, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations school whose work focuses on marginalization in the workplace.
Dr. McCluney says that remote work can disproportionately hinder employees of color. “[Remote work has] hindered people of color. Especially if we think about the type of organizations that are likely to have remote work at this time, it’s one where people of color are underrepresented. Less than 20% of remote workers identify as Black in this country,” she says.
She adds, “Our sacred spaces of home have now become opportunities for public gazing, particularly for a public that we put on a work persona.”
One upside? The opportunities for different channels of connection to open up with people of color connecting with each other through social media or on apps such as Clubhouse. “If I’m dealing with the issue inside of my company, I can now easily go to a different platform and either vent or ask for support, which probably would have been difficult if you’re at work, looking over your shoulder, wondering, ‘Is someone watching me go into this chat room, complaining about my coworkers?'” she explained.
McCluney encourages companies to think about whether videos need to be on for every conversation, because it takes a lot of attention and mental energy to stay on camera all day. She also counsels us to be wary of what can get lost in translation over video and Slack. “Studies over and over again when we were doing in-person interaction show that nonverbal communication is almost 80% of actual speech. It’s not the words that we’re saying—it’s the body language.”
McCluney says that the onus shouldn’t just be on employees—employers should think about it too. She advises them to set clear expectations around whether cameras should be on or off and have an explicit conversation around camera use with their workers.