As a facilitator that frequently works with remote teams, I heard an attendee make a comment concerning the usage webcams at work that made me cringe.
“They only want us to use webcams so they can make sure we’re working.”
I wanted to cry.
Two things make this tragic: First, that someone would believe the only reason for implementing webcams at work is as a surveillance tactic, and secondly, this wasn’t the first time I’d heard this complaint from employees.
Webcams at work can be terrific tools for helping people communicate, when implemented correctly. We can put a face to a name, which is always important if we’re going to build a trusting working relationship. When we see the other person, it makes for much richer communication. Being able to read body language and facial expressions along with hearing the person’s tone of voice allows us to interpret meaning much more successfully. That sounds like a good thing.
So why would people fear that the real reasons behind implementing these tools might be more nefarious? There are a couple of reasons I can think of, all easily avoided:
- Nobody was consulted before the policy was in place—there was just an announcement and a rollout date. People are really good at accepting decisions they had a role in and really bad at accepting orders that seem arbitrary.
- People haven’t had the chance to use the tools in a non-threatening way. One of the most important (and overlooked) factors in technology adoption is showing your team how the tool is used in context. Once they’ve seen how easy and non-threatening streaming video can be, there’s usually less resistance.
- There are obvious trust issues involved here. Having an open discussion about the possibilities (both positive and potentially negative) of a technology tool may help uncover legitimate concerns, as well as what’s simply paranoia. Just because a fear isn’t justified, doesn’t mean it’s not very real and potentially corrosive to the team environment. If they don’t talk to you, they’ll definitely talk to each other.
- There should be mutually agreed-upon conditions for usage (and when not to use them.) Some people feel very uncomfortable being on camera if they are not actively presenting or speaking. Most platforms allow for only the active speaker to be visible to the group. Sometimes the team can agree that if you’re not speaking, you may turn your camera off (this also saves bandwidth and lessens distractions on the screen. Nobody needs to see you eat your cheese sandwich.) The point: reasonable people can agree on reasonable rules of engagement.
An open and honest discussion about why these tools are valuable, as well as how and when the team should use them, will go a long way to lowering the fear level.
On the other hand, if you are using webcams to “bust” your people, or make sure they are where they are supposed to be, maybe they aren’t the ones with the issue. Just sayin’.
About the Author
Wayne Turmel is the founder and president of GreatWebMeetings.com, as well as the co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. For 20 years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology includingMeet Like You Mean It- a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com. Marshall Goldsmith calls him “one of the unique voices to listen to in the virtual workplace”. He works with organizations around the world to help people use technology to lead people and projects and build productive human connections in an increasingly remote work environment.