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Author's profile photo Ryan van Leent

Thanks for having me over

To all my work colleagues who’ve invited me into their homes via Zoom, Teams and Skype these past weeks, I’d just like to say “thanks for having me over”.

Since we’ve shifted to online working and virtual meetings in lock-down, everyone’s scrambled to set up makeshift offices and webcams somewhere in their homes – preferably where there’s not too much going on in the background. But inevitably, spouses, children and pets have wandered into the frame, and we’ve all caught a small glimpse of each other’s personal lives. Without exception, people have been patient and understanding with each other, and teams have even been brought closer together through this strange, shared experience.

But as we move from the initial “temporary lock-down” into a more sustained response to the Coronavirus, I’ve come to realise that having a webcam pointed at my face 8 hours a day, 5 days a week can be tiring, and at times even a bit stressful. I say this as someone who routinely works from home, so I actually didn’t expect this way of working to phase me in the least. But conference calls used to be an opportunity for me to stand up from my desk and pace around my office, or the dining room table, or even to get a little bit of fresh air. Sometimes I think better on my feet, but that’s a bit difficult with a fixed webcam, and a bit nauseating on a mobile device. So I’m finding myself glued to my chair more than I ever was before – even as our workplace encourages us to participate in online Yoga sessions every morning to stay active.

An implicit expectation has developed that everyone will have their cameras on during every meeting. One colleague flicks on their video and everyone follows suit – am I going to be the one person dialing in with audio only? Probably everyone else will think that I’m not paying attention – literally phoning it in. But should we really have this expectation – that we’ll be invited into our colleagues’ homes at times dictated by our work calendars? Maybe now’s not convenient for all of us to rock up at their place; maybe they’re not ready to be on camera (even if we are prepared to forgive casual attire); or maybe they just want to reclaim some semblance of privacy in their own homes. While I’m all for being “present” during our virtual meetings and I absolutely see the value in having cameras on in particular forums, I also don’t think it needs to be every time and all the time.

So, if you find yourself in a virtual meeting with me and you just don’t feel like turning on your webcam, I promise not to be offended or to assume you’re not paying attention. And if you do, please know how much I appreciate you inviting me into your home – “thanks for having me over”.

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      Author's profile photo Markus Werling
      Markus Werling

      Hi Ryan,

      I appreciate your comments and would echo that there is no must to have cameras on in a virtual meeting. In the meanwhile Zoom, Skype and Teams have made great progress to allow for virtual backgrounds in the meeting rooms, you can even upload now your favorite picture.

      In the absence of physical meetings I appreciate to talk to real humans and colleagues - although just on a video camera. Again, not to be compulsory




      Author's profile photo Ryan van Leent
      Ryan van Leent
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Markus for your thoughtful comments.

      I agree that virtual backgrounds do go some way to improving privacy, although I personally find some of them a bit distracting. I also agree that video is the next best thing to in-person collaboration and that virtual meetings are helping us to stay connected, our companies to keep producing, and our economies to keep running.

      I do appreciate that there's no mandate within our team or our company to turn on video. But I guess what I'm calling out is that (as this way of working is becoming our new normal) there seems to be a growing expectation that people will be on camera, and maybe even a slight annoyance or suspicion if someone is not. I don't think this is unique to our team or to our company, which is why I wrote this blog rather than just an email. I also don't think that this is at all intentional - it's happened naturally as teams try to stay connected, and as social animals we all feel the need to conform. This is exactly why I think it's important to explicitly let people know that it's okay if they don't want to be on camera, and that they shouldn't feel like they'll be disadvantaged using audio only.

      Markus, I was so delighted, humbled and thankful when you invited me to have dinner with you and your family. I'll always remember that particular trip to Germany for the experience we shared - more so than any work we did or any sightseeing I've done in your beautiful country. I know it's not quite the same in the virtual world, but shouldn't we all feel a small sense of privilege and honour when one of our colleagues flicks on their webcam and invites us into their home?

      Author's profile photo Hannah Baudert
      Hannah Baudert

      Thanks Ryan for this thoughtful and compassionate piece.

      Pre-COVID I had been on a bit of a personal drive about getting more of us in SAP to use cameras in meetings for better engagement when we had to use the phone (with little success btw). So I saw the rapid adoption of video meetings as one of the few silver lining benefits of having a global pandemic. However the scale at which we are now using our cameras is more than we could ever have imagined and I absolutely agree, over time it can be exhausting. I have been experimenting with some personal rules on this to help manage the exposure time.

      If its more than 4-5 people and I am hosting the meeting I ask whoever is speaking to have their camera on
      If its more than 4-5 people and I am not hosting I start on camera and then turn it off once the meeting gets going

      No camera when I am eating breakfast/lunch/dinner (its sad that this is often the case) !

      Having said that, the additional personal-ity that we have given and gained by being invited into peoples homes has changed us all. We have become a little bit more real to each other and I believe much good will come from this.

      Like you I will always remember that wonderful dinner with Markus and his family. It was a privilege and he is a really good cook!

      Author's profile photo Ryan van Leent
      Ryan van Leent
      Blog Post Author

      Thank you for contributing your thoughts and experiences Hannah.

      I agree that we are getting better at this, with Executives like yourself implementing practical measures to maximise connectiveness and productivity, while respecting individual's right to privacy.

      Since we're all in this together, I think there is a high degree of empathy and consideration for our fellow colleagues and friends. It's only when we get busy and 100% work focussed that we can forget that we're beaming into people's homes, or that we might not consider that some of the people in our virtual meeting might've been glued to their chair for several hours already. I'm finding that when I think of myself as being a guest in someone's home, I remain consious of these factors throughout the call.

      Author's profile photo Ryan van Leent
      Ryan van Leent
      Blog Post Author

      BBC: The reason Zoom calls drain your energy

      Author's profile photo Ryan van Leent
      Ryan van Leent
      Blog Post Author

      Smithsonian: Why video calls are surprisingly exhausting