Love it or hate it, Zoom has come into every workplace and looks like it’s here to stay. But for all the benefits that come with virtual meetings, there are also challenges that need to be urgently addressed.
From late arrivals and questionable work attire to important issues around confidentiality, potential claims, and productivity. We take a look at the serious issues facing every Zoom host, find out why they need to be dealt with, and most importantly, how to do it.
“There have been stories of partners in the background with very little clothing on and I have a meeting with a cat most weeks,” reveals Ruth Abraham, HR Consultant at HeadsTogether. “But can you imagine sitting in a real boardroom with your CEO and a cat walking across the table?”
Our expectations of online are not what they were two years ago. “We were in a world where we were making do and surviving because we’d no other choice when all this came in”, explains Abraham. “But if this is something we’re holding on to because we think there are real benefits, then we need to start taking it seriously and making it work in a professional way, because ‘making do’ just isn’t going to cut it anymore.
“Someone might say ‘oh well it’s only my cat walking across my screen’, but the reality is that in that moment, no-one on the call is taking in any information, because they’re all looking at the cat”.
You need to move away from thinking that it’s sufficient to just send a standard Zoom invitation that includes the time and pin number for the meeting. “You need to be putting two or three lines at the top of the invitation clearly outlining whether it’s a casual meeting or a business professional meeting, and the expectations around that,” reveals Abraham. “Cats and dogs might be acceptable to some in a brainstorming session with colleagues, but if you’re in a board meeting, it’s not ok. If you’re chairing that level of meeting remotely, then you need to make sure everyone understands they must be in an environment where there are no distractions.”
They’re present on screen, but you can tell that some meeting attendees’ minds are elsewhere, simultaneously sending e-mails or typing texts during the meeting.
It’s distracting and disrespectful to others when it’s clear that not everyone is actively listening. “It’s not multi-tasking,” says Abraham. “You’re doing both tasks a disservice, because you can’t effectively do both at the same time.”
Many offices will have had policies in place around using mobile phones at work but, even with hybrid working blurring the lines, Abraham doesn’t believe that a whole new policy is always needed. On the other hand, every workplace should have written guidelines in place, so staff know how to navigate the virtual working environment.
Without the visual clues from being present in the same room, virtual meetings can swiftly descend into people talking over each other or prolonged screen silence.
When everyone’s talking at once, no-one’s being heard. It’s not a productive use of time and there’s a risk some employees could feel side-lined.
Once again, it’s about utilising the meeting invitation. “Include information that makes it clear who will be there to chair that meeting,” advises Abraham. “Have procedures in place from the outset to allow for what happens in the event of people talking over one another, stipulating who will step in and direct who speaks next.”
“If it were a boardroom meeting starting at 9am, everyone would be there on time because no one wants to be the one creeping in doing the apologetic hand wave,” laughs Abraham. “But on Zoom, you think nobody’s going to see you, or that it’s not as big a problem because everyone’s at home.”
“It’s still a business meeting and it’s eating into everyone’s time if people are late,” says Abraham. “It’s also veering into a lack of professionalism, where the respect that you’d normally show in that sort of environment has disappeared.”
Start the meeting 10 minutes early and state on the invitation that the meeting will launch at 8.50 and start promptly at 9am. “Let everyone into the meeting early and have that catch-up that the team might have been missing out on from not being in the office. But then have a strong chair who comes in and says ‘right, it’s nine o’clock, we’re starting’,” says Abraham.
The office had a dress code but you’re not in the office now ...and the onesies have come out.
Someone showing up in a novelty onesie might seem hilarious (the first time) but it’s a slippery slope as Abraham explains: “In the office there was an established etiquette around how we conducted ourselves in a professional environment - now we need to start establishing a new etiquette.” If that’s not addressed, she sees problems arising. “What I can see coming over the horizon are bullying or harassment claims being made because ‘someone is always talking over me on Zoom’, or ‘they’re wearing inappropriate clothing that I find offensive’, or ‘every time I organise a meeting, people don’t show up on time’.”
A onesie can very quickly become a divisive football shirt, a political poster in the background, a lewd coffee mug... “With Zoom we’re seeing into people’s lives more than we ever did, but Zoom is an extension of the workplace which means that all of that legislation around Protection and Promotion of Good Harmonious Workplace Environments and the Fair Employment Treatment Order still stands,” explains Abraham. If there’s something in the background or being worn that causes offence it can be picked up on and raised as a grievance, potentially leading to disciplinary action. “Then you’re going to find yourself, as an employer, on a sticky wicket if the person who is disciplined goes on to claim, ‘no-one told me what the etiquette was around Zoom’,” reveals Abraham.
Make sure employees understand that the moment they log into Zoom, their home becomes an extension of the office. Be explicit in outlining what is expected and don’t assume that everyone understands the protocols of the virtual workplace.
Just because you can jump onto a Zoom meeting anywhere doesn’t mean you should. Whether it’s in your home office where a child or spouse might walk in, or a café where anyone could be listening, be aware that certain information is intended to be confidential.
“People are joining virtual meetings in cafés, but they need to think about what they’re going to discuss and the impact that can potentially have, not just on personal confidentiality, but even in terms of IP and business critical information – it’s about using your location appropriately,” explains Abraham.
But it’s not just cafés, she says: “If you’re talking about a confidential medical issue, for example, and your 13-year-old child walks in, the person on the other end of that Zoom call is feeling their information has been shared; it comprises confidentiality and can damage their trust.”
When scheduling meetings think about the nature of the call and ensure you’re going to be in a space suitable for it, where that meeting will not be compromised by any potential confidentiality issues.
Virtual meetings offer incredible scope to engage. There are greater options than before for employees to interact (even enabling those disinclined to talk on screen the option of the chat function). They give greater flexibility and accessibility, and present huge potential benefits for the workplace.
“It’s just about establishing the boundaries around those meetings, and having guidelines in place so everyone knows where they stand,” explains Abraham. “Being able to reach out and connect is phenomenal but meetings, and work time in general, need to be productive and professional. And that can easily be achieved with clear guidelines and a common-sense etiquette in place.
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