DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have become deeply concerned about a new etiquette issue: when to turn on one’s video camera during a conference call.
I spend a great deal of time on conference calls for work, but there seems to be little agreement about when one’s co-workers may view one at home in one’s natural state. Some choose to be visible right away; others will follow, perhaps reluctantly, and some stubbornly remain invisible.
No one actually talks about it; it seems to be a silent, sub rosa struggle. I think that seeing someone’s face makes communication richer and more satisfying, but I can readily imagine that colleagues may not wish to be seen in their messy homes or ill-advised fashion choices.
Many etiquette questions are time-honored and well-understood, with solutions that have been worked out long ago. But not this. Is it unkind to turn on your video when others choose not to? Does this create an unwelcome expectation for others?
GENTLE READER: While technology can solve this problem -- those who are reluctant to be seen at home may use a virtual background -- Miss Manners prefers to address the underlying meaning.
If your meeting were live, would you turn your back on the speaker? Would you be in your pajamas? Would you conduct unrelated business without leaving the room?
Trusting that the answer to all three is “no,” we can then apply these to your videoconference. With important exceptions, etiquette expects participants to be present, attentive -- and visible.
As you have observed, etiquette ceases to function when people make up their own rules. And if everyone agrees on not being visible, there is always the telephone.
However, just as in live meetings, there may be pressing reasons to absent oneself for a time, which can be accomplished by saying, “Excuse me, I have to step out,” and suspending the camera.
As Miss Manners has been working from home for a long time, she is well aware of the challenges. But someone who believes it is possible simultaneously to attend to a child who has strayed from remote learning and to a business meeting, if only others were not watching, is not fooling anyone.