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No. 25 – Yes, it’s rude to have your camera off during a video meeting

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18 August 2021

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, video meeting etiquette, vaccine hesitancy in the workplace, and expectations as a business consultant.

My team of eight meet via Zoom every week while we are working from home. The meetings are fine and we run through what we are working on and what is coming up. The weird thing though is two or three team members turn their cameras off a few minutes into the meeting and don’t turn them back on until we start to wrap up. It feels really rude and I always imagine they are on their phones and not really listening. My boss never seems to say anything. What do you think is normal in these situations?

Zoom etiquette has evolved over the past 18 months, and we do need to think about how we’re being perceived if we choose to sit in a meeting with our cameras off. It looks like you are disinterested, doing something else or simply not even there. I know some people don’t like to have their cameras on if they’re working in a room that they don’t want to share with their colleagues (although background images and blurring can definitely help with that problem).

In smaller meetings like yours that I attend, cameras are expected to be on the whole time and if someone turns their camera off they might put a quick note in the chat box to say they’ll be right back. In other very large meetings where there is a presentation being given and you are not expected to participate, having your camera off is totally OK.

My recommendation is to have a chat with your boss and ask whether you might be able to set some ground rules as a team for how online meetings work. You could discuss other things too, like use of the mute button, and whether to factor in breaks into your agenda. It’s sure to make for a better online team working experience.

The whole vaccine discussion is causing huge issues in my workplace. Most people who are vaccinated are happy to talk about it and are vocally saying everyone else should get vaccinated as well. If you have a different view, as I do, it is not easy to openly voice that opinion. I thought workplaces were supposed to focus on inclusion and having diverse viewpoints, but that doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to vaccines. Do you think that is right?

Yes, I do think that is right. I don’t think the idea of inclusive workplaces was ever intended to be applied to anti-vaxxers, especially when we are in the midst of a public health crisis.

I am the first person to believe in the importance of diverse viewpoints and the need to find a space for everyone to speak up regardless of their race, ethnicity, disability, age, gender, sexual orientation. But when it comes to viewpoints on a medical issue that can cost lives, they do not have a place at work.

We saw recently one federal MP speak against masks and this was roundly condemned, in his workplace, by his colleagues. I believe we need to see more of that when it comes to dangerous theories being espoused.

I retired from full-time work in 2019 and started my own consultancy, which I loved. Before long, I was invited to become a consultant to a large firm. It began well but their focus soon moved from asking me to do advisory work to business development. I’m really uncomfortable with what’s expected of me now. and I don’t know if that’s because of the work I am being asked to do or because of the size of the firm. Any advice?

It sounds like you were on a path you were really enjoying where you could work under your own terms and focus on the advisory work you loved most. The temptation to take on more secure work with a large firm is completely understandable but the cost of that, as you are discovering, is losing some of your independence.

I suspect you are experiencing both the issues you ask about – you are not only being asked to do work that you are not passionate about, but you are also finding yourself part of a larger machine where decisions are taken out of your hands. If you can, you might like to consider going back to consulting on your own where you can work in a way that you value and are passionate about. I have no doubt that the opportunities and financial returns will then follow.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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