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Five respect at work rules for the remote workplace

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I find it amazing what we, as human beings, have had to do in the last week to adapt to the realities of living with COVID-19. I am so impressed, for example, by how some small businesses have been able to quickly change how they deliver their goods and services so that they can survive and how customers have embraced and supported this. I am equally impressed that office employees have rolled up their sleeves and found new ways to communicate with one another to “get the job done” and that offices with hundreds of workers are able to operate remotely.

As employers fight to adapt, they will also have to turn their attention to their continuing obligation to provide employees with a workplace environment that is free from harassment. In this blog, we have provided five ideas about how respect in the workplace applies when employees are not physically together.

1. Dress code: As a reminder, people can still see you when using video conferencing, even if you are at home. Although the dress code may be more relaxed than if physically at work, there is still a minimum threshold that needs to be met. Wearing a shirt and pants is an excellent place to start.

2. Tone of voice: Similarly, and shockingly, people can hear you when you’re talking to them on the phone.  It’s still not acceptable to yell at colleagues, or to berate, belittle or insult them. Also, while some of us are getting used to new technologies involving multi-parties, keep in mind that our use of the mute and unmute functions may not yet be fully developed. Be mindful of not saying anything on “unmute” or in a sidebar text, that would contravene the rules, or, simply, that you would not want any of your other colleagues to see or hear.

3. Casual means of communication:  Some workplaces, like ours, may have implemented new means of communication while everyone works from home. Some of these may be more casual, such as instant messaging. However, the normal rules regarding respectful workplace communications apply to whatever platform the employer has implemented. To be clear, this means no vulgar language, discriminatory jokes, crass videos or pornographic images, etc. And especially, no asking, “What are you wearing?” type questions.

4. Addressing performance issues:  Managers. We know that many of you are having team meetings via telephone or video conferencing and we realize that some of these meetings may be stressful. However, if a team member is not meeting your expectations, be sure to speak to them privately; a group call is not the way to do it. You may also wish to remember that employees may be particularly sensitive to criticism at the moment and consequently, that a “toned-down” approach may be more effective.

5. Work environment: This one is a more difficult one. What employees have in their homes is generally not any of the employer’s business. That is, until video conferencing comes into play. While on a video conference, there should not be anything within sight that could reasonably offend other employees. As a tip, some platforms allow for the “blurring” of one’s background, something we wrote about in our recent blog entitled “Workplace Investigators Working Remotely: Some Humbling Lessons We Learned This Week.” It may be wise for everyone to make use of this function to avoid embarrassing moments (e.g. family members who forget that they too, are not invisible) or offending someone else.


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We recognize that people are at home and trying to find ways to stay connected and up to date on current issues. We will be making our next three webinars COMPLIMENTARY. We want you to have the tools you need to maintain a safe, healthy, and effective workplace environment.