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Tech Talks

Working-from-home: ethics and etiquette

Working-from-home usually requires a laptop, a cell phone, a webcam or preferably noise-cancelling headphones. But its success depends as much on the etiquette of using them as on the gadgets themselves.

Take teleconferencing, for example. That you can turn off the camera is all the more reason you should turn it on and show your face. Pundits have repeatedly stressed the importance of the conferees seeing each other’s face, for building team spirit and to understand each other fully. Joining a meeting from home, however, particularly at an obscenely early hour, may catch you off-guarded. Freshen up and tidy up, even if you don’t need to dress up.

Next, decide what you want your co-conferees to see in the background. It doesn’t, of course, take a wizard to pick a virtual background, but the choice of such wallpaper should be appropriate. Limited as this writer’s experience is, some virtual backgrounds look artificial or even eerie. Showing yourself in your home environment has its advantages. You may not, for instance, be held to the highest professional standards when a toddler or a pet inadvertently intrudes. But please adjust the angle of your computer or camera. An author writing about remote working in a recent issue of The Economist quips: ‘Never have so many ceilings been broadcast to so many for so long.’

What is generally allowed in a physical meeting is also allowed in a teleconference, but little beyond. Taking a sip of water or even pouring oneself a cup of coffee is perfectly decorous, particularly when the meeting drags on and on. Eating instant noodle or peeling an orange for its Vitamin C? Probably not.

Remember, too, that what can be televised can be recorded. Mince your words and articulate your thoughts. Every ahem, expletive, aside and all kinds of mannerism will be captured, recorded and re-viewable. Records of the proceedings will be perfect, and minutes-writing will soon become a lost art.

COVID-19 is disrupting and dismantling many lives, economies and routines. A revolution in how the majority of the world’s workforce, be they chefs or clerks, will be plying their trade post-COVID-19 is taking place. Those who master the technology and the etiquette will survive and thrive; those who don’t will lose out and drop out.


Illustration by Nathan T. Wright

Working-from-home remote working ethics etiquette novel coronavirus