We've written extensively about how to have better remote meetings and how to use asynchronous techniques to make meetings more productive. And it mostly boils down to respecting people's time. Only schedule a meeting if it's going to be helpful, start and end on time, have a clear agenda—that sort of thing.
But if you end up at a meeting that's not productive for you—or you just have Zoom fatigue—here's another trick I find helpful: turn your camera off.
Of course, not every company or manager likes that strategy. You could deal with this like an adult, or you could use some silly tricks compiled by a random blogger.
Note: this article is full of advice you shouldn't use. What you absolutely should do, however, is join Zoom meetings by phone, ideally while taking a walk. It's a great change of pace.
Use a video of yourself as your background
Every video conferencing app offers custom backgrounds: you can add any photo or video you want. Some people use this to hide potential distractions, like a messy office. Others use it to pretend they're attending a meeting from Dunder Mifflin or the bridge of the Enterprise.
But that's not all this feature can do—you can also use it to make it look like you're paying attention. Just record a video of yourself looking at the camera, ideally while occasionally nodding. Use this as your video background, and before the meeting starts, point your camera at a blank wall.
I tested this with my editor, Deb at Zapier, and she was duped. She's brilliant, so I'm calling this one a success.
DID YOU KNOW? Zapier employs Zoom background world champion, Ben Peter. We couldn't be more proud.
Turn off your camera and change your name to "Loading..."
If TikTok has taught me anything, it's that the generation currently attending high school and college is full of geniuses. Millennials like me can learn so many things from them, the least important of which is that you can change your name to "Loading" in Zoom before turning off your camera. This should convince your coworkers that you intended to turn your camera on, but that it's just not working yet.
Put a sticky note over your camera and say that it's broken
Webcams break sometimes. You can pretend yours did by putting a sticky note over it, as this TikTok hero points out. The result is a reddish tinge with just enough movement to convince your coworkers that your camera isn't merely turned off.
The nice thing is no one knows how webcams actually work, or how to fix them. It's perfectly plausible that your camera is working one day and not working the next, which means you can use this trick to decide which meetings you want to use your camera during.
Just...don't go to the meeting
I asked my Zapier coworkers for ideas for this piece. One response inspired my video above.
Some ideas were...less practical.
But there's one thing I sincerely didn't think of until someone said it.
Not everything needs to be a meeting, and you don't have to attend every meeting. If it's not going to be productive for you, just don't go. I'm lucky to work at a place that realizes this and operates accordingly.
I'm not particularly nervous on camera: I volunteer to host meetings and am usually the first person to start talking at the company-wide all hands. But I hate leaving the camera on when I'm not talking. Yes: I know I can avoid seeing my face during Zoom meetings, but that's not the main problem.
In a real-life, in-person meeting, I'm aware of who's looking at me because I can see them. That's not true in large video calls, and I find that nerve-racking. This is why I turn my camera off if I'm not actively participating in a discussion. I think that should be the norm at all workplaces. Until it is, though, people are going to use tricks like the ones above—even though it's a bad idea.