You are using an unsupported browser. Please switch to a different browser to get the best experience.

Is it time for a new remote-working etiquette?

Fiona Harris

Quill Chairman Fiona Harris explains the six golden rules for running an efficient and effective meeting while working remotely.

April 2020

What a difference three weeks makes, it’s fascinating to see that we have an entirely new working regime, and to see how psychology and remote working behaviours are developing. A number of recent experiences and observations might suggest that we urgently need to inject some different working practices if we are going to stay sane over the next weeks or possibly months. Was it just three weeks ago that we were chatting over the coffee machine or water cooler? (By the way is anyone remembering to drink four litres of water a day?!)

What has struck me most is the number of people desperately trying to fill their days with Zoom or Microsoft team calls, perhaps trying to avoid doing any actual work. Then there are the more senior people who can get away with saying “I can only give you 15/20 minutes as I have got to ‘jump on another call’”. A brilliant strategy for ducking out of the 12-person conference call when several are hell bent on impressing their partner and/or children with just how knowledgeable and important they are. Many drone on for an age, laboriously outlining, often in tedious detail, what we all know already or discussed on the same call last week.

Then there are those people who insist on video calls. Why? Surely it can’t just be to check that you’re not still in your PJs and wearing bunny slippers but are in fact office ready – don’t these people realise that hairdressers have been closed for weeks, give us a break!

Have you noticed the TV interviews where so many ‘experts’ make sure they are talking in front of their bookcases to show you how well-read and intellectual they are?

We have heard of some innovative ideas such as a virtual business lunch (great as no one has to pay and it gets around the financial inducement rules) but which also becomes a ‘kitchen-off’ and a battle over whose wine choice is best! But maintaining relationships is crucial so go for whatever works for you.

Working from home can be more efficient with more more free time at either end of the day when – joy of joys – we’re not commuting so we can get on with other things. We are all struggling through this lockdown in some way, whether because we are in isolation on our own, having the kids at home, or perhaps looking after a sick or elderly relative.

The occasional WFH day is one thing but now we are all doing it are multi-person remote conference calls really the best use of everybody’s time? Of course it’s important to keep in touch with colleagues – we have been doing 30-minute team calls firstly to make sure everyone is OK and to flag any key operational or tech issues. Teams then have separate client update calls to discuss ideas and divi up specific tasks. However, we feel it may be time for a new working-from-home etiquette.

So here are six key ground rules for conference and video calls under this new WFH paradigm for those of us fortunate enough to still be working and not furloughed and confined to quarters. We hope it is useful for our business efficiency and, most importantly, our sanity:

1. Set a clear agenda, what needs to be achieved

2. Designate someone to lead the meeting

3. Put a time limit on meetings and stick to it

4. Keep attendees to a minimum – e-mail others with an update if necessary

5. Give everyone on the call a chance to give their view

6. End with an action plan

However, in these scary and challenging times it is also important to chill out and have an opportunity to connect with colleagues in a virtual social gathering through apps such as Houseparty. Our Friday afternoon virtual drinks trolley gave everyone chance to unwind and chat about the lighter aspects of our new WFH experiences at the end of the week, I can thoroughly recommend it.