Advice: Remote employee refuses to use camera

Hrishikesh Pardeshi

Hrishikesh Pardeshi

Hi all,

I could use some advice on this. I’ve been managing remote teams for about 3 years now but recently had this issue for the first time. We are a remote software team, fluctuating in size from about 3-5, a few months ago I hired a relative new developer, and we had a video call interview, no problems. After job was accepted though, they always had their camera off during meetings and I run a “camera on” policy so I would always remind them to switch on. It got very repetitive and the excuse was that the camera on their laptop would break and they forgot to reset it. So I bought them a new webcam, but the problem didn’t seem to improve. Eventually they confessed to me they hate seeing themselves on camera… I don’t really know what to do about this. I don’t want to force them to do it if it’s a real stress for them, but at the same time the whole team agrees it’s more difficult to communicate with this person because we rarely get to see their faces, and during meetings they’re the only one with it always turned off.

Has anyone else encountered anything like this? Any advice as to how I can get them to have the camera on without traumatising them?

Here's what our users had to say:

  • Karthik Sridharan said "Hey Antony, Thanks for sharing this post and in such detail - surely, it wouldn’t have been easy. Honestly, I have been working with a remote tech team for about 4 years now and I haven’t encountered such a problem. This is an absolute curve ball. So, it is tough for me to give the “right” answer but can try to tell you how I would go about it. I am sure you have a strong rationale for a “camera on”policy. Make them understand the thought process behind the same. Start with only 1-on-1 meetings on camera. Gradually increase that to team meetings. If none of this works out, it might be a tough decision but you might have to suggest an unfortunate eventuality. It is understandable that they have this preference. But as an organization, you are answerable to the other employees in the company too. I hope it doesn’t get to that though. @Borisov91 has been managing developer teams forever. Hey Boris, do you think there is a better way to handle this?"

  • Boris Borisov said "Hey @Antony, That’s a great question. I have seen things like this. For example, I have had people in my team excusing turning on their video with clearly made-up excuses. As long as it was not frequent, I didn’t mind. Some people indeed strongly dislike turning on their camera. Some people indeed strongly dislike others not turning on their camera. (e.g. in Denmark people would perceive it as very dishonest and disrespectful) . The things which you cannot do are: This person gets an exception This would be hard to communicate/justify to the rest of the team without it being awkward and arbitrary. Ignore the behavior/topic This would send the signal that the policies are not required, which is really bad. . The possible solutions are: The person must accept the “camera on” policy The policy must be reduced to recommended The choice between the two is a cost-benefit decision between (a) demotivating the employee (with risk to fire the employee as a consequence), and (b) reducing the communication capability of the team. We don’t know the specifics of your case, so it would be hard to judge. Maybe you really want to keep this employee motivated. You could do this decision yourself. Or you could make a discussion in your team. P.S. You should communicate that the camera is not for yourself, it is for your teammates."

  • Karthik Sridharan said "Great analysis Boris. I seem to have been on the right track but you articulated it so much better :)"

  • Antony said "Thanks for this reply (and for everyone’s actually). It gave me the fuel I needed to approach the individual and re-affirm why we have the policy and why I won’t be able to give them an exception. I didn’t get an immediate reconciliation but we have agreed on a timescale for improvement, and they’ve reassured me they will try their hardest to overcome the phobia. If things don’t improve then I will reference the ‘agreement’ and escalate things at that point."

  • Boris Borisov said "I’m glad to hear! When I have some unpleasant conversation like this - I remind myself that if it wasn’t a big deal, I wouldn’t have spend so much time thinking about it. Almost always, doing the unpleasant conversations is a relief after it, and not felt as a mistake."

  • Karthik Sridharan said "All the best Antony! I don’t think enforcing uniformity for the better of the larger team is unfair. So that’s further reassurance that you are right in your decision :)"

  • Joe Taylor said "Hi Antony, I have faced the same issue as a remote team manager in the past. In my experience, the only real way to ensure everyone is on camera is to communicate and enforce a ‘camera on’ policy. Either everybody is on camera or nobody is on camera. It’s also OK to go for a ‘camera on some of the time’ policy as long as the call starts with everyone on camera (sometimes poor internet connections mean turning off the camera can improve the general quality for everyone). The key is consistency and uniformity."