WFH, on Zoom most of the day, and I cant stand being on camera.
March 18, 2020 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Like a lot of others I'm working from home these days, and spend a lot of time on Zoom. We had a strong culture of "turn your camera on" before the current situation, and now it's amplified. For various reasons, I hate having the camera on so very very much. Any strategies to get though this?

I'm one of those people who hates being in pictures. My entire life I've avoided cameras. I know why I'm like this, there's probably therapy needed to address this but it is what it is at the moment and there's probably another ask.mefi question or two here for a later time. But until then...

I cannot look at myself on camera in zoom (or any other web conferencing software), it makes me so very very anxious, self conscious, embarrassed, nervous, unable to focus, etc. Hiding the "self view" is worse - just knowing the camera is on triggers the same reactions + more - when I do that I can't even see if I'm accidentally putting something even more embarrassing from my home on camera. Up to now I've just avoided turning on the camera, which has had minor negative consequences to my career (I work in a very WFH friendly office at the best of times), but with absolutely everyone being on Zoom now there's just no avoiding the camera without making it into a much bigger deal (getting called out in meetings, etc). I need strategies to just do this and get over my hangups, like, yesterday.

Oh, I also cant use low bandwidth as an excuse for audio-only because I'm expected to just upgrade my service and expense the cost. I live in a very well-connected area.

Any other ideas to help me get though this? Of all the things we all have to worry about right now, I'd really rather not have to deal with this as well obviously... its a small problem relatively speaking but really having an out-of-proportion effect on my day. TIA!
posted by cgg to Work & Money (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Ugh. That seems like it would be distracting for most people, not just you. Personally, I would upload a still photo to use as the default and let people complain if they want to. Just say that you find it distracting to work that way.
posted by pinochiette at 8:22 AM on March 18, 2020 [14 favorites]

I've put a piece of translucent Scotch Tape over my camera lens. People can see that you're on, but you'll appear like a blurry blob in the shape of a human at a keyboard. Can't see my razor stubble or my bedhead that way, but they're aware a human is listening.
posted by SoberHighland at 8:25 AM on March 18, 2020 [37 favorites]

Smudge of Vaseline on your camera for as long as it takes anyone to notice? Strong backlighting to make silhouette? Strong front lighting to make overexposure?
posted by xo at 8:26 AM on March 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

A still photo sounds good. I have my setup such that my camera is to the right and my work screen is directly in front. So most of the time, people are getting part of my head and the wall. When I turn to face the camera to talk directly, it feels more natural and controlled. I think most people hate being on a camera in a work/professional setting.
posted by amanda at 8:27 AM on March 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

Oh no, it's really too bad that the camera on your laptop/desktop/whatever just isn't working! Yeah, you've reached out to some experts and they said, with the social distancing, that you'll just have to deal with it for now since it's totally not a crisis that your camera isn't working. Order a new one? You tried that but Amazon says it's not an essential item so it could take WEEKS to get here. Yeah, it really sucks and boy oh boy do you ever wish that your co-workers could SEE you! But you're still there, it's okay, and hey, is that a cat in Bob's office there? Ha ha ha.

Lie. Your camera is "broken." To be blunt, those people who give a shit should stop giving a shit. There are CLEARLY more important things going on right now.
posted by cooker girl at 8:33 AM on March 18, 2020 [24 favorites]

I mean, just don't turn it on. And then make sure you're engaged enough that nobody has an excuse to whine about it.

I've worked remotely / at home for nearly 19 years. I work with customers via GoToMeeting or WebEx for 20+ hours a week. I have NEVER turned on a camera, and I can't think of a reason why I would.
posted by uberchet at 8:47 AM on March 18, 2020 [7 favorites]

Same problem, although not as intense. My idea is to loop a video of myself at my computer, like Keanu Reves did in Speed. I haven't figured out how to implement it yet. Suggestions welcome.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:50 AM on March 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

I can tell you that in the real world, I'm just sucking it up. I was one of the last holdouts, but this is just how the culture is swinging. I do position my camera (I'm about to get an external one to make this easier) farther away than typical so I'm not quite so much a looming head, but it's expected that I will do it and the economy is about to crater and I need a job. It becomes more normalized over time.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:53 AM on March 18, 2020 [12 favorites]

Zoom seems to have a feature that lets you put a pre-set background behind yourself that could help lower the risk of embarrassing home stuff showing up on camera. I totally share in the self consciousness of trying to participate in a meeting while a "mirror" is aimed at my face.
posted by space snail at 9:00 AM on March 18, 2020 [6 favorites]

This is going to depend a ton on your office culture, but at my office it's very acceptable to say, "Sorry, I'm not up for being on video right now."

You've framed this question as, how can askMF help you force yourself onto video. In case that doesn't work out, I think asking not to be on video is very reasonable and encourage you to push back as much as you're comfortable.
posted by tinymegalo at 9:08 AM on March 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've had to suck it up as well, my sympathies. A few tips that have helped me feel more confident:
- Find the best-lit room in your house and designate that your videoconference space
- Raise your laptop so the camera is slightly above eye level, to keep your chin slightly lifted (I use a milk crate; obviously can't type while it's up that high)
- Zoom has a new Background Settings feature where you can switch to a blank background or upload your own photo
- (YMMV on this one) Wear more makeup than you'd wear to the office - I find I look more washed out on camera than IRL
posted by Sweetie Darling at 9:09 AM on March 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Think of it as a small act of kindness and generosity that you're doing for other people. These are lonely times. Personally it does help me a little bit to be able to see the faces of coworkers that I care about. (I can relate to your question as I don't like being on camera either but I do it because I really appreciate it when others do.)
posted by dogwalker3 at 9:26 AM on March 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Zoom has a "retouch" feature that also helps. Directions for how to set it up are here.
posted by mcgsa at 9:30 AM on March 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

For whatever it's worth, when I was in a similar situation in my previous career (though I don't think being on camera gave me that much anxiety, it just displeased me that it was being forced upon us for no damn good reason just because the big boss thought it was coolio), I just kept up a broken record act with friendly dismissals - "aww, thanks, nah, it's just not for me" and made sure I was participating in the meetings. After the initial stage of questions and "one of us"-ing, people dropped it and life went on. Not wanting to be on camera is not unreasonable.

If you do end up being forced into it, though, I think the tape idea is a great one. Alternatively, I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that most of your co-workers are also feeling uneasy and are therefore focused way more on their own image than yours.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:43 AM on March 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Is there anyone else WFH in the same space that you could blame, on the off chance that their screen was shown?
posted by wenestvedt at 9:51 AM on March 18, 2020

Echoing the sentiment others have said that it's a necessary evil in a lot of situations. Most everyone hates it but it's helpful - everyone communicates differently and a lot of people struggle to absorb information in large groups without things like facial cues and lip reading. It helps to laugh about it and break the tension so everyone feels more comfortable. Wear a silly hat. Use a funny zoom background.
posted by misterdaniel at 9:52 AM on March 18, 2020

I went into my settings in the skype and zoom apps, and fussed with brightness etc to make me a vague face blur. no one has complained or asked me to fix it.

I think as long as they see a picture tha'ts moving when I talk they feel 'connected'
posted by buildmyworld at 10:05 AM on March 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

This week the change in circumstances has led to my turning on my laptop camera for meetings for literally the first time in the two and a half years I've had it. I'm trying to sell it to myself as: we're all going to be very low on human contact for the foreseeable future, that's going to be particularly hard on the more outgoing members of the team, and seeing familiar faces regularly is going to be important. They're not looking at me and judging my appearance, just as I'm not judging theirs; it's a crappy laptop camera, we all look terrible, the important thing is that we're recognisably ourselves, and also maybe that a bit of our body language is coming across to help minimise misunderstandings.

I'm also sitting a fair way back from the laptop (I've got two external screens that I use much more heavily, so the laptop is off to the side), so I'm relatively small in the frame; and there are interesting things in the room behind me (books, lots of books), so people have plenty to look at in the picture besides my head.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:13 AM on March 18, 2020 [6 favorites]

My camera is at a high angle and kind of far from where I'm usually positioned, so that helps. We've traditionally been a mostly cameras off department, but with the current situation, cameras are seeming to come on more as people recognize that just seeing that there are humans out there is important. One thing I and others in my department have done is to turn the camera on at first, wave and say hi, let people see that there's a human being attached to the voice, then turn the camera off again. If there's a lot it people on the meeting, is anyone really going to notice?
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:21 AM on March 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Zoom seems to have a feature that lets you put a pre-set background behind yourself that could help lower the risk of embarrassing home stuff showing up on camera

Yes, this feature is golden. It also kind of blurs your head a bit so you are less visible
posted by fshgrl at 10:52 AM on March 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

we had to put up a teams status msg saying if we were in office or wfh. this is the last line of mine:

If you video message me you may see a cat butt. This is your only warning.  

i also hate being on video camera and there is no reason for it. cat butt is what they get if they force it.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:45 AM on March 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

I have used tele-conferencing from home for many years. I have my laptop place on a shelf next to my desk and use an external monitor and keyboard. Because the laptop remains closed the camera does not work. I just disable the camera in Zoom and no one has ever complained, in fact most people do not use the camera. We have one person who aims the camera outside the window. Some people display an avatar, not sure how they do that.

Turn off the camera and don't worry about.

I find having everyone camera on very distracting. Plus no one needs to see the mess that is my office.
posted by tman99 at 11:46 AM on March 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

As someone with assorted brain specialness, the fact that most of my co-workers refuse to put their cameras on during meetings hinders my ability to engage with and follow what is happening.

Yesterday my boss apologized for not having her camera on (I always put mine on) because she had gone to the gym at lunch and her hair was not at its best. Like... I straight up don't give a fuck about my co-workers' hair. I just want to see facial expressions and body language.

Would it be helpful to do some self-talk to focus on camera use as an accessibility issue? That this is something you do to proactively support people with invisible disabilities? That no one's actually interested in how good or bad or weird you look?

Additionally, it might be helpful to practice ignoring your own image. Like, put your webcam on, reduce the image to the size it would be in your meeting application, and read aloud to the screen, or go about your ordinary work. Hopefully you would get desensitized to the awkwardness of seeing yourself.
posted by bethnull at 11:49 AM on March 18, 2020 [8 favorites]

Could you turn on your camera for the hello and goodbye portions of each meeting, and leave it off for the middle? This works best if you are not a primary focus of the meeting.
posted by expialidocious at 3:14 PM on March 18, 2020

I am that person that really likes having the cameras on. I've got one person on my team that hates the camera on. I don't care because they are on the call, interact verbally with the team, and are quick to respond when I ask them something. My preference is on, but I totally get that other people don't have the same preferences, especially when working from home. If it was a call full of no camera videos, I'd be frustrated because I definitely rely on nonverbals to gauge my developers feelings and thoughts on projects.
posted by Marinara at 3:33 PM on March 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

DESPISE cameras, won’t even let my friends take my pic, but have had to do it this week. I’m the boss and it’s been important for natural communication. Plus we have a farewell toast tomorrow and it would be rude not to show.

Two words: dim room.
posted by kapers at 4:09 PM on March 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I find that turning it off a few minutes in seems to go unnoticed.

I find trying to turn it on now and then easier than just on all the time.

Also if you’re that uncomfortable ask hr if they can amend the camera policy to be “if you’re comfortable and able to. “ that forcing you to have it on makes it hard for you to focus on the content. Ask just for a trial period or something.

And sorry! I’d hate if i didn’t feel I had a choice.
posted by affectionateborg at 4:10 PM on March 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

In case it helps, in my office they are encouraging us to leave them off except at the beginning of meetings so that the number of people on Zoom doesn’t overwhelm their bandwidth.
posted by eleanna at 7:31 PM on March 18, 2020

We're doing it for all meeting now and I've just gotten over it by telling myself that these are people who have already seen me in person, the faces I make in meetings are well known and mostly no one cares what I look like - only that I'm participating and contributing in valuable ways.

Our team has also made it lightweight as we've all gotten used to this with "show us your dog" time and "kids in the picture" time. It helps us to all realize we're just trying to cope and we're real people with families and lives and to give each other a break.
posted by marylynn at 8:07 PM on March 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

I hate it too. I'm doing it too. Here are my coping strategies: if I REALLY don't want to be seen, I put the light on BEHIND me - you are on camera, but when you're backlit people can't see detail. If I'm feeling ok about it, I put the light on in front of me (and turnoff the one behind) so I look "normal". I've also kept some tinted lip balm and some translucent powder on my desk so I can touch up quickly if I'm going to be seen and I feel shiny/washed out.

I've made a point to get up and shower and get "properly dressed" every morning, but I'm amazed at the people who look like they just rolled out of bed. NOT judging that, mind you, but it's helping me accept that I don't need to worry so much about how I look given the broad spectrum of what seems to be acceptable. Be kind to yourself.
posted by ersatzkat at 10:37 AM on March 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not all heroes wear capes. This is what I was talking about.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:30 PM on March 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

« Older Remote office politics   |   Plague Playlist for Prince Prospero? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.