Camera On or Off? Etiquette Tips for Being a Remote Worker

By  //  November 3, 2021

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Working in an office environment calls for a certain code of conduct and general etiquette such as showing up on time, dressing appropriately, and being present for all required meetings. With the rise of remote work and hybrid offices, a new kind of etiquette is needed to accomplish the same kinds of general responsibilities when it comes to virtual meetings.

When we have employees working remotely, there is the added aspect of their home life potentially causing distractions, unwanted noise, and unexpected interruptions. Some of these things are unavoidable, but following a few standard etiquette tips will help you and your co-workers show that you are present and attentive at every meeting.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to organizing your workspace and your work habits during your work hours. This should be considered the time of day when you are focused, in your workspace and making sure to follow the practices your company has agreed upon for conducting remote meetings and work. 

Etiquette is Changing

Office expectations are shifting in this new hybrid environment. In many ways, this allows for a greater deal of flexibility with people’s time, but organized and reliable communication is still a necessity. “With new hybrid formats of working, our etiquette expectations are changing,” said Boye Fajinmi, Co-Founder and President at TheFutureParty.

“The same kinds of attentive behaviors don’t necessarily translate. When joining a meeting, it can depend on what it’s for and how many people are present as to whether to have your camera on or off. In general, it is a good rule of thumb to have your video and camera off when joining a meeting, but to turn your camera on soon after joining to show you are present and available.”

This means that employees working from home need to set strict rules with themselves and remain consistent with their camera behavior. This will show a commitment and understanding of the need to be fully present. 

When it comes to etiquette, some companies may implement different policies than others. “Every organization or company will have it’s own preferences when it comes to camera etiquette in virtual meetings. Make sure that whatever you decide on with your team is being implemented by leadership to show an example of what to do for the rest of your team,” says Dylan Fox, Founder and CEO of Assembly AI.

Clear up and uncertainty by connecting with your supervisors and asking about etiquette procedures in virtual meetings. If you’re unsure, it should be reasonable to ask your supervisor about any circumstances that might arise and how to deal with them. “Part of adapting new etiquette is embracing the moments when they fail or go unchanged,” said Joe Thomas of Loom. “These are teachable moments and should be used lightly as examples of how you expect your team to adjust their behaviors and work together.”

Common Practices for Using Your Camera

In general, employees and all team members should have cameras on during all company meetings. Of course, when we’re at home there are sometimes circumstances we can’t control that may require you to turn your camera off. “While working remotely it can be challenging knowing if it is okay to have your camera off during a meeting.

For the most part, it is encouraged to have your camera on during meetings especially when working remotely so that you can better connect and communicate with your team members,” John Wu, Co-Founder and CEO of Gryphon had to say. “If having your camera on will be distracting to the meeting, or you are not in a good space to have your camera on, then turning it off is the right thing to do. When given the opportunity, always have your camera on during meetings and only turn it off if it is necessary to do so.” It’s also important to cue another person in the meeting into why you might be turning off your camera.

For example, if you need to get up to use the restroom or quickly grab something from another part of your home, it would be reasonable to stop your video feed. “If you need to get up and leave the meeting momentarily for any reason, make sure you turn your camera off while you step away,” said Lindsay McCormick, CEO and Founder of Bite.

“This way you can avoid unintentional interruptions or distractions from other people walking in the room or pets coming on camera.” You should also be aware of what is in the immediate vicinity of your workspace. “Try to allocate a space in your home to conduct meetings that have minimal background distractions and noise. These can be disruptive to others in the meeting and can make operations and communication slow. The more you can adjust your space to be distraction free, the better remote meeting etiquette you will display,” suggests Lauren Klienman, Co-Founder at The Quality Edit

If your space has a lot of visual distractions or you are joining the meeting from a space you don’t usually work in, it could be acceptable to join without video so you can still be privy to the information at hand. Co-Founder of Tydo Scott Sonneborn said “In general you should only have your camera off if you are in a place that has a lot of visual distractions or poor lighting.

At all other times, you should have your camera on and audio off to show that you are present and being respectful of the meeting at hand.” Audio muting is generally considered a respectful practice for virtual meetings as well. Jared Hines, Head of Operations at Acre Gold had this to say on the topic, “Especially for large meetings, make sure your audio is muted when joining a meeting. Not only is it disrespectful to flood the meeting with sound, it can be alarming for those sitting and paying attention intently. This is even more true if you need to show up late to a meeting for any reason.”

Be Prepared and Early

Don’t take for granted the virtual nature of remote meetings. One still needs to be prepared for the agenda and be ready to provide feedback and commentary as needed.

“Make sure you come to the meeting prepared with necessary documents and information pulled up on your screen,” says Hector Guttierez, CEO at JOI. “A lot of remote workers take for granted that all of their info is easily accessible since they’re already on their computer, but it still says a lot to be prepared and you should still make the effort to have your work in front of you during your meetings whenever necessary.” Make sure it’s clear by your preparedness that you’re ready for every meeting

This includes being on time, and in most cases on time actually means a few minutes early. Be ready to join the meeting as it starts or a minute before by being completely prepared five to ten minutes before the meeting begins. “Log in a few minutes before the meeting starts. It’s good form to be early when you’re in person and the same thing applies for virtual meetings and remote work. Be ‘on time’ means being a little bit early and fully ready for the day,” seconds Ryan Lee, Co-founder and CEO of Rooted.

Showing up on time regularly is important in any professional setting. And with the added factor or technology, we have to think about things like our sound and lighting so that everyone in the meeting can see and hear us clearly.

Brand Director at Healist Naturals Sarah Pirrie said, “Not only should your camera be on but you should make sure that the lighting in your space isn’t too dark. This is just as much a point of professionalism as having your camera on in the first place. Your team mates should be able to clearly see your face and understand your points clearly.”

Use Your Best Judgement

At the end of the day, there are too many shifting factors with remote offices to adhere to an unchanging set of rules. We have to contextualize our behaviors based on what’s going on in our environment. “While having your camera on during a work meeting might make things more personal, it can actually be distracting and deter you from having a productive meeting,” said Rachel Roff, Founder and CEO of Urban Skin Rx.

“Being able to focus on what is being discussed and taking notes is more important than everyone being able to see your face sometimes. Use your best judgment for each meeting based on who it is with and what will be discussed. In some cases, like client meetings or performance reviews, it’s important to have your camera on to establish rapport and show that you are paying attention.”

Using your best judgement based on the situation and your environment conditions is always the best rule of thumb. It is respectful to show your camera whenever possible, but not when it will ultimately create more distractions for your meeting.

The same goes for audio muting. Having your audio on can cause unnecessary interruptions when unexpected sounds occur in your living space. “Keeping audio muted at all times is always a good rule of thumb for remote meetings,” said Michael Smith, CEO of Calm. “It’s important to keep a focused atmosphere and chime in only when necessary. Too many voices or live audio channels will create ambient feedback and will actually cut the audio from the person talking, like in zoom. Keep your audio off unless presenting or speaking.” 

Remote etiquette practices are becoming the new norm, and they are constantly shifting at every office. Depending on your specific situation and the context of the meeting, it can sometimes be more appropriate to have your camera off. For microphones, it’s best to leave them off for the majority of the meeting unless you are greeting your team, presenting or asking a question.

It’s important to understand that technology provides us with a lot of expectations, but there are limitations that can make communicating more difficult without a set of etiquette practices. These tips should help you get started on how to think about being a productive and present employee and your remote office.