Starved For Face-time? These Five Leadership Principles Will End Your Workplace Webcam Woes

Dear Tim,
I want to see my team’s faces when we meet virtually. I feel I have to see them understand how they are feeling. But I don’t want to be labelled as an overbearing dictator that says they must have cameras on, or else. Please help.
Webcam Wary

Webcam Wary,

There is lots of shallow advice out there about what good leaders never do. One I’ve read is that  “leaders should never FORCE a person to turn on their webcam.” Well, duh. Anytime you have to coerce or threaten your employees to do something – you better give your head a shake.

But don’t sit on the sidelines either. Visible, intentional leadership is more important than ever, and there are many options between being an overbearing dictator and saying nothing at all.   

Here are five principles leaders can adopt to resolve tensions over these workplace webcam woes:

Look – if it feels uncomfortable or risks to ask for the cameras on, don’t feel bad; you’re not alone. In my experience, leaders who adopt the “no-mandatory-cameras-ever” approach are genuinely trying to protect privacy, feelings, and individual agency; these are the signs of an empathetic leader.

Lead with understanding: Listen to your team’s fears and reasons for their positions, which could be very diverse! Seek to understand their perspective – it may be surprising to you. Then, share with your team the reasons behind your desire to have cameras turned on for certain meetings. Be specific. Your openness here goes a long way. By examining perspectives instead of entrenched positions, you’ll start from a basis of shared understanding.

Eliminate unhelpful pressure: When you stop by someone’s home, you don’t expect perfection. Virtual meetings in ad-hoc home offices require the same graciousness. Normalize less-than-perfect working environments, hairstyles, untimely interruptions from kids or pets. Lead with humour, empathy and lightness. Don’t set an expectation of perfection, and lead by your own imperfect example.

Proceed together:  Make time to develop a shared agreement on when and where cameras help collaboration – and when they don’t. Meet as a team to set a new shared understanding of when cameras contribute to work quality, detract from it, or are optional. Don’t get dogmatic or expect a permanent solution. If (when!) things aren’t working out, assemble the team and rework it! We’re breaking new ground here – don’t expect perfection right out of the gate.

Give people tools and support to succeed: On the hardware side, help your staff get equipped to make the best of their working environments. If their audio/video equipment doesn’t work well, or they don’t know how to use it, pushback is inevitable. When it comes to software, use virtual collaboration spaces like digital whiteboards, Google Jamboard, scorecards and dashboards, One-Note, or an open google doc – any of these can provide a collaborative “table” to gather around.

Connect as Humans: Don’t make every interaction business-focused. We have lost the water cooler, the coffee room, the offsite team-building exercise. The nature of working from home is that we have to schedule everything if we’re going to get people together; this makes everything feel like a meeting and feel the same as work. Schedule some fun time. Don’t make it mandatory – make it enticing

During the covid-19 pandemic, decision-making often requires choosing between less-than-ideal options. What hasn’t changed is that a broad-brush approach is rarely efficient or considerate of true psychological safety. The answer for your team might not be “always” or “never”, but it certainly falls between those two extremes.

Get nimble and intentional in your approach to virtual interactions; you can’t afford to have just one gear!

Work intentionally to find a new normal that works for your team, and you’ll set people up for success now and in the future.

If you’d like to go even deeper on this topic, check out TWE’s recent BrainTrust webinar on leading engaged teams in a webcam world!



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Decision-making during a pandemic – how to choose from bad options and disagree while preserving your important relationships

Some decisions are tough. But covid is creating unique uncertainty about the future for nearly every decision we make. Wouldn’t it be great to know you are making high-quality decisions?

As the weather cools, children return to schools, and the holiday season approaches, we will have to take a different approach to the mitigation of exposure risk than what we’ve experienced so far.

If you’re finding it hard to make one or more decisions right now – it might be time to take a different, more structured approach.

Years ago, I took a six-week course through Stanford University on SDG’s Decision Quality framework - this model sorts decision types by both frequency and value:
When viewed through this lens, it is clear that covid-19 and related exposure risks have changed routine, benign, automatic decisions into major “Strategic Decisions” with non-trivial implications.


This year our daughter is entering high school, which is an important milestone in any year, but now we’re facing so many more complicating factors. So our family has found it helpful to use a structured approach to making decisions around back-to-school for Grace, Aubrey and John, and in managing our approach to other major covid-related decisions.

The Decision Quality model considers six elements when making important, strategic, high-quality decisions:

  1. Set the right shared frame (purpose, perspective, and scope)
  2. Consider alternatives;
  3. Gather meaningful data;
  4. Clarify values and tradeoffs;
  5. Use logical reasoning; and
  6. Commit to action.

While making decisions is necessary, how we discuss those decisions is equally important.

When we disagree with someone important in our lives on issues that challenge our core values, it can be tempting to prioritize merely reaching an agreement. To maintain a healthy working relationship, openness and trust, and reach high-quality, collaborative decisions, we need to ensure we are listening and seeing each other along the way. The journey is as important as the destination – quick agreement is damaging if it comes at the cost of belonging and security.

It’s equally important to realize that a well-made decision (making the best decision with the information you have at the time) can still have disappointing outcomes.

Covid-19 continually forces us to choose between several sub-optimal options. Each choice carries risks and none guarantee a positive outcome, so we are unlikely to be completely satisfied with whatever decision we make.

Consider the six attributes of decision quality, stay true to your core values, and work on building bridges of validation with those you care about.

If you’d like help finding perspective and balance between the roles you fill in your life and work, we’re here to help. Book a free consultation.

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Time to face it: leaders have an enormous responsibility for safety and should wear face masks in the workplace. Use these facts and practices to help your team breathe easy.

Contributing Authors: Kate Bourque and Tim Sweet

Workers are now returning to offices and bringing with them a wide variety of opinions and sensitivities when it comes to wearing masks.  Meanwhile, more and more jurisdictions and businesses are implementing mandatory mask-wearing laws and policies.

Mandatory masking has become an issue of personal identity and polarizing values. Unchecked, this conflict threatens to unravel corporate unity and undermine cultures of safety. How will your organization respond in a way that is credible and consistent with your values and established safety culture?

After reading this you will have five data points and four behaviours you can use to inspire a safe, consistent approach to phased reopening.

Five Facts on Masks and Safety Leadership

1) The workplace is conducive to COVID-19 transmission

​As we learn more about how COVID-19 is transmitted, it’s clear that sharing the same air is a major risk factor. “being in a small enclosed area in close contact with many others is one of the highest-risk activities one can do”, says Dr. Tara C. Smith, an epidemiologist and professor at Kent State University’s College of Public Health.

A growing number of infection events can be traced back to groups spending even a few minutes together with an infectious carrier in close proximity, especially indoors.

2) The threat level of COVID-19 is higher than other workplace threats

Close to 1,000 Canadians lose their lives to work-related deaths every year – a workplace fatality rate of 2.8 deaths per 100,000 Canadians working or otherwise. Appropriately, Canadian companies spend billions of dollars on safety to prevent a single occupational injury, let alone someone’s death.

In 2018, there were 5.2 vehicle fatalities per 100,000 population (the second lowest year on record in Canada).
The mortality rate related to COVID-19 in Canada as of July 3, 2020, is 23 deaths per 100,000 population and growing; a rate 4 times higher than vehicle fatalities and almost ten times higher than occupational fatalities within our population.

Though seat belts were controversial when first introduced, most motorists today don’t question that they are a reasonable and effective precaution. (Even hand washing was at one time a controversial medical practice)

3) Masks are reasonable personal protective equipment (PPE)

Physical distancing alone is not sufficient to prevent the occurrence of subsequent waves of a pandemic, which may be more infectious or severe as happened with the deadly second wave of the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

“The only way we get back to work is to mask.” says Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of UC San Francisco’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. “All of the data tells us – it’s pretty clear that masking is the element that changes the trajectories of the COVID pandemic.”

Health authorities have recognized the risk of asymptomatic and presymptomatic spread of COVID-19, with “silent disease transmission” accounting for over 50% of COVID-19 cases. At that rate, a symptom-based approach simply will not work.

At TWE, we’ve invested in hardhats, steel-toed boots, eye and ear protection, and flame retardant clothing to be able to visit client sites. These costs we accept readily to protect our own safety, the safety of others, and to uphold the safety values we share with clients. ​If we invest time and effort in training, providing, and enforcing use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for other quantifiable hazards, why wouldn’t we continue to do it now?

Non-medical and cloth masks suitable for the workplace are now inexpensive, or in many cases free, and can be easily sourced. Be aware, however, that it’s important to select effective masks and to wear them safely in accordance with guidance from local health authorities.

4) A COVID-19 infection in your staff or their families can be costly

One case of COVID-19 can incapacitate a workforce, cripple operations, increase disability claims, and drive customers away, and this is on top of the risk of tragic loss of life or debilitating complications.

At TWE, we’ve seen businesses send staff into self-isolation for two weeks, after a single lab-confirmed case where sufficient mitigation procedures were not in place.

Many businesses could be put under completely if they had to cease operations again after a phased re-opening, let alone the risks to morale.

5) There is a risk to trust in leadership

Not everyone can wear standard masks, due to breathing difficulties, a medical condition, or a disability. But if you have no medical reason not to, sporting a mask is visible proof you care about the health of others.

As a recent journal article published in The Royal Society’s Proceedings A noted:

A key message from our analyses to aid the widespread adoption of masks would be: ‘my mask protects you, your mask protects me’.

As leaders, we must walk the talk.

The Masked Mindset

Like seat belts, airbags, and crumple zones in vehicles, masks are just one part of a full complement of infection prevention strategies. Hand hygiene, physical distancing, and staying home when sick are still the most effective steps we can all take.

Institutionally, active screening, continuous disinfection, ghost shifting, sick policies, and other tactics are part of a full complement of options for reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Still, when leading an organization through change, it is important to build people’s faith and commitment. As leaders, we have substantial influence through the behaviours we model directly. When we can’t even know if we might be sick and spreading COVID-19, masks remain a visible indicator of our dedication to the  proactive protection of those around us. 

Are you willing to be someone else’s patient zero

​​Putting it into Practice

Here are four simple behaviours that will help you lead consciously through this pandemic:

  • Be aware of your own biases and beliefs
  • Lead with facts from local medical authorities or peer-reviewed sources
  • Listen to understand the nature of a person’s resistance
  • Be consistent with your application and enforcement

How would Crocodile Dundee Define “TEAM”?

​34 years ago, my dad took me to see Crocodile Dundee in the theaters. I remember standing in line in a spring rain, popcorn, and sticky floors.  The theater was huge by today’s standards, and people still regularly applauded during the movie.


Trust me, it was a big deal. 

In celebration of Mick and Sue, I thought I’d share this.  Be sure that when you picture “Team” in your mind, you don’t have your lens cap on.





Why This Bad Advice Could Have Ruined the Galaxy

Staying calm is good.  Carrying on in the middle of a crisis – not so much.

When you should step-up and declare your commitment to do better in the middle of a crisis?

When it began to gain prominence in North America, I, like everyone else though “Keep Calm and Carry On” was cool. I didn’t regard it as a mind-blowing advice, but it had a retro look and some kitsch to it.
Now… three years on, I’m telling clients to think twice before adopting “Keep Calm” when designing change and improvement slogans.  At best it’s overused… at worst it’s harmful and counter productive.  Leave it out of your HR and Change Management campaigns – and, do not promote it as a virtuous leadership behaviour.

An Opiate for the Masses

“Keep Calm and Blankity Blank” statements are being overused by shortsighted leaders trying to forward their own agendas, to the point of nausea. The meme is applied like a salve to “sooth” the masses while asking them to do something. The medium is the message, and this medium implies it should be done without question – unfairly making it an issue of loyalty and stoicism.

Consider Not Using the Original


When it comes to the original statement “Keep Calm and Carry On” I want you to consider that this advice is harmful to a high-performance culture.

King George and the British Government released the original in 1939 as they braced for war and the terror of bombings that would surely follow. It was designed to raise the morale of its citizens under a constant threat of attack (hardly the trite “do as we say” applications of today).

According to historian David Johnson even the British government had second thoughts and the posters were not actually seen by many.  “During the war, the British population had shown a genuine aversion to cheery posters, finding them patronising, so most of the “Keep calm” production run was pulped, and the few that survived were not displayed.”

Keeping your wits about you is indeed important, and a critical element of success. But staying “calm” and “carrying on” in the middle of a crisis when you should step-up and declare your commitment to do better, is inexcusable. The notion that there is some over-riding nobility to merely carrying on is stifling to communication, innovation and continuous improvement.

 “Carry On” is appropriate when you want someone to keep their head down, work, and maintain the status quo – advice rarely offered by good leaders. If you’re asking employees to unite and improve in the face of adversity, despite budget cuts, market shifts, recession, merger or acquisition, reorganization, surely we should be asking them to get passionate, get busy, get creative, ask questions, fight the status quo, and have a healthy disrespect for authority, past assumptions and sacred cows.
I live at the base of the Rocky Mountains. Here, if confronted by a bear, you have two choices: play dead, cover the back of your neck and hope it just takes a limb; or, get big, get loud, throw rocks, swing sticks and take yourself off the menu. I’ve been face to face with a bear on more than one occasion. I’m still here, all limbs intact… and I’ve never opted to play dead.

We all have a choice when and where we make a difference.

Things change for the better because someone does something different.  The real heroes are seldom the ones getting the credit, and the most influential choices are often small first steps… made by many.  
Imagine for a moment if Luke Skywalker had chosen to stay on Tatooine… keeping calm and carrying on:  
Princess Leia Organa: Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope. 
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: [to Luke] You must learn the ways of the Force, if you’re to come with me to Alderaan. 
Luke Skywalker: Alderaan? I’m not going to Alderaan, I’ve gotta get home, it’s late, I’m in for it as it is! 
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: I need your help, Luke. She needs your help. I’m getting too old for this sort of thing. 
Luke Skywalker: Look, I can’t get involved. I’ve got work to do. It’s not that I like the Empire; I hate it, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now… It’s all such a long way from here. 
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: That’s your uncle talking.

No progress comes from blindly accepting the status quo.

Promoting a “Keep Calm and Carry On” approach in business is dangerous. It reinforces employee helplessness and contributes to the rising complacency infecting teams across the globe.  We need employees to be a force for change.

Take that “Keep Calm” poster out of your office, refuse to merely “carry on” with the status quo, get clear on what success looks like, then get fired up and get busy.

May the Force be with you.

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Do you have employees that carry stress home? Their lives literally depend on the organizational culture and leadership style you choose to adopt.  You can make a huge difference to the happiness and balance in your peoples’ lives.


Do you have employees that thrive at home and at work? Their lives literally depend on healthy organizational behaviour and company culture on the job.

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