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Why camera-optional policies and no-meeting days are not enough

The CEO of Cogito urges leaders to shift their perspective toward being more intentional with all their actions, processes, and general workplace operations, especially as Zoom dysmorphia is on the rise.

Why camera-optional policies and no-meeting days are not enough
[Source photos: Borislav/iStock; Jan Baborák/Unsplash]

It’s hard to fathom all that has unfolded during the pandemic and the impact on future workplaces, especially when there is no rulebook to follow. Leaders have been challenged to change the way they think, operate, and, well, lead. And the unpredictable consequences of these changes have placed new strains on the workforce. With so many of us still working virtually and living in a digital, always-on world, “Zoom dysmorphia”—an extension of the much-discussed topic of burnout—is beginning to take its toll on employees.

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Zoom dysmorphia is the feeling of unhappiness or dissatisfaction about one’s appearance, exacerbated by looking at themselves on camera all day. Roughly 70% of knowledge workers cite feeling anxious about their appearance. Unfortunately, implementing camera-optional policies and no-meeting days is not enough. Leaders must be willing to find solutions that work for their current and future workforces, ensuring that the new way of working does not unintentionally impact teams negatively. With Zoom dysmorphia on the rise, it’s time to shift our perspective toward being more intentional with our actions, processes, and general workplace operations.

Establish a clear post-pandemic norm, now

Remote and hybrid work has opened new doors for what our workdays can look like—so much so, that some employees would rather quit their jobs than give up working from home. The satisfaction gained from no commute, having childcare flexibility, and more time with loved ones or focusing on new hobbies, have all been positives of our current work-from-home situation. The unknown of when the situation will end, however, is causing anxiety across the workforce. Employees question whether there will be any repercussions to their hybrid work decisions, (decisions, such as moving to a different state or choosing not to come in). This uncertainty adds layers of anxiety.

To ease the minds of employees, I encourage leaders to:

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  • Establish and vocalize clear policies for today and the future. Will you continue offering flexible, hybrid work or will you require individuals to be in the office? If you’ve remained remote throughout the pandemic, how will you address employees who have relocated? What changes will be made for the physical office? Answering these questions will help decrease the stress of the unknown and ensure everyone understands the workplace expectations.
  • Provide continued flexibility to empower the workforce and reduce unnecessary uncertainty. Are employees able to schedule healthcare appointments, pick up their children from school, and attend any other personal events without the stress of worrying about what will happen when they walk away from their computer? Employees should feel confident that the show can go on without any negative repercussions.

Enlist the help of a workplace engagement specialist

With less focus on in-person event planning, leaders should reinvest their time and resources to support workforce engagement instead. This reinvestment is especially important as organizations navigate a candidate-driven marketplace—one demanding more freedom and wellness at work. Creating a dedicated position or team charged with collecting critical feedback to improve engagement can be highly beneficial as organizations strive to improve the work experiences for all employees.

Outside of keeping a real-time pulse on employee sentiment, dedicated workforce engagement specialists are responsible for creating a bond between all employees, no matter their locations. This initiative has been a big focus within my own organization, taking shape in the form of employee resource groups, a mental health speaker series, and regular employee wellness check-ins, led by our very own workplace engagement specialist. It may not be a traditional way of working and engaging with employees, but it is the way forward.

Be more intentional

Mandatory all-staff meetings, virtual team-building events, and video happy hours, while well-intentioned, are hardly a break for employees burnt out from screen time. As we consider Zoom dysmorphia, allowing employees workplace flexibility, no-meeting days, and camera optional policies can be helpful. However, those efforts only go so far with withdrawn, disengaged, and burnt-out employees. What employees need is time away from their laptops to relax and recharge—and for leaders to be mindful of what they are requiring of their workforce.

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I challenge leaders to consider two elements of intentionality:

  • The first is with the meetings we schedule and how we can be more effective and thoughtful when scheduling. At my organization, we have meetings for four core purposes: team building, consensus, decision-making, and information sharing. Are there ways to accomplish certain conversations or decisions offline? If not, how can you make the meeting experience better for the employee? By being intentional here, we can better guide the workforce forward in a thoughtful and employee-first manner.
  • The second element to consider is how we approach well-being. Do you mirror or model good time-off practices, like stepping away from emails and calls? Can you place an emphasis on taking time off or taking mental health days with your teams? There is no better way to do this than leading by example.

Our workforce is resilient, and while we can’t fully understand the implications of the pandemic, leaders can’t sit on the sidelines and hope for things to be solved for them. It’s paramount to approach employees with genuine empathy and support as we march forward. I’d argue that those leaders who take this proactive and engaged approach, rethinking their usual way of working and leading, will better retain their most valuable assets—their employees.


Joshua Feast is CEO and cofounder of Cogito.

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