Why There Is No Shame In Keeping Your Zoom Camera Off


Do people really need to know you’re a little stressed out?

In a normal situation at work, I would argue — sure.

You might go into the office and you can let people know you had a hard night with the kids or you are feeling grouchy because you started a new diet (for me: relatable). Your body language, tone, demeanor, and even general vibe suggests you need a break, but we only have a set number of vacation days, so…

In the before-times, we would be able to explain our stress to coworkers outside of meetings or maybe in the parking lot. We’d mope around a little and soldier on through meetings. It was fine, and I remember doing that a few times.

These days, the low-level stress of being in lockdown, working remotely, hearing about family members who have the virus, and a general sense of despair means some of us (most of us?) are in a constant state of mild anxiety.

I heard a comment long ago about people who are always on a stage for their jobs. Musical artists, public speakers — they love the limelight. The comment I heard is that these are people who are at their best when they are on stage and performing. It’s their sweet spot. All of their talents and giftings, their personality traits, their passions and interests are right there on display in front of you. I’ve met some of these celebs in person, and a few have admitted they are not as good at doing their accounting or answering email. 

To take it a level deeper: Some of them are total jerks off-stage. They don’t know how to not perform. They have trouble relating to people under normal circumstances. I once interviewed a musical artist who was insulting and rude the entire time. I thought: You probably wouldn’t last a day at Starbucks, but you are making millions playing a guitar and singing.

With a Zoom meeting, some of us are not at our best. Studies have shown that staring at a screen can actually cause stress in general, which is one cause for Zoom fatigue. Now add actual stress. It’s no wonder people look more frazzled and befuddled. Some of us love to be “on the stage” on Zoom and others, not so much. That’s perfectly fine.

In many of the Zoom calls I’ve done, especially as I’ve been working on a book lately, it’s clear that people don’t always like to turn the camera on. Another interesting stat I’ve found is that your visual senses account for about 30% of your brain power, compared to only about 3% for hearing. Your brain is working overtime when you stare at people on Zoom.

Turning off the camera is perfectly warranted. I’ve been on Zoom calls where people have commented “this person always has their camera off” and the truth is that we should all lower our expectations. It’s fine to use audio only, even if you’re not sending as many visual cues as those who like to keep the video rolling all day. You can contribute the same level of feedback verbally. You can participate in any discussion. If your contribution is better when you use Zoom like it’s a phone call, there is no guilt involved. Consider this your official permission.

At the same time, I would argue there are times when it is okay to reveal more about yourself. Turn the camera on once in a while when you want to show you’re stressed. This works the same way in a physical office. You can do your work in isolation, but when you visit the breakroom, people might know you are dealing with a little anxiety. And that’s a good thing. 

Revealing a little about anxiety is healthy, it means people can help. In the current lockdown, waiting for the vaccine to roll out to everyone, it’s okay to stay a little obscure. There is no shame in wanting to keep part of your life hidden on most Zoom calls.

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