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.
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:
- most people prefer to see faces. I onboard a lot of people into the Co-op generally and into my team. I'm not the best at it so I'm working on this blindspot. I've had feedback that these new people prefer to see faces to help them feel welcome.
- I'm the cheerleader for team members who are presenting. I think I've mastered the art of exaggerated nodding and smiling.
- I'm the embodiment of 'it's ok, to not be ok'. I live in weird times and so do my team. My room is a mess, my kids charge in for hugs, I've got a lot more spots (thanks lockdown diet), I haven't had a shave or haircut in months - I'm a mess. If I show people this side of me it humanises work. Work needs more humanising.
- it's easy to forget we're all human. As my team move to a more asynchronous way of working, most conversations are text-based. We lose a lot of nuance in text. If we do a video call having the camera on reminds them and me that we're still human.
- it promotes feedback. We should always be seeking feedback. Sometimes the subtlest of nods or grimace is enough to spark another conversation.
There are times I don't have a camera on:
- I need a break. I’m an ambivert, which means I’m comfortable with being visible and get my energy from giving space to others. But it's draining and I need time to recharge occasionally. If I've had back to back calls or it's just been a hard week, I'll turn off.
- poor wifi connection.
- I'm in a huge team session where I would be a face in a sea of people in an auditorium anyway (if it was one of my team, I'd keep my camera on as a friendly face).
- my background is too embarrassing. Yes, it's all good showing real-life happen at work. But sometimes, no one needs to see the dirty washing pile.
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 leadership is more talking than doing
- over-communicate about the awesome work your team is doing
- none of this takes place without human interaction
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.
- do what is right for you foremost. Put your oxygen mask on first.
- then speak to your team. How do they want to communicate on calls?
- accept that as a design leader you're going to have to be more visible than most. This means having your camera on more often than others.