Pants Optional is a series focused on advice to company Owners, Managers and Employees on how to be successful in a Work-From-Home business model.
…Clients complained they could hear children in the background of a call. After 2020, that complaint no longer exists.
Some Outhouse, LLC employees have been working from home since 2018, long before a global pandemic made ‘WFH’ a common and recognized acronym. Since then, can you pick which of these Work From Home policies have been updated, made obsolete, or remained the same?
- Childcare must be provided in the same manner you would if you worked in the office.
- Present yourself in a well-framed, well-lit, organized, professional work environment for video calls.
- Dress as you would if you were coming to the office.
When a business model changes, so must policy. The bigger the change, the bigger the adjustments, and no doubt moving to a WFH business model is one of the biggest changes a business can make. If you are an in-office company and you have an employee handbook, read through it and you will quickly identify policies that will need to be added, updated, or eliminated. If you have already moved to a WFH model, you are likely finding the updates you made in the beginning are again requiring updates. Below are only a few of what I have discovered.
1. Childcare Policy
During the summer of 2019 I received a call from a client complaining they could hear children screaming and fighting in the background during a call with one of our managers. The client knew this manager worked from home and was fine with that but “…hearing children in the background was very unprofessional”. I have received similar complaints about dogs barking or cats randomly walking across someone’s desk. I wholeheartedly agreed with the complaints and I promptly called the manager and reminded them of policy #1 and was assured, by the employee, it would not happen again.
Then, well… 2020 right? Schools and daycares were shut down and the entire world changed. You know the story.
Since 2020, you may or may not be amazed how people’s attitudes have changed and relaxed around what would be considered unprofessional disruptions. The complaints I heard in 2019 have all seemed to fall away completely. “Walk a mile in another person’s shoes” as they say. What was once an irritation during a call or virtual meeting has become fodder for empathetic banter, often helping build a stronger rapport between the company and client. In a large Zoom meeting, what might once have caused embarrassment and apologies when a dog comes in and persistently nudges someone’s elbow for attention now elicits an explosion of laughter from the entire audience. Why? Because nearly everybody in that meeting is at home with a dog, cat, child, or adult that did something equally or more embarrassing to them last week.
For our company, the day schools and daycares shut down, the childcare policy temporarily became obsolete. Today, it is mid-2021 so the policy is still unenforced but will one day likely be back when it’s reasonable to do so.
2. Video Calls Policy
Let’s be real. When you are on a video call, we all can’t help but check out what is in the other person’s room or on their walls and JUDGE them for it; and believe me they are doing the same to you! When I am on a video call with anybody; employee, client, vendor or even watching a webinar, I would cringe when I see something that that doesn’t meet the standards I set for myself in a video call. It is different for everybody, but a small list of cringeworthy examples I have personally seen are:
- Meetings in someone’s bedroom.
- People are a dark silhouette because of a bright window behind them.
- Their head is in the lower half of the frame making it look like they are sitting at the kiddie table.
- Empty Amazon boxes piled behind them.
- TV’s on in the background.
- A kegerator! Yes, I’ve seen it and to be honest, I did not cringe; I was impressed!
For many companies, gone are the days of impressing clients or customers with a fancy, professional office. Even if you have an office, today’s technology makes it easy to simply stay at home or anywhere when it comes to meeting nearly anybody. Therefore, what a person sees behind you becomes representative of not only your company, but also you personally.
I was very strict regarding what was seen in the frame of video calls. I was hyper-aware of what was behind myself as well. That has all changed now. Since the addition of virtual backgrounds in the two platforms my company uses, Zoom and MS Teams, it no longer matters what room you are in or what is behind you. Our policy has been adjusted that if you do not have a professional physical background, that you use an appropriate virtual background. It is also important that you are still well lit and properly framed; but having a cat using the litterbox behind you is no longer against policy when using a virtual background.
We also have more leniency with virtual backgrounds allowing employees to express more of their personality if it is tasteful. For meetings with clients, they can use a company branded background or the command deck of the Starship Enterprise if they choose. When it comes to internal meetings, we are even more lenient, bordering NSFW.
Here are my favorite backgrounds for INTERNAL meetings. Email me at email@example.com and I will be happy to share them with you.
3. Dress Code Policy
This is the policy that has not changed. Granted, we never really know what people are wearing below the waist, but up top needs to be presentable. At Outhouse, our dress code is already business-casual, leaning more to the ‘casual’, but at home people can take that to a whole new level. Regardless, every employee is a representative of the company so what they wear matters, and the leadership needs to communicate that.
More importantly, the positive impact of dressing appropriately is becoming more and more apparent. Maintaining the same routine at home that you had going to the office gives you a sense of normalcy, helps keep you focused and productive, improves your self-image, and even helps separate work-life boundaries.
When you used to go to an office, if you showered every morning, continue doing so. If you changed your clothes after coming home from work, continue doing so. Maintaining separation from work and home, when they are one in the same, is critical… but that’s another blog.
The good news is most policies only require minimal updates moving to a WFH model. To add to that, there is an abundance of new online WFH resources that did not exist before 2020. Google search is your friend and many new professional services and apps have been developed specifically for WFH companies. This past year has seen an explosion of WFH advancements, and I predict it is not going to slow down any time soon.
About the Author: Stuart Platt, Managing Partner at Outhouse LLC restructured his 25+ year company to an Office Optional (OffOp) business model in 2018. Stuart’s version of the OffOp model enabled the company of nearly 40 employees to downsize its physical office from 14,000sf to 6,000sf. Based in Phoenix, local employees desiring to work in the office for a few days, weeks or months can reserve any open desk whenever they want. The remaining employees work from home, fulltime across 10 different states and counting.