by Wellable

Enforcing “camera-on” policies was once believed to enhance remote interactions by fostering visual connection, capturing non-verbal cues, and encouraging active participation. However, the American Psychological Association’s (APA) recent findings uncover a contrasting reality: camera usage can introduce additional hurdles, amplifying fatigue and diminishing employee engagement.

This article unpacks the study’s findings, explores the psychology of self-presentation and camera fatigue, and offers practical recommendations for an inclusive and effective virtual meeting culture.

Unpacking The APA Study: Methodology & Main Findings

The APA study aimed to explore the effects of camera usage in virtual meetings, particularly its influence on employee energy levels and engagement, while considering moderating variables such as gender and organizational tenure.

Methodology: Participants & Procedure

Researchers conducted a 4-week experiment with remote workers from health care company BroadPath. Employees were randomly assigned to two groups – one kept their cameras on during virtual meetings for the first two weeks and turned them off for the next two, while the other group did the opposite. Daily surveys were conducted with 103 employees to capture their experiences regarding fatigue, voice, and engagement.

APA Study’s Main Findings

  1. The Toll Of Camera Usage: Being on camera during virtual meetings was found to be fatiguing for the majority of employees. This went beyond the time spent or the number of meetings; fatigue was directly correlated to the act of being on camera.
  2. From Fatigue To Disengagement: Fatigue dampened employee engagement and willingness to voice ideas during meetings.
  3. Gender & Tenure Dynamics: Fatigue was heightened among individuals in historically vulnerable workplace positions, particularly women and new employees.

The Psychology Of Being On Camera: Self-Presentation & Fatigue

Self-presentation refers to how individuals project and manage their image to others. These dynamics are pronounced when, for instance, one dresses up for a job interview or puts on a friendly face for a party—and notably, when they’re in the spotlight on-camera, as examined in this study.

The influence of self-presentation varies based on attributes such as gender and organizational tenure. These attributes play a pivotal role in understanding why women and new employees experience heightened levels of fatigue when using cameras during virtual meetings.

  • Women: Self-presentation in virtual meetings can be particularly demanding for women, who face the pressure of demonstrating professional competence while fulfilling societal appearance standards. When the camera becomes a part of the equation, these expectations intensify, contributing to heightened levels of fatigue.
  • New Employees: New employees experienced higher levels of fatigue than their more tenured counterparts, likely due to their desire to establish a strong professional reputation. When new employees enable their cameras during virtual meetings, the demand to present themselves effectively becomes increasingly pronounced.

Setting The Tone: Leadership & Policy

Leaders have the power to set the tone and establish organizational norms for remote work. Their approach to virtual meetings can significantly impact employee engagement, well-being, and the effectiveness of these interactions.

Case Study: Wellable’s Innovative Camera Policy

In the realm of progressive leadership, Wellable’s CEO, Nick Patel, has demonstrated a forward-thinking approach by occasionally going camera-off during one-on-one meetings. This decision is not merely about personal preference but reflects a deeper understanding of the need for balance in the virtual work environment. Patel’s initiative to give his eyes a break and engage in walking meetings sets a positive precedent for prioritizing employee well-being in the virtual workplace.

However, understanding the nuances of different meeting setups, Nick chooses to turn his camera on during larger virtual meeting settings. This includes our biweekly ‘All Hands’ call, where all Wellable team members come together virtually. In such settings, the visual presence aids in fostering a sense of unity and connection among the broader team, striking a balance between personal well-being and collective engagement.