DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the etiquette of videoconferencing -- or is it videoquette?
As I'm sure you and your readers are aware, since the pandemic, many business meetings continue to be held on videoconferencing platforms. As someone who wears hearing aids, I've actually found this to be a huge boon! Being able to see everyone straight-on as they speak and discreetly adjust the volume as needed has made such meetings much less stressful for me. I am not straining to hear while taking notes or missing the soft-spoken person in the corner. Bliss!
However, there is almost always at least one person (and maybe several) who keeps their camera off! This is fine if it's a big meeting, and we are all there just to hear a presentation. But in a smaller meeting to plan, discuss or share, I find this disconcerting and rude -- like someone eavesdropping on the conversation.
Sometimes, people who aren't on camera aren't even displayed as a name in a black box, and I forget they are there. Then all of a sudden they speak, usually on top of someone else, and everyone is startled at what feels like an intrusion.
There can be good reasons for staying off camera: Maybe the person is in a public place or shared workspace, or they are in a health care environment and don't want to risk displaying private patient information accidentally. A less-good reason is that they are working from home and their spare room is a mess. With all the nifty virtual backgrounds available, though, many of these problems could be fixed.
When I am the meeting leader, I will address this at the start, inviting people off camera to "join us" so we can all see each other. I've even gone so far as to cite my hearing challenges in my request. Even so, it's not uncommon for one or more folks to just stay off, with no explanation or apology.
Is it unreasonable or inappropriate for me to ask folks to turn on their cameras? Beyond a polite request or appealing to an accommodation of my disability, is there another way to approach this? Or do I just have to figure that they may be as uncomfortable on camera as I am not being able to see them?
GENTLE READER: Possibly. If the expectation is that cameras must be on, you may want to set guidelines for navigating the situations you describe: Is it preferable to have people skip the meeting in those cases, or attend off camera? You may also specify which meetings are more conducive to dialing in and which are not.
While it may not solve the problem entirely, Miss Manners thinks that employees would rather know the rules, and have a bit of flexibility within them, than to have to make up their own.
They should also do you the courtesy of contextualizing their decision so that you do not assume disrespect -- "The baby is about to wake up from a nap" being preferable to "I do not wish for you to see me in curlers."
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)