Cameras On or Off? Eller Research Suggests Cameras Off during Virtual Meetings Lowers Fatigue


After more than a year of remote work, one might think that we have all gotten accustomed to virtual meetings. But we still are experiencing “Zoom fatigue” – a feeling of being drained and lacking energy following a day of virtual meetings.

New research conducted by Allison Gabriel, McClelland Professor of Management and Organizations and University Distinguished Scholar in the Eller College of Management, suggests that the camera may be partially to blame.

Gabriel’s research focused on how employees feel fatigue in response to using their cameras, and whether these feelings of fatigue are worse for certain employees.

“There’s always this assumption that if you have your camera on during meetings, you are going to be more engaged,” says Gabriel. “But there’s also a lot of self-presentation pressure associated with being on camera—having a professional background and looking ready, or keeping children out of the room are among some of the pressures.”

After a four-week experiment with 103 participants at BroadPath Inc. and more than 1,400 observations, Gabriel and her colleagues found that it is indeed much more fatiguing to use the camera than to not use it when on a virtual meeting.

“When people had cameras on or were told to keep cameras on, they reported more fatigue than their non-camera using counterparts,” says Gabriel. “And that fatigue correlated to less voice and less engagement during meetings. So in reality, those who had cameras on were potentially participating less than those not using cameras. This counters the conventional wisdom that cameras are required to be engaged in virtual meetings.”

Gabriel also found that these effects were stronger for women and for employees newer to the organization likely due to added self-presentation costs.

“Employees who tend to be more vulnerable in terms of their social position in the workplace such as women and newer, less tenured employees have a heightened feeling of fatigue when they must keep cameras on during meetings,” says Gabriel. “Women often feel the pressure to be effortlessly perfect or have a greater likelihood of childcare interruptions, and newer employees feel like they must be on camera and participate in order to show productiveness.”

Moving forward, Gabriel suggests that expecting employees to turn cameras on during Zoom meetings is not the best way to go. Rather, she suggests that employees should have the autonomy to use their camera or not without others making assumptions about distractedness or productivity if they choose to keep cameras off.

“At the end of the day, we want employees to feel autonomous and supported at work in order to be at their best. Having autonomy over using the camera is another step in that direction,” Gabriel said.

This research is co-authored with Kristen M. Shockley (University of Georgia), Daron Robertson (BroadPath, Inc.), Christopher Rosen (University of Arkansas), Nitya Chawla ’20 Ph.D. (Management and Organizations), (Texas A&M University), Mahira Ganster ’24 Ph.D. (Management and Organizations), (University of Arizona) and Maira Ezerins (University of Arkansas), and is in the most recent issue of Journal of Applied Psychology.