Video Calls in Remote Work: Does hiding your own video make you more effective?

I was recently listening to this podcast called what Virtual CoWorking can teach virtual teams.

One of the points that I found completely fascinating was that a small study was done, and showed that by hiding your own video on your display- makes you more effective/less distracted in video calls.

If you’ve never done a video call before, they’re very much like a Facetime or Skype session where you can see the other person and hear their audio.

At Automattic, we frequently use Zoom. One of my favorite features of Zoom is what we like to call “the Brady Bunch-style”, where basically you see a grid of everyone in the call,  it looks like this:

Sparta using Zoom

(also say Hi to my amazing team, Sparta!)

The distracting part (at least for me) is that when you see yourself on your screen- you get distracted. Personally, I tend to get distracted when I know I’m having a bad hair day, etc. If you think about it, it’s kinda like working in front of a mirror. The reflection is bound to distract you.

I found an article on this study here, but this is one of my favorite quotes:

On average, there was a significantly higher level of performance for the teams where the individuals did not see themselves when they were communicating. We also found that there were some differences in satisfaction among the teams: the individuals who did not see themselves on the camera felt more satisfied with the entire communication.

Hiding my video from the screen

After listening to this podcast, I decided to give it a try and see if this one little change had any impact on me. So during my team’s weekly meeting, I hid my own video from the call in Zoom (so everyone else can still see me, only I can’t see myself).

Surprisingly, I found that I felt a lot less distracted than usual. I was more focused on everyone in the call. Specifically, later during a one-on-one call with my team lead, I found it super helpful when I could only see the person I was talking to on my screen and not myself.

If you use Zoom as well, you can give this feature a try by following this guide.

Or you can try the low-tech version and just put a post-it note over your own picture if you’re on call that displays your own video to you.

Once you give it a try, let me know what you think! Did you feel any difference? Were you more or less distracted?