Many freelancers (like me) and telecommuters have long reveled in the pleasures of working from home (in all-day sweats no less). But now that the novel coronavirus has many more of us clocking our 9-to-5s from a home office or our dining table/work desk, it's pretty clear that we could all do with a crash course on a few WFH rules.
By "rules," we're talking about etiquette—silent, subtle laws that are rarely stated, but are nonetheless crucial to doing a good job (and keeping that job, we might add).
What's more, a lot of this WFH etiquette is fairly new, due to the latest technical advances for remote work. For instance, while video calls are one of the key ways to stay connected, how you behave on them can have a huge impact on how you come across to co-workers—and your boss, too.
So whether you're a WFH veteran or an office worker adjusting to the new normal, here's a rundown on six WFH habits that could be rubbing your co-workers the wrong way—plus some fixes that'll keep you in good standing no matter where you work.
1. Turning off your camera during videoconferences
During videoconferences, we understand how it can feel a bit invasive to have your office mates take a gander at you, in nonwork attire, in your home. Still, if you're wondering whether you can keep your PJs on and shut off the camera, the answer is no.
"We only take in 7% of what is communicated to us via words alone," says Peter Arvai, founder and CEO of presentation software firm Prezi. "The rest is tone, voice, and body language."
Showing your face will help convey that you're paying attention, avoid miscommunications, and keep goodwill flowing.
At the very least, check in with your employer to see his or her preference for video meetings.
"All our meetings take place on Google Hangouts, but cameras aren't necessary," says Bart Turczynski, editor at ResumeLab. But every supervisor is different, so when in doubt, ask.
Of course, not everyone is comfortable on camera.
"It takes some people time to get used to looking at their face up close on a computer screen," says Jennifer Osterholt, a strategic marketing consultant who helps small businesses. If you're really uncomfortable, ease into video meetings by chatting with friends first.
2. Commenting on people's home offices
On a videoconference you may see a new side to your co-workers—think a Smurf action figure collection on a bookcase. But refrain from commenting on anyone's surroundings.
"A home office should still be treated as an office, which means you should communicate professionally," advises Courtney Keene, a director of operations at MyRoofingPal, an online marketplace that connects people with home improvement contractors. "Plus, people should be understanding that not everyone has the perfect workspace at home."
This is especially true of people who don't work from home regularly.
"So long as employees are remaining professional and on task, managers should definitely avoid personal comments about their workspace," says Keene.
3. Chronic lateness due to 'technical problems'
We know, technical difficulties can trip up even the best of us. But to always be late because you're fumbling to get the sound on or toggle to presentation mode doesn't shine well on you, either.
So if you need extra time, "log on before the official start time of a virtual meeting," says Osterholt. "I think proper etiquette and respect for other's schedules means you plan to be at meetings a few minutes early."
If you're a videoconference newbie, log on even earlier.
"I encourage people with technical questions to log on 15 minutes early," says Osterholt.
4. Eating and other disruptions during calls
Maybe you could snack on a few cashews in a meeting around a large conference table, but on video chats, it's a lot more intimate—listeners can hear your every crunch.
"No one should be eating," says Arvai. "It's a disruption."
One way to keep such disruptions to a minimum is to use your mute button liberally whenever you aren't required to talk, which helps eliminate background noise so that whoever's speaking can be heard clearly.
Another problem with video calls is when numerous people are talking at the same time.
"During a video or phone call with multiple parties, ensure that you avoid talking over one another," advises Christian Giordano, president of Mancini Duffy, an architecture firm based in New York.
To keep this from happening, be cognizant of how much time you're eating up. Speakers should start by saying, “I’m going to make the next two points” to cue others as to when they can chime in.
For professionals with children at home, the occasional kid disruption is bound to happen during a virtual meeting.
"There are occasional disturbances for people with kids, but that's natural, and the whole team understands," says Saurabh Jindalstartup of travel app Talk Travel.
5. Not keeping regular office hours
You may find when you're working from home that you're most productive from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. That's fine—just make sure you’re also available as needed during regular work hours, and that you respond to your boss or colleague’s emails or DMs promptly.
"The whole of my team is now supposed to check in on Slack no later than at 9:30 a.m.," says Turczynski. "This is when employees can state what they’ve accomplished the day before and their plans for the day."
Remember—when working from home, employees can run the risk of seeming like they're slacking off. So, it's best to err on the side of being highly available during work hours to earn everyone's trust.