*Trigger warning: Sexual assault* “If you’d be willing, keep those cameras on.” I’m probably not your typical trainer. Most ask everyone to turn their cameras off, but I don’t get distracted by digital faces. To me, the reactions on their face are the point; their curious look, excited anticipation of what’s next, and even a glare a time or two have taught me what works and doesn’t about my training. Every session is a little different and tailored based on their reactions. I learn a little bit every time I teach using my on-camera policies.
I get a little thrown off by the black screens and names when I’m training a team that’s not so camera friendly. It happened a few weeks ago when I trained ten software engineers on how to rewrite their LinkedIn profiles for hiring. I kept catching myself, saying, “cameras on, please,” or “can I get 5 minutes of your smiles?” I won’t call on people or put them on the spot to share because writing is personal. I never once considered that someone’s home or what you see in that camera is personal, too.
Thanks to the pandemic, more companies than ever are invading our homes as they try to create virtual meetings that recreate the mind-meld of getting people in a room to talk through a problem. Even more prominent than the meeting magic, these companies are trying to create an on-camera culture. More than ever, I hear people saying, “we’re a camera team,” as if it’s a company value, not just a condition of the times.
I never truly realized how that could go wrong until I got this letter.
Context Clues: Cameras Can Create False Realities
I get a few requests for blog posts, but none like this. It took a lot of trust in me and, frankly, self-sacrifice to share. They were brave, and this is the kind of blog that will always honor brave, big hearts. You know who you are, and I’m sending so much love—trigger warning: sexual assault.
What could be wrong with using the camera for a meeting? I was naive to think nothing.
The writer shared that in another job, they used cameras a lot for training. It didn’t bother her at the time. It was a good way to see people that she may never have seen from different corners of the world.
Fast forward. She went on a trip halfway around the world to meet those teams. After a long night of team dinners, a manager offered to walk her back to the hotel for safety. He then forced her in and sexually assaulted my friend.
“You’ve been looking at me on those meetings,” they said. “I know you were talking to me.” It sends chills through my spine to write it.
It was the beginning of a series of challenging years for my friend as she tried to heal from this trauma and get back to work. While she successfully secured her next role, there was always just one disclaimer – no cameras. Until the pandemic, that was fine. Now? The manager is mad and throwing around things like, “you’re not a team player.”
Reconsidering On-Camera Policies
There are a million stories, scenarios, and stats that should have companies reconsidering on-camera policies. From emotional exhaustion to inequity to personal trauma, it’s about time we rethink how cameras are influencing our teams. Companies think they’re bringing people together for the good of culture and connection, but many never stop to consider that’s not always the impact.
The reality? There are no easy answers. I’m confident so many of you are reading this with the same “oh no” feeling that I had when I realized I’d been pushing cameras on people. Frankly, I don’t have any answers or advice. What I’ll do next with this information is show a little more empathy for others. I hope you will, too.
Just promise me this. Before immediately turning to video to replicate in-person experiences, look to other options like chat or screen sharing to create engagement. Let’s start there.
Katrina Kibben is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Three Ears Media. For most of Katrina’s career, she has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand the real issues and find solutions for engaging and hiring better people. Today, she uses her technical marketing know-how and way with words to help both established and emerging brands develop and deliver content that fuels smart recruitment marketing that makes the right people apply.
Katrina has written for Monster.com, HR.com, RecruitingDaily and many other digital publications. She is a recognized leader in recruiting and employer branding who speaks regularly at conferences around the world.