video on or off? video chat etiquette tips

A family on a video call is captured on a smartphone screen.

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In your personal and professional life, you spend hours every week on video calls. Good etiquette can make this time more enjoyable — and maybe even more productive 🤓.

What does video call etiquette look like? In short, it’s:

– Making “eye contact” 👀
– Controlling your environment 📍
– Knowing when (and when not) to use your camera 📸

Here’s what the research community and etiquette experts have to say.

Simulate a real conversation with eye contact

While some of the nuances of a real conversation may not translate to video, eye contact is equally impactful in both real and virtual conversations.

In a recent Finnish study, people responded more strongly to direct eye contact than an averted gaze (no surprise there). What is surprising is that the reaction occurs in video calls as well as in-person interactions. 🤯

“Being seen by the other person was an essential prerequisite for the effect, whereas the other person’s physical presence was not,” the University of Tampere scientists said.

The key phrase there: being seen. It’s important for all of us to feel seen in conversations 👆, which is why we’re wired to respond more to eye contact than an indirect look.

Boost the vibe of your video calls by looking directly at the camera when you speak, and especially when you’re addressing one or more people directly.

Wrangle your environment

Kids running around, dogs barking, doorbells ringing: distractions abound when you’re on video. Some of these are unavoidable. But to the extent you can carve out a calm space  for your video calls, it improves the conversation for all parties.

A good video calling environment has some or all of the following:

🎙 A mic at the proper distance from you. One or two feet is ideal for a table mic.
💡 Good lighting. Some people invest in a ring light to improve their appearance on video. What you want to avoid is backlighting (when the light source is behind you).
⬜ A non-distracting background. Clean up clutter behind you, or use a virtual background if that’s not possible.
🔇 Liberal use of the mute button. Muting when you’re not speaking results in a much calmer conversation for everyone.

Need to take a video call on the go? Totally fine — but know your audience. If you’re dialing in to a court hearing, maybe don’t do it from the operating room.

Switch off your camera if productivity is the goal

On some video calls – like a conversation with friends – you’ll want to keep your camera on so you don’t miss anything. In contexts like work meetings, though, turning your camera off is A-OK. 👍

That’s according to researchers at the University of Arizona, who found in a 4-week experiment that camera-off meetings actually lead to increased productivity.

The reason might be that we expend energy looking engaged when our cameras are on — so that by switching them off, we improve our focus. 🔬

“Across several of our analyses, it became clear that camera use contributed to fatigue, not the number of meetings and not the number of hours spent in virtual meetings,” researcher Allison Gabriel says.

Consider a hybrid approach too. Start a video call with the camera on and then turn it off, or turn your video on only when speaking to someone directly.

Photo by Raj Rana on Unsplash.

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