Do webcams matter?

Mar 10 2015 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

ďWe have webcams, but we never use them.Ē Does this sound like something you or your team would say? But more and more companies are adopting tools like Microsoft Lync, WebEx or GoToMeeting that have easy-to-use webcam functionality. So the question now is: do you use your cameras or not. And if not, why not?

Sometimes people have very good reasons for not using their tools. But most often the reasons arenít very good at all. Letís take a look at some of the ways that using a simple webcam (weíll discuss full-blown video conferencing another time) can add value or be a pain in the neck.

First, letís start with why people often donít use these tools. Some of the reasons are valid, some are left over from an earlier generation of technology, others are just nonsense:

Our people donít have webcams. Well, if they have a four year-old laptop, a tablet or a smartphone, yes they do. If they have twenty bucks, they can get one from a store or online. The availability of cameras isnít, or shouldnít be, any barrier.

Our people arenít comfortable using them. Ask them how they use their spare time. Do they have grandchildren in another state? Theyíre Skyping like crazy on the weekend. Are they under 40? Then this is probably a blatant falsehood. And how much training does it really take?

I donít have the proper setup. Do you have a webcam? Can you shut the curtains behind you? Can your face be seen? Thatís all you need for most day to day work. This doesnít apply if youíre facing external customers and have to create a great impression, but does Bob in accounting care that your home office has a picture of your cat on the wall?

Itís a security issue. It probably isnít, unless youíre talking about the security of your ego. Still, if itís a legitimate issue, it is what it is.

Our VPN is a nightmare. This, sadly, is legitimate. Webcams do suck up a fair amount of bandwidth, and if you have multiple people joining a webmeeting from remote locations, dialed in through an ancient and cranky Virtual Private Network, it might create problems. However, even slow VPNs tend to be okay for low resolution, one-on-one webcams.

Sure, when using a tool is more trouble than itís worth, or it becomes a barrier to actually getting productive work done, donít use it. But make sure the concerns are legitimate.

I hate the way I look on camera. We have a winner. The biggest resistance to using webcams is people donít like the way they look on camera. It takes a couple of times before you stop worrying about it. For most work, we are looking for low resolution contact, not TV-worthy quality. Hey, I know how you feel. I have a ďno webcams before 6 AMĒ policy with my overseas customers. Common sense applies.

So why should people use webcams?

Visual contact is the fastest way to build trust. Science tells us that trust, communication and productivity increase when people have good working relationships, and a lot of that relationship building is based on visual communication. When you put a face to a name, or can read body language in conjunction with audio, we respond more positively.

Richer communication is better communication. Speaking on the telephone is fine, but once people have experienced combining audio and visual input, they realize the importance of getting all the information they can, in as many ways as possible.

You learn about peopleís environment. When you have some people teleworking, others in cushy offices and some at cubicles, itís easy not to know how individuals function. When you can see their environment, you develop a little empathy for how that person works.

Itís really not a big deal. Once youíve used it a couple of times, many of the objections tend to go away. In fact, you can create unnecessary drama when you only insist on using webcams for certain occasions. I have a friend who learned the hard way that ďIíd like you to use your webcam on WednesdayĒ meant there was probably bad news coming. If this is just the way you work, people stop assigning meaning to it that isnít there.

The fact is, webcams can be a powerful way to reduce the challenges remote teams face in learning each otherís work styles and strengths. They can also be a bit of a pain in the neck. If you donít try them, you wonít know, and if you donít use them regularly, theyíll always seem like more of a challenge than they really are.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.