How to Disable Attendee Cameras During Teams Meetings

Keep Everyone Focused

Message center notification MC244745 posted 17 March (updated 22 April) contains news about the ability for meeting organizers to disable the video feeds of participants. Organizers can disable the video for a single user (roadmap item 70620) or for all participants (roadmap item 70621).

Reasons to be a Video Participant

Generally, the struggle is to convince meeting attendees to turn on their video. The reasons why it’s better when people enable video are varied and include:

  • If others can see someone, they have a better connection. There’s no hiding behind an anonymous attendee card showing your initials or a static image. In other words, people like talking to live people. Given that most haven’t travelled to meet others in over a year, we all need some help to maintain our professional network. While video is a poor replacement for face-to-face contact and cannot substitute for the camaraderie of the coffee station or the ability to settle differences with co-workers or partners over after-office drinks, it’s as good as we can get for now.
  • Video allows non-verbal cues to be seen, like nods of agreement or smiles. The Teams live reactions feature is an electronic attempt to convey feedback, but the set of reactions is limited and only cover positive feelings. You’ll never see a Teams emoticon to scowl at a presenter. Teams dynamic view gives priority to speakers with video enabled to highlight people who might otherwise be lost in a gallery of similar attendee images.
  • Being able to speak directly to someone can improve accountability when assigning actions. Leaders can see the reaction of the person they ask to do something.

Of course, there will be times when you absolutely cannot enable video for a Teams meeting. For example, your network connection might be poor and only capable of audio (the reduced data mode can help for mobile clients).

Focus on Enabling Video but Controls Necessary

The bottom line is that the increased focus on online meetings created by the pandemic accelerated progress in the functionality available in Teams meetings since March 2020. Microsoft has delivered a slew of features from background effects to together mode to attendee spotlighting and presenter mode to make Teams meetings less fatiguing and more interesting. So why would Microsoft now introduce the ability to disable video feeds?

I can think of two reasons. First, it’s obvious that the potential exists that someone might become disruptive during a meeting. For instance, they might use an objectionable background image. Meeting organizers can mute a participant today. This is just another way of dealing with a disruptive influence.

Second, even before Microsoft shipped webinar functionality for Teams, it was used for public webinars. Once you open the doors (virtually) to all comers, you need some control over how the event is run. While Teams webinars are less restrictive than Teams Live Events, you still might want to restrict what attendees can do. Disabling video joins other controls, like disabling chat during the meeting or forcing attendees to go through the meeting lobby. It’s another lever to pull.

Controlling Video Feeds

Before a meeting begins or during a meeting, the organizer can use meeting options to set the Allow camera for attendees option from the default On to Off (Figure 1). Leaving the setting On means that it’s up to each attendee to decide if they want to enable their video feed. Setting it to Off means that attendees cannot enable their video feed. The setting does not affect meeting organizers or presenters, who always can use video.

The control to enable or disable cameras for attendees in a Teams meetings
Figure 1: The control to enable or disable cameras for attendees in a Teams meetings

During a meeting, the organizer or a presenter can update meeting options to enable cameras for all attendees. Alternatively, they can enable or disable video for a selected attendee by right-clicking on the attendee (in the participant list or on their card in the “meeting stage”) to choose the Disable camera or Enable camera option. Attendees with videos enabled are not forced to turn their camera on as they always retain the ability not to use video in a meeting if they wish.

Blocking Video isn’t for Everyone

Disabling cameras is not a feature I think I shall use much, but I suspect I am not in the target group Microsoft intends this feature for. We’ll just have to see what happens after the feature rolls out, especially in how it might be used in webinars hosted by Teams. As always, some will love the new control and others will hate it. Just like any product feature…

Understanding all the options available to accomplish any task in Teams is difficult. Although the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook doesn’t cover user-level functionality in detail, we do explain how and why technology works the way that it does so that tenant administrators understand what’s happening.

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