If you get a prickly scalp and a nervous twitch at the very suggestion of a meeting by video conference that’s going to require you to look at a live image of yourself, you’re not alone. More than half of America’s regular video callers feel more self-conscious on screen than they do in everyday life, and almost 4 in 10 openly admit they don’t like being on camera.
That’s a real problem for a business world that is rapidly adopting video conferencing as its main platform for collaboration and conversation. It’s especially worrisome when you consider more than 40% of employed Americans spent at least some time working remotely away from the office last year.
Being camera shy is no longer an individual foible, it is now impacting on the effectiveness of the average employee. There are, however, ways to avoid the dreaded self-view chat window while video calling, but they may take some time to become widely accepted.
Everyone’s Happier When They Can’t See Themselves on Screen
A recent study by Marquette University is among the first to establish a direct link between an aversion to looking at yourself on camera and a drop in work-related efficiency.
In a controlled test of groups of professionals, one group able to see their own image during a video call, the other group unable, researchers found a significantly higher level of performance among members of the team deprived of a self-view.
They’ve yet to completely explain the phenomenon, but have speculated that it’s caused by simple distraction. When you can see yourself on screen you can’t help but switch your focus to your own appearance, and away from the content of your meeting.
It’s what psychologists refer to as objective self-awareness. This ability we have to constantly compare and contrast our appearance against our learned standards of presentation is a crucial part of human development. It’s what makes us identify ourselves as unique individuals, and acts as a corrective tool to help us better function within a dense society. It gives us our ability to imagine ourselves as others see us.
So the cause of this drop in productivity upon sight of ourselves isn’t going to go away. We are instead going to have to deal with it, by either removing those self-view windows or learning to diminish their confronting appearance.
How to Avoid Seeing Yourself During a Video Call
The Marquette researchers did come up with a few solutions to their detected problem, though most are pretty obvious.
The first is to find a video calling platform that lets you turn off the self-view.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many apps around right now that have that option. Certainly the major players like Skype, FaceTime, and Google Duo don’t, and even if you find one that does, like Vidyo or StarLeaf, you’ll have to get everyone else signed up as well.
Another suggested solution was to just ignore your own image–which seems quite a feat considering the research itself is telling us our own visage is just about the most interesting thing we can encounter. Other suggestions included fostering a more considerate, nonjudgmental workspace, or placing a sticky note over the offending portion of the screen.
They all have merit, but if you really want to do away with your own constant presence, why not embrace an entirely new one? You can do this by going virtual.
Virtual Video Calling for Business
At first look, the avatars offered up by virtual reality video calling platform AltSpace VR look more like characters from a Dire Straits video clip than partners in a business meeting.
Beyond that surface, though, the use of online avatars could be a solution to our dilemma. AltSpace already operates as a fully-functioning video conferencing world, it just needs to be redesigned around a more formal environment. And, of course, the avatars themselves need to evolve into a more natural-looking human form.
Those quirks aside, anyone calling on Altspace’s platform can share files, images, and multimedia just as they would on Skype. They chat in real-time, and once we can tailor them to carry images of our faces they’ll serve as able stand-ins.
Like I said earlier, it’ll take some time for video callers, especially those in the business world, to adopt a virtual environment, especially if the graphics don’t evolve into realistic human faces. It does, however, offer a solution to our constant fascination with our faces, since these virtual ones will never change.
If that doesn’t work for you, there’s always the prospect of putting on some digital makeup and presenting the same crisp face to the world no matter the occasion.