Did you see the Vyopta survey from April 2022 with the headline stat that” 92 percent of Execs Don’t See Long-Term Future for Off-Camera Employees?” It was misleading and it did a poor job of unpacking the issue of why remote workers might actually be protecting themselves by leaving their video cameras off during meetings.
Executives Are Afraid You’ll Quit
Let’s start with this detail: “92 percent of U.S. executives report employees who are less engaged, either frequently on mute or don’t turn on their camera during virtual meetings, probably don’t have a long-term future at their company.”
Notice the report doesn’t say “they are at risk of being fired,” but rather “don’t have a long-term future at their company.” Executives aren’t threatening to fire anyone. They’re afraid you’re checked out and looking for a new job. Replacing employees is extremely expensive, and the so-called Great Resignation is no joke.
What about this detail? “93 percent of executives say employees who turn their camera off are generally less engaged in their work overall.”
This “lack of engagement” is not data. It’s how executives feel. Executives are making assumptions about employee behavior, not collecting data about what people are doing by, you know, asking them. Instead, “more than 2 in 5 executives (43 percent) suspect that employees who are on mute or off-camera entirely are browsing the internet or social media, texting or chatting (40 percent).”
Anyone who has been in an excessive number of meetings or who has high work demands knows that a meeting where you aren’t expected to contribute is a great time to get more important work done. But these executives wouldn’t know because they aren’t talking to their employees.
I have a few questions I’d like to ask executives.
Do Your Employees Know What’s Expected of Them in Meetings?
Have you communicated to employees your expectations for their engagement in meetings? Is an agenda required for every meeting? Do employees feel they can ask honest questions of a meeting organizer before a meeting to make sure that their attendance is both necessary and will add value?
Does Your Organization Hold Purposeful Meetings?
Are your employees expected to show up to meetings even when they don’t have any value to add or insight to gain? Do your teams have alternative ways to discuss and share information that isn’t in the form of a meeting, like shared documents for brainstorming, collaborating, and information distribution?
Is there a note-taker assigned to important meetings who summarizes the content of the meeting, distributes it, and follows up on assignments and action items that resulted from the meeting?
Did Your Employees Opt Into Remote Work?
When these employees who are leaving their cameras off and microphones muted during meetings first joined the organization, did they join knowing the job would be remote? Or did they become remote employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore did not opt into remote work? Are you penalizing them for their behavior in a part of the job that they did not know was a part of the job when they signed on, and perhaps, an area where your organization did not do a very good job of setting up people for success?
Are Your Employees Burned Out?
Are your employees burning out? Did you know that according to a Pew Research report, 37 percent of remote employees are worn out by video conferencing technology at work, which is roughly one in every three workers?
Do you give employees adequate paid time off, including for parental leave? Do you and other management-level employees of the organization model how to take time off by not writing emails and answering business questions during your vacations, holidays, and sick days? Do all your workers get paid sick time?
Do You Actively Communicate Business Goals?
Do you actively and frequently communicate to employees what the goals and priorities for your organization are so that employees can push back on work that doesn’t effectively contribute to the business’s stated direction?
Are Your Employees Struggling With Care Issues?
Do your employees have adequate child care? Have you increased their wages sufficiently in light of the rising cost of child care, which has by one estimate risen by 41 percent during the COVID pandemic?
Whose Camera Is Off?
Whose camera is off? Who has muted themselves? Since you’re paying so much attention to employees who keep their cameras off during video calls, have you noticed whether they are people who are on average paid less for the same work as their white male counterparts? Are they people who have been discriminated against in the workplace and the U.S. legal system for their hairstyles? How many of them might be people with disabilities, whether those disabilities are visible or invisible? Would it ever occur to you that people may leave their cameras and microphones off to not be negatively judged for how they or their surroundings appear?
Where Is Your Empathy?
Have you been an empathetic employer and checked in on the health and mental wellbeing of your employees? Do employees feel comfortable speaking up about problems in the workplace? Is the workplace a safe place for people to let it be known when meetings are inefficient or when they would be better and more focused employees if they were allowed to skip nonessential meetings?
What Assumptions Are You Making?
Before you make any more assumptions, have you ever asked employees what they are doing when their cameras are off? Is it possible they are engaged, taking notes, looking up related information? Is it possible they are furiously trying to keep up with other work because they’re overworked and yet expected to attend meetings even when there is no clear purpose for their attendance?
Why don’t you just ask them?