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"Can we please turn our cameras off?" The downside to video conferencing.

With the glut of quarantine memes bemoaning visible hair regrowth on work video calls, it’s easy to forget there are also real issues at play with this newly embraced tech. If you’re an employer marvelling at the seamless transition from face-to-face work meetings to video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts, I invite you to look deeper.

For many employees, video conferencing represents a nightmarish sensorial hit where they are expected to be ‘on’ at all times, use constant eye contact and contribute meaningfully to the conversation while being unable to switch off any senses lest they are seen to be off-task.

Many feel exposed and on show throughout the duration of the video conference, knowing that they can be seen by all at any given time. For all except the most extroverted and neurotypical employee, this leads to exhaustion and a productivity stalemate, not increase.

I’ve spoken to countless friends over the past fortnight who have raised similar concerns and it goes right to the top – a friend’s normally energised and unflappable director signed off for the day at lunchtime on Friday because he was so drained by the constant video conferences he needed to recalibrate. Another friend refused to join a social drink – ahem – ‘Quarantinis’ Zoom session, because it reminded her of a hellish week of online work video meets.

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For people with disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or sensory processing issues including Central Auditory Processing Disorder, the most confronting part of the ‘new normal’ of video calls is having nowhere to hide.

Where they might have been able to perform to an exceptionally high standard in an office environment without the need to disclose their disability (after all, disclosure is very much a personal choice), they now face the unenviable position of trying to hold down a job in an already insecure work environment.

Throw into the mix the home schooling of kids and I defy any working parent in the current climate to say they can relax into a video call, knowing that their little darling – or darlings – could walk in looking bedraggled and unkempt at any time, asking why they still haven’t had Fruit Loops at 11am.

I predict benevolent neglect is about to make a comeback and replace helicopter parenting as 2020’s de rigueur parenting style.

The solution? Give people the option to use audio not video on calls. I can guarantee many employees would be grateful for this choice – and it has the bonus of satisfying Mr and Mrs Vain in your organisations.

In the meantime, let me find the bowl for the kids’ inaugural home haircuts.

Sara McMillan is the former editor of Habitat Australia and an advocate for workplace inclusion. She has lived experience caring for a family member on the autism spectrum.

Feature Image: Getty.

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