Several years ago, I wrote, “10 Rules to Open Office Etiquette Brought to You by Miss Open Office Manners.” Boy, have times changed since then, particularly in light of COVID. Employers now realize that it is just as efficient (and in many cases, more so) for employees to telework at least part of the time. Because of this, many workplaces became hybrid, and some ditched the office altogether in favor of full-time telework. So, without further ado, I present to you, dear reader, my 10 Rules to Remote Work Etiquette:
- Remain courteous and professional. This is so important. You need to maintain the same level of professionalism you had while working in an office. People should not be able to tell if you are working remotely versus in the office. Take phone calls as they come in, if possible. Respond to emails within a couple of hours max during business hours. When someone sends you an email that you need time to process, let them know you received the email and when you will provide a full response. If you are using instant messaging, write in complete, grammatically correct sentences. You get the point!
- Treat video meetings as you would an in-person meeting...in fuzzy slippers. Unless there is an emergency, you should give the meeting your full attention. This means no answering phone calls, texting, or checking emails. If you aren’t giving a meeting your full attention, there is a strong possibility you are missing critical details. Even worse, it makes it look like you don’t value what others in the meeting have to say. This is unprofessional, and though it’s become all too commonplace, it’s just plain rude. If your office utilizes an instant messaging app, you can set your status to “In a Meeting” so that your coworkers understand that they will not receive an immediate response. Now, let’s talk wardrobe. You certainly don’t have to wear a suit for every Zoom, but a good rule of thumb is to follow the dress code of the person or persons you are videoconferencing with. Even if casual clothes are acceptable in most cases, you would not want to show up too casually if others tend to dress a bit more formally. If you’re meeting with a new client or business contact, err on the side of “business casual” clothing. Also, watch your background. If it is not work-appropriate, you may want to use one of the background features to blur it or switch it completely. The Eiffel Tower is always better than your messy living room! Also, unless it is a lunch meeting, do not eat on camera. No one wants to be a witness to you eating a double-decker club sandwich!
- The mute button is your friend. You should always be muted during a video call unless you are speaking. You would be surprised how loud some of the noises in the background can come through on a video call. From face scratching to gulping your water, no one wants to hear it!
- Camera on or camera off? Go with the flow. A good rule of thumb to follow when deciding whether to turn your camera on during a video conference is to be prepared to turn your camera on (ditch the hair curlers!) but follow the lead of whoever is leading the meeting. You don’t want to make any clients or your superiors uncomfortable. For instance, when I am on video calls with one of our clients, I never have my camera on. The culture of that organization is to conduct meetings with cameras off. I’ll never forget the first time my coworkers and I met with this client, not knowing the “cameras off” culture. We showed up with our cameras on, dressed in “smart casual” attire. The client then felt obligated to turn her camera on - she was wearing a tank top and looked like she had just finished working out! Since that day, we have always kept our cameras off when meeting with anyone in their organization. Turning our cameras on would be disrespectful of their organizational culture.
- Be extra mindful when sharing your screen. As soon as your screen sharing is complete, always remember to click the “stop sharing" button. You would be surprised to know the things I have seen over the years, including someone messaging their supervisor about the meeting we were in (and being reprimanded for pulling the supervisor in at the last minute). Not things he wanted to share with the group, I am sure.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Communication is key when you are working remotely. Use instant messages, email, phone calls, and/or virtual meetings as often as necessary. Always stay in contact with your manager and teammates and use their preferred means of communication when possible. Give your team regular updates on your assigned tasks.
- Let your coworkers know when you are “out of the office.” Always be transparent. Share your calendar with your team and notify your supervisors, coworkers, and customers where and when you will be working. It is crucial to let people know how to reach you and when you are available for meetings and calls.
- Set boundaries. Overworking at home is what I struggled with most when I started teleworking years ago. Heck, I still struggle with it from time to time! Here are a few tricks that have helped me over the years:
- Decide on a start time. Don’t jump right out of bed and onto the computer. Give yourself a buffer. Make some coffee, walk the dog, work out. Then start at the time you have designated (or that your job requires) and stop at your firm stopping point (see next point).
- Set a firm stopping time. It can be easy to lose track of time when working from home. Before you know it, you have worked far longer than you intended. That can wreak havoc on your life outside of work. To prevent this, choose a stop time and set an alarm. Once that alarm rings, that’s it. You are done for the day. Not even one more tiny email!
- Manage time effectively. Working from a home office requires strong time management skills to deal with distractions and to work without the structure of an office environment. Do whatever it takes to set up systems and rituals that help you manage your time effectively. Set daily goals, possibly using a productivity app, and work hard each day to complete your tasks efficiently. After a full day’s work, know that you have given it your best effort - then make your personal life top priority for the rest of the day.
- Turn off notifications after a certain time. This was a big help for me. My company, like many others, uses an instant messaging app. The problem was, I found myself responding to messages after hours, which was interfering with my family time. When I discussed this with my boss, he suggested that I turn off the notifications after work hours. This has helped immensely. Now if I want to see what’s going on, I can look – but I am not getting pinged all day and night.
- Close your office door. When you are done for the day, close your office door. Out of sight out of mind, as they say.
- Respect the boundaries of your fellow teleworkers. Now that I addressed setting boundaries for yourself, remember that it goes both ways. Unless there is an emergency, avoid calling and messaging your coworkers before and after hours. I often work very early in the morning and a good rule that I follow is to schedule messages to be delivered at the start of everyone else’s workday. Email is slightly different, but it is still best to send during regular business hours, particularly if you are in a supervisory position. The person receiving it may feel more of a sense of urgency to respond if it is coming from a supervisor.
- Maintain a sense of humor. Remember not every day of remote work will go 100% perfectly. Things happen. If they didn’t, there would not be all of those funny Zoom viral videos! Do your best to maintain a sense of humor about mishaps and always remain flexible.
I hope you have found this week’s tips both helpful and enjoyable. Here’s wishing everyone a productive and healthy work environment. Be safe and well, everyone!