“No matter your rationale for not attending meetings by video, ultimately you risk sabotaging your credibility.”
The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time.
~ Brené Brown
In the IP field, and countless others, online or virtual meetings have become ingrained in professional life, an enabler of remote working in the age of COVID-19 and beyond. Conference platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, Slack, and BlueJeans are now essential tools for collaboration within and between enterprises. It doesn’t matter if you’re a tech enthusiast, straggler, or somewhere in the middle. You’ve had to adopt the technology or be left behind.
Although united as users, we don’t uniformly leverage the functionality available on conference platforms. Notably, some of us diverge in our use, or non-use, of webcams during online meetings.
At the start of the pandemic, I began routinely activating my camera for both internal and external meetings. Like many peers, I found significant value in this approach. Others initially were hesitant but tried it out, arriving at a similar conclusion.
To this day, a group of holdouts seldom, if ever, appear on video in meetings, even when others on the same call—sometimes all others—are on video. It doesn’t matter whether they’re meeting with their clients, senior leaders, or close colleagues who are on camera. They simply do not activate their cameras.
In my view, regular use of video conferencing enriches the quality of online meetings, while contributing to users’ professional success in the near- and long-term. Conversely, consistently avoiding the use of video may disadvantage non-users in consequential ways.
Online Meeting Scenarios
Depending on their job focus and the purpose of a given online meeting, IP and other professionals may assume various roles, such as client, prospective client, colleague, counselor, advocate, adjudicator, consultant, or salesperson.
Representative meeting scenarios include, but are not limited to:
- Internal calls involving colleagues from the same organization, such as members of an-house IP department, a law firm practice group, or a cohort in an IP services or consulting firm.
- Internal calls involving personnel from the same organization who are interacting in an advisory-advisee relationship, such as where an in-house IP counsel advises internal client stakeholders, or a project leader at a software solutions provider gives progress reports to a C-suite executive.
- External calls involving participants from multiple organizations, such as an in-house IP counsel and her outside counsel, and a consultant and his law firm client or corporate client.
- External calls involving peers from multiple organizations in a transactional, adversarial, or other context. For instance, IP lawyers from different firms or corporations may meet virtually in connection with a contract negotiation, a dispute, committee work for an IP association, or planning a panel discussion for an industry conference.
In meetings corresponding to each of the above scenarios, I’ve observed that certain attendees choose to participate only by audio while others are on video.
It’s understandable why someone might not activate a camera while driving, feeling ill, or attending a large meeting in which a presenter does the lion’s share of the talking. And sometimes a software or hardware glitch renders a webcam temporarily unusable. We’ve all been there and can empathize.
Additionally, researchers have “frame[d] a number of issues with the current interface design behind Zoom which is likely causing psychological consequences and fatigue.” These include “[e]xcessive amounts of close-up eye gaze, cognitive load, increased self-evaluation from staring at video of oneself, and constraints on physical mobility.” If other conference platforms suffer from similar issues, then as a general matter it’s sensible not to use video excessively, such as on days that are crammed with online meetings.
However, some attendees go audio-only for all meetings, including meetings in which they’re supposed to be active contributors or meetings they’re supposed to lead. Even in a one-on-one call, they “appear” by icon while the other person is on video.
Non-use of video is such attendees’ modus operandi no matter the context. They’re seemingly unfazed by the incongruity of their approach vis-à-vis others; oblivious about the potential perceptions of others; and impervious to peer pressure.
What If You Don’t Join by Video?
Your decision not to join online meetings by video may have negative repercussions, including:
- It makes you look weak. Attendees may assume that you’re shy, introverted, and unconfident. After all, why are you hiding behind a computer icon when others are not?
- It makes you seem like you’re not a team player. Others may question why you apparently exempt yourselves from participating via video. What entitles you to keep the metaphorical curtains drawn when others are ready to open up and engage? Are you truly committed to maximizing the value of the meeting?
- It raises doubts about your competence and professionalism. You may unwittingly give the impression that you’re incompetent or unprofessional. Attendees may presume that you have a narrow or flawed view of your role and what constitutes professional etiquette. They also may speculate that you’re multitasking during calls.
- It squanders opportunities for relationship and reputation building. By choosing not to participate via video, you’ll also likely not capitalize on various benefits discussed below.
Non-use of video can have negative repercussions in all meeting scenarios. However, it can be particularly toxic when the person who’s supposed to lead or guide a conversation—such as an advisor, counselor, consultant, salesperson, or manager—stays hidden. What message is that person sending to his or her client, advisee, or customer by remaining invisible?
For example, as in-house IP counsel, my team members and I have attended calls with outside vendors where we, the clients, are on screen, and the vendor chooses to remain unseen. We don’t understand why the vendor evidently is content to appear passive, and why they don’t extend us the courtesy of showing their face. As a result, we have less confidence in their judgment.
Similarly, non-use of video can be damaging over time when, during relatively small meetings, an internal colleague habitually chooses to remain hidden while his or her colleagues consistently are on video. Trust and rapport are critical predicates for effective collaboration in an enterprise. They’re difficult to nurture when one party seems guarded, manifesting a qualified desire to connect.
No matter your rationale for not attending meetings by video, ultimately you risk sabotaging your credibility. Others on camera may wonder why you’re not on camera and attempt to infer why. Even if their inferences are mistaken or unfair, you may pay a price for your non-participation.
The Power of Video in Online Meetings
Here are six reasons to turn on your webcam in your next online meeting.
- It builds stronger, more collaborative relationships.
Which is more personal and more human: live video of a person, or an icon on a screen?
Activating your webcam during a meeting promotes human connection more effectively than mere audio can. This isn’t to say that video meetings ever can entirely replace in-person interactions, or that they’re optimal or appropriate for every situation. However, they can foster the growth of trusted relationships and authentic camaraderie.
The pandemic has prevented many of us from traveling for business, let alone working side by side with local colleagues. Moreover, even in non-pandemic times, it’s often not feasible to travel for logistical and budgetary reasons.
Video conferencing permits us to team up in a more human manner. We can put a face to a voice; we can express ourselves through facial expressions and hand gestures; we can more readily convey our earnestness and decency; we can show a measure of vulnerability.
I joined my current company shortly before the pandemic and, as such, haven’t been able to visit colleagues in Asia and Europe. Frequent use of video conferencing has enabled us to build bridges of mutual respect and understanding that would’ve taken far longer to build had we communicated only via audio.
- It keeps you focused.
Multitasking during audio conferences is a time-honored tradition of almost any professional who’s honest enough to admit that they practice the art. Yet, it’s far from foolproof because meetings may alternate abruptly between important and less important matters. When multitasking, we may be caught off guard and miss crucial points as they arise.
When we’re on video during online meetings, multitasking becomes very challenging, if not impossible. Thus, we can concentrate on the matter at hand.
- It shows your desire to engage.
By turning on your camera, you’re telegraphing your willingness to be fully present and to fully engage with your fellow attendees.
It’s been said that “80% of success is showing up.” The 80% figure may be a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration. Yet, it’s hard to dispute the notion that “showing up” is a precondition for success.
An attendee who opts out of video hasn’t truly shown up to an online meeting when everyone else is on screen. Such attendee is holding something back, much like a reluctant or apprehensive guest at an in-person event. Others may sense reserve on the part of the unseen attendee—or mistakenly infer it—and judge the person unfavorably.
- It helps drive more meaningful dialogue.
Online meetings often are scheduled so that participants can discuss potential solutions to a problem, plans for implementing an initiative, and points of contention in a negotiation. When video is utilized, they can communicate both visually and aurally to emphasize salient topics. Further, they can more astutely “read the room” by observing others’ communication cues and pivot discussions accordingly. This can facilitate more fulsome discussions and faster decision making.
- It develops your confidence and leadership presence.
Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room. Appearing on camera is not easy or enjoyable for everyone, especially those who feel self-conscious in interpersonal settings. Video conferencing may make us feel like we’re the center of attention, a sensation some of us dread. The two-dimensional nature of video conferencing and the taking of calls from our homes likewise can feel awkward.
This is exactly why activating your webcam can be so worthwhile. It gets you out of your comfort zone, forcing you to do something impactful that doesn’t come naturally. Inevitably, your confidence will grow over time as you actively participate in online meetings. You’ll also hone your communication skills, and in the process, become a more capable leader and influencer during discussions.
This growth will extend outside the online meeting context, increasing your professional effectiveness and making you more successful.
- Others are doing it.
Many professionals with whom you do business have determined that video conferencing is the way to go. Whether you agree or disagree with their mindset, they may expect you to engage in kind.
Those who are camera-shy may think that by only using audio, they’re avoiding others’ scrutiny. Ironically, they may achieve precisely the opposite outcome: By not conforming to other attendees’ modeled behavior, they become the center of attention.
Ask yourself this question: Do you really want to be the only person in an online meeting who’s not on video, thereby inviting others to make potentially negative inferences about you?
If you answered no, consider turning on your webcam.
It’s Time to Embrace Video Conferencing
Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, IP and other professionals are using video in online meetings more than ever before. Through firsthand experience, they have come to regard video as a powerful catalyst of enhanced collaboration and professional development, among its other benefits.
The video conferencing train has left the station. If you’re still resisting use of video, you owe it to other attendees, and your own self-interest, to give it a try. Climb aboard—or you may limit your potential.