Remote working: camera on or off?

In this post I talk about doing what is right for you - it's up to you whether you have the camera on or not - but be mindful of your position if you are a leader.
December 21, 2020

Remote working best practices vary between people, teams and business preferences. Every major publication has tips for remote working with what you should and should not do.

This blog post is inspired by a slack conversation I was stalking between colleagues. I paraphrase the questions here: do you stick to the unspoken rule that the individual's comfort should be respected first and foremost? Or do we encourage our teams to strive for an inclusive, camera-on, safe space?

As with most of these situations, the answer always begins with 'it depends' and - at least, in this case - it ends with a blog post. Fundamentally, we respect individuals choice. Then we talk about it. Each team is different, so together we work out a way of working.

I model my leadership style to be open as possible to accommodate for many personality types. So, I keep my camera on. I do this because:

There are times I don't have a camera on:

I don't like the idea of a workplace enforcing an always-on policy. I'm pleased that my workplace embraces different ways of remote working. Teams figure it out themselves and accommodate for different comfort levels. But, I think it gets more complicated when you move into a leadership role.

Camera on or off for leaders

Everyone has a different leadership style. Peter Merholz talks about 4 modes of design leadership. Here are some related highlights from that talk:

Design leaders need to be more visible to fulfil any of the above.

I agonise over whether I should coach more introverted members of my team that have aspirations of leadership to be more visible. To some people, more visible means extroverted and I don't think they're the same. Some of the best leaders I work with self-identify as introverted but are very visible.

Leaders need to embrace different personalities and comfort levels. We should embody that behaviour too - we’re human after all. Yet, we are in service to the people we lead; we need to anticipate and adapt to context. It's not about us, it's about the people we lead and the work they do. That sometimes requires our camera to be on more often than others.