Eighteen years ago, I earned a PhD in organizational communication, and today my time has come to use it. As many US companies are implementing work from home policies in the midst of COVID19 quarantines, many American workers are learning for the first time how to telecommute.
My best piece of advice? TURN ON YOUR WEBCAM.
Yes, I know. A few years ago, fears of strangers hacking into your laptop led a wave of workers to cover the built-in laptop camera with a post it note or piece of electrical tape to preserve their privacy. But technology changes rapidly, and the modern operating systems that most workplaces are using today have much more sophisticated security built into them, making the likelihood of camera hacking much smaller than before.
In my view, the benefits of uncovering that camera — and actually using it — far outweigh the risks. Back in school, we studied the work of Richard Daft and Robert Lengel — who noted that different communication forms varied in the amount of context cues and data that are embedded in their messages, which they called “richness.” Some communication forms (like face to face meetings) offer a lot of richeness, while others (like text or emails) are less rich.
The researchers suggest that less rich forms of communication are more likely to result in misinterpretation of the message, and so work that requires more complex levels of collaboration and understanding should take place in richer media environments.
We’ve all seen this at work — and almost everyone has an example of an email or text that was misinterpreted by their recipient, leading to hurt feelings or wrong decisions as a result.
A variety of organizational communication studies explore the effectis of media richeness, determining that when we use richer forms of communication, teammates develop higher levels of trust, reduce the amount of “social loafing” (where some team members do all the work while others hide in the background), and make more effective group decisions.
For workers who aren’t used to using videoconferencing tools, it will take some getting used to. The process of enabling your laptop’s camera to work with your company’s conferencing tool of choice might take a little while to figure out — and it may seem easier to simply make a phone call or write an email, rather than launching a full-blown videoconference.
Yet my experience — and the research data — show that it’s worth the effort. So give it a try! Working from home has saved you time that would otherwise have been tied up in a commute to or from the office — carve out ten minutes today to learn how to use your web cam for your next conversation.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.