As offices closed and workers headed home to shelter in place, teleworking became the norm for most office employees, with nearly half working virtually at the height of the pandemic.
And in many cases, these at-home workers found that they liked it; in fact, 35% say they want to continue working remotely, even when restrictions are lifted. At the same time, many companies are encouraging employees to stay home for their safety.
But that means that almost overnight, millions of people have had to adapt to a new and uncharted work environment, one that will not end as soon as we might initially have expected. If you’re wondering how to navigate teleworking, here are ten business etiquette tips specifically designed for working remotely.
1. Allow for Non-Traditional Work Schedules
The traditional 9-to-5 is no more; in today's virtual environment, people flex their work hours to accommodate other needs. That's especially true for the many working parents who are also caregivers. In fact, a May Gallup poll found that nearly 45% of parents said it was a "major challenge" to juggle their job and their kids’ schoolwork. And with reduced childcare options for summer and questions surrounding back-to-school, this situation is likely to persist.
To accommodate these asynchronous schedules, both employers and fellow employees can help by offering generous deadlines and plenty of advance notice for required meetings, so that team members can plan accordingly.
2. Share Your Own Schedule
Likewise, it's important to be as transparent as you can about the hours you are working. That way, your coworkers know what to expect, especially if they are waiting on an answer or you are collaborating on a project. If your computer system offers a shared calendar, block your time to the best of your knowledge so everyone can see your availability at a glance. If you try to adhere to a limited schedule for checking emails in order to stay focused, use an auto-responder message that alerts senders of any delays. And if you are in the middle of a crucial project, offer your teammates another way to reach you, such as via text, in case they run into a roadblock that you could quickly resolve.
3. Be Conscious of Time Zones
Many of your colleagues may be truly “remote,” whether they are traveling or have moved back home with family members. That means it's necessary to stay mindful of their local time when making calls. And if you have regularly scheduled meetings, make sure they aren’t always at the crack of dawn or right at dinner for a far-flung team member. Take a poll to try to find convenient times, or rotate the meeting so that everyone feels the pain at least a little equally.
4. Separate Work Time and Personal Time
One of the drawbacks of working from home is that you’re always at work. But that doesn’t mean everyone should be expected to respond immediately to requests at all hours of the day.
If it’s convenient for you to work later at night and you send after-hours messages, good email etiquette means you should state that you don’t expect an immediate response. And, if your group uses messaging channels like Slack, set expectations for when people should be present and responding to avoid the stress of always being logged on.
5. Improve Video Calls
Most of us understand the basics by now and have gotten better at positioning our cameras and eliminating background clutter. It’s also a good idea to pay active attention to the mute button before every call; use it to silence background noise, but don’t forget to unmute when you’re talking. It’s also smart to cultivate a professional appearance on camera—while you don’t have to show up “interview-ready,” make sure that the part of you that’s visible is attired the same way you would be in your office.
6. Use the Appropriate Communication Channel
When you’re working remotely, it’s easy to just fire off an email for any situation, but that isn’t always the right choice.
For example, some issues are more easily cleared up with a phone call. And if you are on a group call, be mindful of your audience and don’t address individual situations; instead, schedule a private time to give constructive feedback. Finally, always use good email etiquette—remember that any message could inadvertently be forwarded, so make sure it’s something you’re proud of.
7. Actively Participate in Meetings
You wouldn’t check your email or fold socks if you were sitting around a conference room table, so avoid the temptation to multitask if you are on a call. Even if your video is turned off, it is usually far more obvious than you think to the other participants if you aren’t fully present. Also, take time before a call to read any supporting material and come prepared to discuss action items. And of course, arrive on time…or even a few minutes early.
We never knew how much we'd miss the good old days of stopping someone in the hall or pausing by their desk to ask a question. Without those brief, in-person chats, it can be easy to miss details, so don’t underestimate the power of frequent check-ins with your colleagues, especially if you are collaborating on a shared project. Decide how much communication is appropriate, but aim to create a daily or weekly activity plan and then keep all stakeholders apprised of your progress toward mutual goals.
9. Don’t Comment on Someone Else’s Personal Space
Working remotely and on video calls can bring the uncomfortable reality that you are essentially visiting someone’s home. Remember that not everyone’s family and economic situations are the same, and your coworker might feel awkward about their surroundings, especially if they are in a cramped corner, and everyone else on the team is calling in from a spacious home office. Observe common business etiquette and don’t remark on their surroundings—even if you believe you are giving them a compliment. In the same vein, be mindful of what your own background is broadcasting to your colleagues; for example, think twice before sitting poolside.
10. Ask for Help When You Need It
These days, many people are grappling with a wide range of emotions—from feeling overwhelmed with work and family responsibilities to isolation. Whether you need a team member to lend a hand to reach an important deadline or you crave some emotional support, don’t hesitate to reach out to coworkers. You can’t assume that others know how you are feeling, even if it seems obvious that you are overloaded. And, of course, remember it’s a two-way street; return the favor by checking in with others to see how they are doing and if you can offer help—or even just an encouraging word.
For most of us, teleworking has revealed a multitude of new situations for us to navigate. A little business etiquette can go a long way to making the situation more manageable for everyone.