The Tactic

How to reduce video meeting stress with science

If you work from home, you’ve faced this dilemma: You want to show face during a video meeting to signal engagement with your job, but video meeting stress is the unavoidable consequence when you go on camera.

It’s been more than two years since millions started working from home, and by this point, we’re all tired of seeing our own faces. But many have been able to eliminate the constant view of our own face with a highly underrated feature available on video conferencing software. 

“Hide Self View,” as it’s known on Zoom, and the “Hide Me” feature on Microsoft Teams are counterintuitive methods to stay more engaged in a meeting. But why is hiding the sight of your own face so effective at reducing video meeting stress?

This story is part of The Tactic, a series that explores methods to help companies go forth with confidence.

“Introverted people often feel self-conscious when they see their image on the screen,” Melinda Marcus, author of Read the Zoom, observes in a comment to Asana. “This inhibits their concentration and participation.”

Marcus says that if you’re in a video conference and using a platform that doesn’t allow you to hide your face on your screen, try a sticky note. Use it as an opportunity to offer yourself a little affirmation or direction: “I would advise clients to write a couple of reminders on the note, like ‘smile’ or ‘lean in’ to enhance their engagement with others,” she tells Asana.

But why not just turn off your camera completely?

As the pandemic lockdown wore on, executives who initially were adamant their teams show face during video meetings began to understand that after months and months of WFH life, their demand was no longer appropriate as people’s lifestyles became more attuned to working from various locations around their house and oftentimes caring for children and elderly parents.

Eventually, executives who forced employees to turn on their cameras during virtual meetings were seen as out of touch with the realities of the day. The culture commanded them to stop. And scientific research suggested that having the camera on was exhausting.

The scientific evidence that turning off your camera helps reduce video meeting stress

“Fatigue affects same-day and next-day meeting performance,” writes Allison Gabriel, Ph.D., a management and organization professor at the University of Arizona. “When people had cameras on or were told to keep cameras on, they reported more fatigue than their non-camera using counterparts.”

Gabriel and her colleagues tested a number of hypotheses for their experiment, including, “that on days when employees use a camera during virtual meetings (vs. not using a camera during virtual meetings), they will experience greater feelings of daily fatigue.”

The hypothesis was proven right: People were more tired when using a camera during virtual meetings. Their research was published in the August 2021 issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

“That fatigue correlated to less voice and less engagement during meetings. So, in reality, those who had cameras on were potentially participating less than those not using cameras. This counters the conventional wisdom that cameras are required to be engaged in virtual meetings,” Gabriel writes in her study.

The study was conducted on 103 employees who provided 1,408 days of data out of a possible 2,033 days. Participants were largely female (56.3%) and white (71.8%). The average age was 41.3 years old, and the average organizational tenure was just under three years. Participants in the study held many jobs (e.g., Information technology specialist, software engineer, human resources coordinator, director of operations). Finally, 48.8% held managerial roles.

“Those who had cameras on were potentially participating less than those not using cameras. This counters the conventional wisdom that cameras are required to be engaged in virtual meetings.”

Allison Gabriel, management and organization professor at the University of Arizona

Sahar Yousef, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist and faculty member at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, has previously written for Asana about the fusiform face area (FFA)—the area of the brain dedicated to processing faces. “It cannot be turned off, adding to the cognitive overload you feel,” Yousef notes. 

Why turning your camera off may send the wrong message 

While scientific research might strongly suggest that one may want to consider leaving their camera off during virtual meetings, the reality remains different. Some may ask you to turn on your laptop’s camera during video meetings. 

Marcus, the author of Read the Zoom, tells Asana that having your camera off during meetings may send the wrong message, or worse: Your good ideas may be accidentally attributed to somebody else.

“I do not recommend turning the camera off, as other participants do not positively receive that. It may even cause others to forget you are in the meeting,” Marcus says before hypothesizing a nightmare scenario for the corporate world. 

“Even if you contribute ideas, people will most likely attribute your ideas to others they could see when they recall the meeting,” Marcus says.

Science suggests that hiding self-view reduces video meeting stress

All of this begs the question: Is hiding self-view a healthy tactic for people who want to reduce fatigue but also need “show face” for their career growth?

Here’s Gabriel, the author of the study, with her view: “The short of it is yes,” she tells Asana. “I totally believe that hiding self-view can be one way to preserve well-being and reduce some level of fatigue” [during video meetings].

“Of course, our data did not explore this option, but we have heard from a number of people post-publication who provided this recommendation to us.” 

“I totally believe that hiding self-view can be one way to preserve well-being and reduce some level of fatigue”

Allison Gabriel, management and organization professor at the University of Arizona

“Given that self-presentation costs are heightened,” Gabriel says of video meetings, “taking yourself off your own view would be one easy hack to cut back some of the drain.”

Kassondra Glenn, a psychotherapist and a licensed master social worker, tells Asana that in-person communication turns all of one’s focus on the other person. Seeing ourselves on camera during a video meeting doesn’t mirror that natural phenomenon. 

“It is easy to become hyperfocused on what we look like and the facial expressions we are making,” Glenn says. “Our hyperfocus drives feelings of anxiety. Turning self-view off more accurately mirrors an in-person experience and puts our attention back on our conversation partner.”

Kara Nassour, a licensed professional counselor based in Austin, Texas, conducts most of her therapy sessions over Zoom and works with clients to overcome the anxiety they feel about being on camera for extended periods during work. Video meeting stress is compounded with each new meeting.

Nassour notes that video can be distorted and make us self-conscious. Suppose you acknowledge that you find your image overly distracting or worry about others’ perception of you. In that case, Nassour advises hiding self-view or turning off your camera: “If your workplace permits it, experiment with which format works better for you,” she says.

A representative for Zoom tells Asana that its “hide self-view” feature has been around for more than five years. For Microsoft Teams users, the company announced its “Hide Me” feature had entered public preview in January 2022. Cisco WebEx also offers the ability to change one’s self-view video preferences.

And, of course, there’s always the sticky note solution.

Read this article in French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, or Japanese.

Special thanks to Allison Gabriel, Kassondra Glenn, Melinda Marcus, and Kara Nassour.

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