Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Your Webcam During Conference Calls

by Barrett

Do you often forget about your computer’s webcam during a video conference call? Or do you prefer to hide in the shadows of audio-only mode? Here’s why you really can’t avoid this collaboration tool at work…

The forward march of technology has finally enabled video to become a standard collaboration tool in the workplace. Sure, the phone is still an option when joining a conference call, but I find that many folks are using their computers… and their webcams.

Once upon a time, lots of people used to shy away from group video chats (and granted, many still do). But now, video conferencing from anywhere there’s Wi-Fi is suddenly the norm! And it feels like hardly anybody cares that they’re streaming 30-60 minutes of their every move to a certain population of viewers. Have they forgotten that the camera has placed them in the center of a crowded virtual room?

It would seem so…

People are Watching You
It’s hard not to look at these little squares of humans as if you’re getting some sort of secret-agent view into their lives. And I’m not referring to people who have the floor…

I’m talking about everyone else! Those are the shots that can be strangely interesting to observe… sometimes more interesting than who’s talking.
(And if you notice that someone is working from home, don’t tell me you’ve never graded their home-decorating skills!)

Multitasking in Plain Sight
I’ve observed a variety of people from different work environments and cultures, and my impression is… those who aren’t actively engaged in the group conversation are generally doing one of two things… either staying focused on the topic… or pursuing some level of distraction.

Most provide the general illusion of normal, but occasionally you could observe something rather unusual. Once, I was surprised to see someone actively participating in a video call while driving. And I mean I was watching him drive, because his smartphone was pointed right at him!

Practicing Video Production 101
I’m befuddled that so many people either forget or no longer care that a part of the world is anonymously watching them…

It’s really difficult for me to understand, because with my background creating corporate video content, I can’t help but think about how my shot looks when I’m doing a video conference… Is the lighting good? Is the angle level? Am I centered? Does the background look uncluttered?

If I’m not feeling the shot is right, or I can’t give 100% focus on the video call, I turn off my webcam.

You Can’t Hide for Much Longer
All this said, I do recognize that not everyone is ignoring the power of their webcams. I do observe colleagues intentionally using their webcams to maximize their participation in a video conference. A good shot can simulate sitting at the head of the virtual table. Good for them!

If you were to combine the percentage of folks who passively use their webcams along with those who are maximizing their shots, I would say that easily represents a majority of video-enabled conference-call attendees. And that percentage will only keep growing. So if you’ve been sitting on the sidelines as an audio-only participant, you going to need to jump into the pool…

Give Your Face More Light
Don’t panic. There’s plenty of time to prep your shot for prime time (if that’s your concern).

One tip that will help dramatically improve how you look is to bathe your face with a source of soft lighting. That will help remove any harsh shadows. One option is to simply position yourself and your laptop next to a window (as long as you’re not in direct sunlight).

If there’s no window nearby, you can use a portable light and position it in front of you. A really inexpensive option is to use a round, hanging paper lantern.

This 17 ¾” diameter shade made by Ikea is a good choice.
It sells on Amazon for $12.22.

Then, you attach the shade to a bulb mount and power cord.
This one on Amazon costs $11.99. It’s 20 feet long and sports an on/off switch.

It’s a really simple solution, and it’s actually used as a remarkable lighting hack by some professional TV and video lighting gaffers I’ve worked with.

Full Attendance is Required
If you’re not powering up your webcam, I say your time has run out. I think soon… the cultural norm will be for all participants to use their webcams when virtually attending work meetings.
(That’s such a big shift from not so long ago…)

So, instead of being able to catch up on email during video conference calls, you’re going to have to attend with your ‘smiling face.’

There’s a silver lining here…

If everyone is required to fully ‘show up’ to every video conference they’re invited to, that will put pressure against a workplace trend we’d all like to trim back… too many meetings!

…a conversation for another day.