Ask an Advisor: Watch Your Behavior, You’re on Camera!

Video conferencing became a necessary staff meeting tool for many of us due to the pandemic. With the increased use of online video software for staff meetings, I’ve received increased questions about what can and cannot be addressed with employees during virtual online meetings. 

Our members are experiencing sometimes-unpleasant views of their co-workers’ homes: children on employees’ laps, family members moving around in plain view, messy desks, breastfeeding during meetings and what about those posters on the wall?

Yes, you can address and control these employees’ behaviors during video calls. Employees seem to have the perception that being a remote worker translates into round-the-clock childcare, cooking daily meals and running errands, to name a few issues while on the clock, and of course these behaviors are sometimes reflected online during video conferencing.

Employers should create guidelines and policies that dictate what can and cannot be done while working remotely. Here are some guidelines that can be used to curb some of these employees’ inappropriate behaviors:

  • Invest in equipment provided to employees such as premium quality microphones, headsets, webcams, and cable services. Poor quality of these tools and services can lead to distractions during meetings as well as connection issues.
  • Timely attendance to meetings can still be required. Changing a work location to an employee’s home office does not eliminate or change a company’s meeting requirements.
  • When working remotely, employees should still maintain an appropriate appearance when interacting with co-workers and other online meeting participants as if they were in the workplace. Because the upper body is usually spotlighted during video meetings, ensure that employees adhere to the company’s requirements for attire and other aspects of appearance. This does not eliminate the need for appropriate clothing on the bottom half of an employee’s body, either, because that could be exposed if the camera shifts or if they step away. Dress codes should still be maintained, not just for the view on camera.
  • Working from home doesn’t eliminate the need for childcare. If an employee had a need for child care prior to working remotely, then it is assumed that the need still exists while working from home. Employees are still at work with the same expectations that existed in the workplace. The workplace needs to be free from distractions to keep employees focused on their work and job duties.
  • Children should not be on the laps of parents or have a presence in the background during meetings. For lactating parents, scheduled breaks can be used for expressing milk and breastfeeding. Interacting with children and family members may be distracting to an employee and their co-workers during meetings.
  • Require employees to check their workspaces and surroundings before going live on camera. They should ensure that workspaces are clean and free of any food or meals in the camera’s view.
  • Train employees on how to use a blurred background or select an appropriate virtual background approved by an employer. This will eliminate posters, murals, pictures, and similar displays that certainly have emotional and sentimental meaning to employees but may not be appropriate to share with other participants during a video conference meeting.
  • Audio should always be on mute until a participant is ready to speak. Using the mute button can eliminate background noises. If a meeting participant wishes to say something, they should use the “hand raise” icon to notify the presenter. And when speaking, try not to speak over others.
  • Desks and spaces used for meetings should be in a secluded or private part of the home where they are free from people traffic, pets, and other distractions. The use of a home office is ideal. When using a home office, the door should be closed to limit views of other parts of an employee’s home, to reduce noise, and to reduce other household members from distracting or disrupting the employee and online participants during a meeting.
  • Prohibit texting, phone calls and instant messaging during online meetings because they tend to create distractions not only for the employee but also for their co-workers and other online participants. Employees should refrain from multitasking during meetings. Not focusing on a speaker can give the impression that they are lacking importance, that you are uninterested in their message or that your presence is not completely invested.
  • Eating and drinking during meetings may need to be limited based on company practice. If the online meeting includes a working lunch, communicate with employees if there is a need to briefly turn off their cameras and use the mute feature when eating.
  • Smoking is never appropriate during meetings, even if an employee is outdoors or permits indoor smoking at home. While a person’s rules for their home are specific to their comfort levels, during a video meeting, that home now becomes a workspace, subject to an employer’s policies and practices. So, if smoking is not permitted in the office, then it can be prohibited in the home office, during paid worktime and while on camera.

Always remember that just because an employee is working offsite does not mean they are exempt from your internal written policies and procedures. They still need to adhere to work rules.

If you want to know more about video conferencing etiquette or have other HR questions, we’d love to help! Give us a call or send an e-mail. We’re also available by chat. It’s one of the most valued benefits of SHRM membership!

SHRM’s Ask an Advisor service is a member benefit through which SHRM’s HR Knowledge Advisors share guidance, real-life personal and professional experiences, and resources to assist members with their HR-related inquiries.

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