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‘Roombarrassment’ anyone?

Why are some people still not switching their webcams on? Chair of the LSCA Business Board and Director of Training Counts, Angus Farr, asks.

October 2020

As we look back over (the first) six months of lockdown working, I think we’d all agree we’ve come a long way. Most of us are way more familiar with terms like ‘unmuted’, ‘chatbox’ and ‘screen share’ than we were just a year ago.

Mind you, the technology underpinning our working lives has come on leaps and bounds in the last decade. If we’d been working through COVID09 rather COVID19, I wonder whether so many of us would have been quite so productive recently.

All of the training I run these days is online and what’s interesting are the conversations I have with managers about how they’ve been managing (literally) during lockdown. They tend to agree that while the fundamental expectations and skills are pretty much the same, it’s the change in medium that’s thrown up some challenges but also presented some opportunities.

A number of them have been reporting a frustration that some staff are not activating their video feeds for team meetings. This has then led to an interesting 10-15 minute diversion speculating about the reasons for this webcam shyness – whether it’s a ‘can not’, a ‘will not’ or just a ‘prefer not to’.

Here are the reasons most commonly supposed:

  1. ‘Roombarrassment’. Some people just prefer not to give their colleagues and clients too much access to their home. And I understand that. Certainly, there are some very senior staff I’ve seen who are clearly very comfortable in their fully kitted out study … in the East Wing … of their ‘out of town pad’. But there are many more of us making do at kitchen tables, in front rooms and in bedrooms. I have even had one course delegate apologise for the background noise: “Sorry, it’s my mum vacuuming the landing”. To be honest, we couldn’t hear a thing!
  2. ‘Computer says no’. Others would like to share, but just can’t. Notwithstanding my comments above, there are still technology barriers for some – poor wifi, slow hardware or work laptops with certain functionality disabled which can mean there’s a simple choice between ‘unreliable sound + video’ or ‘reliable sound only’. And sometimes this conflates with the previous issue, where several people working from home must ration the broadband connection – one video call at a time please!
  3. ‘Bad hair day’. These people just don’t want people seeing them. Early on in lockdown I did actually have one delegate message me at the start of a course saying he’d had a mishap cutting his own hair with some new clippers so didn’t want to put the camera on. And more recently I heard of an online yoga session for trainees where only one attendee actually put their camera on! And I can understand that too – a certain reluctance to display your downward dog to too many complete strangers.
  4. ‘Shirking’? Perhaps some people just can’t be bothered and are unwilling to engage. As managers though, dealing with a demotivated team member is definitely one of those things we need to get to grips with, whether face to face or screen to screen.

And we should always be on the look out for colleagues who may be struggling to cope in lockdown. Reaching out to them outside of team meetings, without any preconceptions, is certainly the right thing to do.

Whether it might help you or them, CABA has a huge range of resources and support around wellbeing, personal effectiveness and emotional support available to Chartered Accountants and their families through www.caba.org.uk

Do spend five minutes having a look … you can do it while getting ready for online yoga.

Angus Farr is Chair of the London Society of Chartered Accountants Business Board and Director of Training Counts.

London Accountant

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