Why being on Zoom is just like being in the room

Every year at around this time, we HR professionals generally issue warnings about the perils of the works Christmas party.

In a nutshell these boil down to a simple piece of advice: Just because you’re not at work, doesn’t mean work rules don’t apply.

This year, the office festive bash has largely been confined to the scrapheap. But there’s another area where that piece of advice is growing ever more important – the Zoom, Microsoft Teams or virtual meeting.

It’s easy to think that because we are sat at home, this isn’t like a normal works meeting.

It’s easy to forget that the all-seeing camera eye is watching us all the time.

And it’s easy to slip into patterns of behaviour which we simply wouldn’t accept face-to-face in the office.

That’s why it’s growing more and more important for companies to make sure staff know exactly what their policies around these work meetings are.

In the past few weeks, we have heard of people using the toilet on camera during a virtual meeting, others being caught discussing a colleague’s home when they thought they had muted their audio, and even one case of a man exposing himself.

These may be extreme examples, but just as you should have guidelines about what is and isn’t acceptable at the Christmas Party, it’s becoming necessary to introduce some ground rules for employees for virtual meetings.

Working from home is still working, so if you have a code of conduct for staff make sure they know this still applies while they are temporarily based at home. If you don’t – now is certainly the time to put one in place.

It’s also a good time to think about issuing some guidelines specifically addressing etiquette in Zoom, Teams or other virtual meetings. A short summary of do’s and don’ts, underlining that this remains a workplace meeting, should suffice.

This then gives you added protection if an employee consistently flouts the policy. You can point to the fact that you have issued guidance, have updated your policies and reminded staff of their responsibilities. Should disciplinary action be needed, these will be powerful tools in your favour.

The subject of disciplinary action is, as always, a difficult one.

But if an employee persistently breaches the guidelines you have laid down – and the contract they have agreed to – it will be necessary to take some form of action to resolve the situation.

The ultimate sanction for breach of contract is, of course, dismissal. But just as you would in a normal office setting, you must follow your own disciplinary policies to the letter during any grievance process. Just because staff have been caught on camera, for example, does not give you an excuse to take short cuts.

We know the last few months have been hard for all companies and that keeping up with the changes the pandemic has brought has been difficult. That’s why we offer a free HR consultation to help take some of the pressure of you and make sure you are always up to speed with employment practices. Click the link to get in touch today.

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