Setting up a conduct policy can prevent embarrassing mishaps
In March of 2020, many employees began working from home. Businesses have had to rely on virtual meetings for both staff and customers by using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WebEx, Skype, or other video communication platforms.
On the upside for workers, these meetings from home have become a casual dress day—which on the surface, seems like a good thing. Employees have traded their standard office attire for sweatshirts, tees, and baseball caps when attending staff meetings. On the downside, it seems every day we hear stories about meeting participants getting caught on camera engaged in HR-inappropriate activities.
Acknowledge Quarantine Chaos
Due to quarantine restrictions, many work meetings now include pets and kids making unexpected visits. With school and child-care closures affecting many employees mandated to work from home, juggling “business time” with home life is unpredictable, at best. Employees have no choice but to turn on their cameras from their couches and kitchen tables with interruptions par for the course.
Has your company witnessed any virtual on–camera mishaps? Have your team meetings gotten a little too casual? Can employers dictate rules for employee behavior during virtual meetings, even if an employee is not physically on company property?
Employers Can Stipulate Employee Behavior During A Virtual Business Meeting
There is a common misconception among employees that workplace behavior rules do not apply when working from home. Employees may think that rules regarding appropriate workplace conduct, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment do not apply if they work from home or use their own electronic devices.
Employers can and should address meeting etiquette expectations. It does not matter if the employee’s behavior occurs in their home or at an employer-provided location. Employees working from a space provided and paid for by their employer are more likely to assume their position and behave accordingly. Legally, employees are not free from the employer‘s direction and control just because they work remotely.
Legal Standards of Business Conduct Still Apply
Employees working from home may not realize that during working hours, they are—for all intents and purposes—at work. During a virtual meeting, employee behavior is subject to the same standard of conduct as in the corporate conference room or at the workplace. Employers need to proactively address this misconception before a virtual meeting mishap leads to a complaint that could create a legal issue for the company.
Could this really be a problem? Yes. There are already reports of coworkers harassing other coworkers by appearing in overtly sexual attire, poses, or even engaging in explicit sexual behavior on camera during a virtual meeting. Any behavior that is deemed illegal at a worksite is still illegal when conducted in a virtual business meeting.
Establish Guidelines that Reflect Your Company Culture
Establishing a policy is not as challenging or complex as it seems. What were the standards of employee conduct before the pandemic? Review your dress code, meeting conduct rules, and any other standards you had established for conducting person-to-person business. If this standard is not well-defined, you must start there. Once you have defined a general code of conduct, identify what specific information you need to communicate to your staff concerning a remote meeting behavior policy. A simple rule would be—if an employee were meeting a customer at the counter, in a conference room, or a different type of in-person business meeting, what would be the dress code and standard employee conduct required from your staff?
Virtual Meeting Behavior Standards Apply to All
Employers must apply these same standards to meetings held between employees, not just between staff and customers! Remind managers and supervisors that they must set an example by their conduct as well. An entire team or department’s morale can be affected when one employee disrespects others with their unprofessional behavior.
Virtual Meeting No-No‘s
Most of these are pretty funny and obvious—but some “bare” repeating!
- Do not smoke, vape, or use an e-cigarette during a meeting. Vaping is noisy, and computer mics pick up this sound easily.
- No alcoholic beverages or eating during meetings. How unprofessional is it to watch someone up close eating or hear them chewing? Some beverage drinking may be allowed, but ask all participants to mute their microphones. No one wants to hear slurping noises during their meeting!
- No wearing pajamas, tank tops, or revealing clothing—a policy no different from the workplace.
- Do not wear shirts with controversial or provocative words or graphics—again, a policy no different from the workplace.
- Always wear proper pants—one never knows when they may be required to stand up… accidentally dropping a laptop can expose an employee’s lack of bottom-ware attire!
- Never conduct a video call from the bathroom—enough said!
- No multi-tasking, unless absolutely necessary. Do not walk around, pet the dog, or do chores while “in the meeting”—aka the conference room. It’s distracting, and employees wouldn’t think of doing it at a “real” business meeting.
- These points should apply to ALL meetings—for both internal staff and customers!
Formal vs. Informal Meetings: If your company works “casual” all the time—then the amount of flexibility for meeting conduct will be dependent upon your company’s culture. For internal staff meetings, your company may not have a problem with barking dogs, cats on computers, or children interrupting a work meeting. Many businesses have a family-first company culture that understands and embraces the pressures their employees face when working from home. Remaining sensitive and flexible will be vital in helping your staff cope with these situations. For meetings with clients, vendors, or the public, you may want to establish a more formal conduct policy using some of the points from the list above.
Lastly, if you wouldn’t do it in the office, don’t do it in a virtual meeting.
Whether you run a relaxed ship or a “snap-to” work environment, you can still establish guidelines for employee conduct during virtual meetings. It’s simple—just ask yourself, would the employee‘s behavior during a virtual meeting be acceptable if it occurred at an in-person meeting at work? The answer will give your company a new “best practice” for conducting productive virtual meetings!
If you need help in creating a Virtual Meeting Policy or guideline—or to update your company handbook to include this new HR policy, give us a call at (800) 342-4742. We‘re here to help!