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Jaime López
Jaime López

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Are Avatars in Microsoft Teams Harming Your Team's Productivity?

Avatars are becoming a permanent fixture in Microsoft 365 tenants, and they'll be available sooner than later. Nevertheless, there are questions about their usefulness or whether they might actually serve as distractions that hinder employees from focusing on their work.

To begin with, avatars are digital representations of oneself that can be used during meetings. You can customize your avatar to resemble you as closely as possible so that your colleagues can recognize you.

Are Avatars in Microsoft Teams Harming Your Team's Productivity?

Another cool feature of avatars is that you can create up to three different ones, each suited for specific types of meetings. For instance, you can have a formal avatar dressed for more serious occasions, and a more casual one for relaxed meetings.

Lastly, your avatar mimics your movements to some extent. While it won't be able to replicate all of your gestures, it can imitate your basic movements. Additionally, the range of expressions can be increased by selecting emojis during the conversation.

But what is the main reason for using avatars?

According to Microsoft, avatars are designed to provide a solution for employees who feel fatigued or worn out after a day full of meetings. Using avatars is recommended in situations where turning on your camera to show your face might make you feel uncomfortable due to exhaustion or because you're in a different time zone and need a break. Alternatively, you may choose not to use your camera for any other reason, and avatars offer a convenient alternative.

Avatars for Microsoft Teams offers an alternative to the current binary option of video or no video. Avatars for Teams gives you that much-needed camera break, while still allowing you to collaborate effectively. Include more people in the conversation— whether they need a break due to video fatigue, are joining from a different time zone, or just feel more comfortable with their video off.

Microsoft, Avatars for Microsoft Teams in Public Preview

Based on the reasons presented by Microsoft, it appears that there is no definitive rationale for using avatars. Ultimately, as an employee, you can choose whether to turn off your camera, use an avatar, or show yourself on camera as you see fit.

Why is it important to have the camera on during meetings?

The reasons I'm about to share may not be novel; in fact, you may have heard or read them on multiple occasions before. Nevertheless, I believe they are worth reiterating, and so I've decided to list the top 2 based on my personal experience:

  1. Increases productivity: If you choose to keep your camera off during a meeting, your communication will be limited to your voice alone. Without the added context of your facial expressions and body language, others may misinterpret what you're saying, leading to miscommunication that can be costly for your organization. Such errors can result in time and money being wasted on re-doing tasks, delays, and possibly more meetings. Obviously, this is not an ideal outcome that anyone would want.

  2. Holds you accountable: If you choose to turn off your camera during a meeting, it may come across as if you're multitasking, disengaged, or not fully invested in the discussion. Even if you have a lot of work to catch up on, it's best to keep your camera on so that you don't inadvertently devalue your role or contributions to the team.

If you haven't already started using these 2 strategies, you're missing out on a valuable opportunity to make a positive impression on your colleagues during meetings. As I've mentioned previously, effective communication involves not just spoken language, but also nonverbal cues like facial expressions and body language. Paying attention to these details will help you stay engaged in the discussion, enabling you to fully comprehend each message and adjust your own speech accordingly.

You can find these 2 reasons and more in the following article by Steve Hughes, Top 10 Reasons to Keep Your Camera on in Virtual Meetings

Let me be clear, I'm not suggesting that you need to have your camera on for every single meeting throughout your day. It's important to balance the number of meetings you participate in and the nature of your role in each of them. For instance, if you're attending a meeting purely as an observer, it may not be necessary to have your camera turned on. However, if you're leading a presentation or engaged in a conversation, it's crucial to have your camera on to ensure effective communication.

Take a look at the following Harvard Business Review article discussing whether or not to activate cameras and which groups may be most vulnerable, Research: Cameras On or Off?

So, what are avatars for?

Returning to the initial discussion on avatars, what advantages do they offer in a professional setting? To be honest, I cannot identify any noteworthy benefits of avatars. As previously mentioned, they do not facilitate attentiveness to the meeting since they lack the ability to read body language or facial expressions. Additionally, if other participants are using avatars, it becomes difficult to gather useful insights and build meaningful connections with them. Furthermore, if we ourselves are using avatars, it may be more effective to simply turn off the camera instead. Ultimately, in my view, avatars do not contribute much to the success of a meeting.

The only rationale I can think of for using avatars is in the context of the metaverse or virtual reality, where avatars can exist and potentially replace our natural expressions, both physical and facial. However, if we can achieve the same level of communication by simply turning on our cameras in the real world, why go through the hassle of configuring and using avatars?

Snapchat Lenses, the latest addition to Microsoft Teams

On a recent announcement, Microsoft introduced over 20 new Snapchat Lenses to its Microsoft Teams platform. Although I am not familiar with Snapchat or its Lenses, I was able to understand the examples that Microsoft provided, such as Bear in Love, Cat on Head, and Sunset Lenses.

Snapchat Lenses feature in Microsoft Teams

I'm finding it hard to see how this feature can be useful in a business setting. To me, it seems like a game that might create a fun talking point during initial meetings with people you know well, or in training and mentoring sessions with a more lighthearted goal. However, I don't see how it can be of much use beyond those scenarios.

You can read the whole article clicking in the following link,Oh, Snap! Let Your Silly Side Shine with Snapchat Lenses for Microsoft Teams

To wrap up

Have you ever thought of being in a meeting where all attendees have an avatar configured to represent them? I think that if this situation were to occur, a lot of non-verbal information would be lost, apart from the waste of resources (processing, network packet transmission, power usage, etc.) involved.

Microsoft's recent introduction of avatars and the Snapchat Lenses feature in Teams seems to suggest that the company aims to provide employees with some form of relief from the stresses of the workday. It's unclear whether these features actually offer tangible benefits or simply serve as distractions similar to games like Minesweeper or Solitaire.


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