Having the courage to provide clear leadership is a duty, not an option.
I recently observed a discussion on Slack between some of our leaders about cameras, meetings, and engagement:
Leader #1: I’m curious to hear your (and others') thoughts about "cameras on" during meetings. I've been sitting in on more sprint rituals lately, and engineering engagement is a bit low. I'm tempted to advocate for "forcing" cameras on, but I'm open-minded that I might have a blind spot where that could be a bad/exclusionary idea.
Leader #2: I have the same (possibly naive?) point of view that "cameras on" would be ideal for improved engagement, both in terms of how much we get out of the meetings as well as encouraging connections between team members.
I have been surprised by how common it is for engineers to leave them off. I'm most interested to hear from (here they @ mentioned a few other leaders) to better understand why this is so common on our teams, and whether it would be bad/exclusionary to "force" them on. What's the root of why engineers are choosing to turn their cameras off? I don't think it's connection bandwidth, as I've seen most people on video at one time or another, at least during the interview process.
The discussion continued for a while, with various leaders bringing “here are some things to consider” and “I want to dig more into this” replies to the table. Eventually, I added my thoughts, helping them to establish a permanent facet of our company culture.
Our thinking is that running a globally distributed, fully remote company is at its best management hard-mode. Trying to be successful at it while deprived of the information that human connection provides (like seeing body language, facial expressions, and reactions) is like playing the game on god mode difficulty. Not only is that beyond what we can do as an organization, we simply don’t have the management bandwidth to spend on the attempt.
One of our first principles is that, as leaders, we get what we select for. If we as leaders don’t have a strong enough opinion on a trait to specifically filter for it, we are accepting and will receive the naturally occurring distribution of that trait in the global population we hire from.
It’s our job to have a strong opinion on team member traits that will impact the quality of the work we do, rather than accepting a semi-random assortment of whatever traits happen to present themselves to us. We exude clarity about what we want at all times, even when it’s uncomfortable because this is the only way to be sure we get what we need.
I don’t think any of our leaders stepped into their roles saying “You know, what I’d like is a team 50% composed of people whose faces I’ve never seen who may or may not be engaged with our meetings”. It’s clear we don’t want that! But instead of saying so and taking the necessary steps to make sure it doesn’t happen, it’s tempting to say “I don’t want to impose my preference on others”, let passivity get in the way of needed action, and kick the can towards problems down the road.
Let me say this loudly and clearly: It’s our job to lead people our way. We aren’t unclear about who we are or how we operate. When people choose to work here, they know both those things and it’s part of why they accept our job offers.
Some people might eventually find that it’s not as good of a fit as they thought it would be. That’s OK! It’s a natural part of everyone’s career, and it’s how everyone learns what kind of workplace fits them best. You can’t keep everyone, but the people who stay benefit from strong leadership and clear expectations.
We’ve framed this conversation around video, but it’s generally applicable to every leadership decision we make. It’s better to have a strong, tight culture with a slightly lower headcount than a weak, diffuse culture where expectations are unclear and outcomes are uncertain.
Either you honestly have no opinion on a matter, or else you stand on a rooftop shouting at the top of your lungs until you are sure everyone got the message. You can focus solely on avoiding bad outcomes and end up with no results at all, or exude clarity and produce the results you need. But you have to choose one or the other. As a leader, there is no middle ground.
This article first appeared as a post on Clipboard Health’s internal blog. If our way of thinking interests you, you can learn more about opportunities at CBH here.