The typical desktop cloud videoconferencing experience includes some sort of self view. In a multiparty “gallery” call, you may see yourself in one of the squares in the “brady bunch” layout. In a person to person call, you often see yourself in a PiP window. It is a nice convenience to be able to check your appearance during a call, and I never considered that there could be a downside. However, I recently came across some new information that caused me to rethink how we should implement the self-view in videoconferencing.
Self-View has Negative Impacts on Meetings
A study by Marquette University compared two groups using videoconferencing. One with self-view and one without. According to the researchers, “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.”
These weren’t just subjective assessments based on user self-reporting. The teams were assigned tasks to complete during this study. The teams without self-view finished the tasks quicker as well as being more satisfied with their results.
Why Do We Assume We Need Self-View?
Why do we need self-view throughout a meeting anyway? Is that even the way we’ve always imagined videoconferencing would be? Look at google image searches for videoconferencing in science fiction, or in Star Trek, or even the Jetsons. You don’t see a lot of self-view.
Think about the real purpose of a video meeting; it is to approximate, as best as possible, an in person meeting experience. When you meet with someone in person, you don’t hold up a small mirror the entire time. In other words, in real life you aren’t looking at yourself so maybe it’s a little weird to be looking at yourself during video meetings.
There are three main reasons we do it, despite it being unnatural. First, it is a convenience, even if just for checking your hair. Second, it is an easy feature to add since the software has access to your local video feed. Third, we never considered that there might be a downside. Perhaps now it is time to consider a new approach.
A New Approach to Self-VIew
The convenience of self-view is too great to remove it entirely. Whether we are trying to focus our camera on a whiteboard on the wall, or just for vanity’s sake, there is a lot of utility in self-view. However, it does not need to be persistent throughout a meeting. It makes sense to “check yourself” before you join a virtual meeting room. Perhaps when you click a url to join a cloud meeting room you should get a full screen self-view in a “green room” with the option to join the meeting when you are ready.
Of course, self-view should be available during a meeting, if needed, and it should be easy to access. You can’t hide it in a menu. One option could be to have a self-view PiP appear when you move your mouse, but then fade out after 10-20 seconds or so.
A final note on PiP placement. Whether it’s a permanent self-view PiP, as in many of today’s cloud video solutions, or not, there is only one right place to put a self-view PiP on a desktop video UI. It should always be centered at the top of the screen. This places it directly next to most user’s webcams on top of their monitors. This way, when users look at their self-view, they will see decent eye contact with themselves. This way you are seeing yourself looking confident and engaged and ready for your video meeting. Some solutions place the PiP at the bottom corner of the monitor. With this set-up, when you look at yourself you see yourself looking down. It’s not a good look. This could tie into the results of the Marquette study. If people are looking at an unflattering view of themselves, they may worry more about how they look and be more distracted from the meeting.
To my friends in the videoconferencing developer community, I strongly suggest taking a look at your self-view implementations. For users, I suggest you add this consideration to your list of things to compare when choosing your cloud video solutions.