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Ensuring Everyone Knows the Rules of (Employee) Engagement

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Hybrid work meeting
Image: DC Studio - stock.adobe.com

What are the written or unwritten rules of conduct in remote meetings?

When the pandemic lockdowns began four years ago, the first and most striking change on my team was that we all began turning on our cameras for meetings. My then-boss never explained why but I remember thinking this had to be a response to our company's shift to remote work. To this day, I work in a culture where we always have the cameras on during meetings. Nobody has ever said, "It's rude to keep your camera off." We all just kind of know that good employees keep their cameras on.

(And great employees let us see their cats during meetings, but that's another newsletter.)

Turning off one's camera during meetings might not just be a breach of a particular workplace's manners. It could also be a sign of employee disengagement. The collaboration company looked at data from 40 million remote and hybrid meetings on online platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, or Zoom; 450,000 unique employees participated in these meetings. Here's what they found, per the release about the study:

In 2023, the "no-participation" rate was 7.2% for small group meetings, up from 4.8% in 2022.

Participants are enabling their cameras less often. This is the first downward trend Vyopta has recorded for this metric since early 2020.

Both camera enablement and no-participation rates show strong correlations with retention. Employees who would leave their organization within one year of the sample period (attrition group) enabled their cameras in 18.4% of small group meetings, compared to 32.5% for those who stayed (retention group).

Vyopta is saying there's a link between non-engagement in meetings and overall employee engagement. It's a promising theory, but we do need more data to see if this correlation is definitive.

For example, there's also a not-zero possibility that people have their cameras off because a meeting on one employer's schedule may clash with their meeting at a second company. The Overemployed community argues that working multiple remote jobs simultaneously is a path to financial freedom, and they even have a page on how to balance multiple meeting demands among two employers, which leads off with:

For the extreme “multitaskers” and adrenaline junkies out there, you can try your hand at attending both meetings at the same time. We would not recommend that whatsoever. This all works best if you’re not the active presenter. You can mute yourself and go off video if you’re just a spectator.

What's interesting about the Vyopta study and the Overemployed site is how both sides came to the same conclusions about meeting engagement. Vyopta recommends, "Treat meeting culture as an important part of company culture. Determine best practices and define roles and responsibilities." And Overemployed encourages people to ask about meeting culture during the interview so they can determine whether they'll be able to work more than one job without their employers suspecting.

Whatever your motivations, understanding the meeting culture where you are is a first step toward ensuring everyone's getting the most out of their meetings. If you're not aware of the expectations you're setting -- or enforcing -- now's a great time to stop and discuss what they are with your colleagues. Cameras on, of course.