Whether or not to open the camera during meetings: the issue is debated. Or, at least, it divides the workers between two clans. On the one hand, there are those who spontaneously open their camera, in a spirit of transparency and sociability. On the other hand, there are those who hide under a generic or personalized avatar and who sometimes claim the right to privacy in a teleworking context. Who is right? A study from the University of Georgia brings a new argument to the supporters of the closed camera.
Researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Georgia have taken an interest in the issue of Zoom fatigue, starting from an already well-known principle in psychology, namely that “self-representation” requires psychological effort and can thus become “tiring” in the long run.
“Self-presentation refers to the idea that most people have an innate desire to be viewed in a favorable light and aim to convey positive information about themselves”, explains the researchers.
The research team measured the level of daily fatigue of a cohort of workers attending open camera meetings on certain days and closed camera meetings on other days. Not surprisingly, they discovered that their fatigue level was positively correlated with the use of the camera.
“Our results align with popular press ideas and an emerging body of research which suggest that being watched enhances the need to manage impressions and direct focus inward, inducing fatigue. As such, encouraging employees to use the camera may inadvertently harm positive virtual work behaviours.”
Increased fatigue for new employees
By analyzing the results in a granular way, according to the gender and seniority of the employees, the researchers found that women and new employees were more intensely tired than their male and senior colleagues.
“For women, the authors explain, our hypothesis is that they feel heightened pressure to demonstrate their competence [at work in general], while also feeling the need to meet societal appearance standards. For newer employees, we posited that they may feel the need to present themselves more effectively in order to establish their status in the organization.”
In conclusion, the authors caution managers:
“It is critical for organizations to understand that “camera on” mandates may be creating unintentional harm. Further, given that newer employees are likely to look for social cues to determine whether or not to remain with the organization. Making virtual meetings a more positive social experience is crucial. Allowing for flexible camera use could therefore be one useful supportive signal.”
The study has some limitations, by the authors’ own admission. Because in the end, the research team measured only fatigue and not the level of participant engagement, which is an important factor in productivity.
An unsolvable question?
This study is annoying. After a year and a half of working remotely, several organizations have concluded that it is preferable to require employees to turn on their cameras to promote socialization and engagement. However, we now realize that this practice adds to the mental burden in the day.
The conclusion? Using the camera in moderation, we suggest alternating with other communication channels. Until more studies come to light on the issue!