I manage a business unit for a medium-size business. I have a group of six regional managers who report to me. We have been working remotely since long before Covid and have been using video conference for our team meetings forever.
I have a direct report who has begun to refuse to be on camera for our weekly team meetings. About a year ago, we did a team charter where we all agreed that having everyone on camera improved the meetings. We are pretty informal, and we all get tired of sitting at our desks, so some people stand and do yoga poses, some people pace, etc. Certainly if anyone needs a quick bio break, they go off camera for a few minutes. Everyone has kids and dogs they must deal with when they work from home and coworker interruptions when they are in the office. That is just normal.
I have spoken to this team member about the issue a couple of times, and she doesn’t seem to have a good explanation for her choice. She just says she is sick of being on camera all day. I do sympathize; I also think it is tiring. She runs an office, though, and many of her people come in, so she has plenty of in-person time with people. She doesn’t seem to have a problem being on camera for our regular 1×1’s. I am flummoxed.
This situation is affecting the team, and I don’t know what to do next.
Dear Shut Out,
It is funny when, with no explanation, someone just decides to not comply with a rule they had agreed to follow. We could speculate all day long about what is going on, but it wouldn’t help us much. Try once more to discuss it with her. This time, be candid about the importance of her being on camera for the team meeting. Make it clear that if there is no real reason, it is not acceptable for her to be off camera.
Perhaps you could prepare some details about how you see this affecting the team. Ask some questions to get your camera-shy person to gain some insight into how her choice impacts the team. Some ideas:
- Is there something I need to know about what is going on with you?
- Is there something happening within the team that is making you feel unsafe or uncomfortable?
- What impact do you think it might have that you are choosing to go against what the team agreed to?
- Is there something we could all do together that might reduce your on-camera fatigue?
You haven’t said anything about this person’s performance, so I assume all is well in that area. If, in fact, there is a significant performance issue, that might be part of the problem. If she is feeling bad about her performance, that is something you can address head on.
If you press the issue, she might choose to share her reason(s), which could help you understand. If she says something that helps you make sense of her decision, you can make a call, and then share it with the team. That seems like a long shot, though. My personal experience is that people who consistently choose to be off camera in regular meetings do themselves a disservice, since it makes it easy to forget that they are even present.
In the end, as the boss, you will probably have to insist on compliance with the group’s decision. Of course, she may refuse, and then you have that to deal with. You may have to decide if this issue is worth losing an employee. That will be up to you. The most important thing to know is that whatever happens will set a precedent—and it will send a message to the whole team about what is important to you and what isn’t. Your leg to stand on here is that being on camera was the team’s decision, not some arbitrary rule that you are enforcing to assert your power.
You might think about bringing up the whole matter with the team and revisiting the on-camera rule together. Maybe the whole team is sick of it.
Everyone is finding their way in this new era of hybrid teams. You will want to tread lightly and be sensitive to individual needs, while also keeping the best interests of the team at heart. It is always a bit of a balancing act.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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