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Using video during meetings – why, or why not?

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In late 2019, some months before all of us moving to “living at the office” and eternal remote work mode, I wrote an opinionated post about using video – at all times – during Teams’ meetings. In essence, I argued that I aim to turn on video at all times during my meetings, to bring clarity, presence, and a sense of togetherness for the attendees. The rare exception, of course, is a conference, where you are supposed to attend and listen rather than to participate actively.

It’s been over a year now in this new normal. We are all accustomed to using Zoom, Teams, and other tools. Most of us have had to build a home office or arrange a setup where we can get stuff done without leaving home.

How has my own thinking evolved since my initial post in late 2019? Quite a bit, actually.

I still always enable video when I join a Teams or a Zoom meeting. The situation is often the same as in late 2019 – I might be the only one, or one of the very few, having video on. I’ve resisted the urge to switch off my video quickly. I think having my video on enforces me to focus on the meeting at hand. Once my eyes start traveling toward my Outlook or a chat message, people will see that and perhaps call me out. Or more often, not – because they have their cameras off, and I bet many people multitask while attending the many meetings each week. And that’s fine. But I know myself well enough to become distracted.

The argument against turning on video is the focus. I only need to focus on everyone’s voice rather than video at the same time. It’s also less tiring, as I don’t have to try to build a mental picture of you based on the grainy pictures I see. I keep the video off if I’m attending meetings while taking a long walk outside. It’s liberating – I can focus on the voice in my head and don’t have to worry that my yawning is somehow interpreted as an offensive act to whoever is currently speaking.

Therefore, I revised my initial thought of “Jussi will always turn on video” to something a little bit more fine-grained:

  • Always turn on video – by default, no excuses – even when having a bad hair day
  • Unless attending a meeting when I’m driving, walking, or not in a normal working environment
  • Turn off video if I’m attending a conference or similar setting, where my presence is mostly just to listen

The last bit is important. What if I’m attending a 15-person workshop – should I keep the video off? No. I want to respect the time others give me, but I also want to ensure that I pay focus to the time I’m giving.

During my time last year at Microsoft, the model was slightly interesting. Everyone would usually have a video on for internal meetings, but after the first few minutes of catch-up, the video was turned off, and “we got down to business.” It worked quite well.