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Work From Home Etiquette Means We Need To Value Personal Time, Starting Now!

Posted: May 25, 2020

Lack of sound work from home etiquette is turning many work from home arrangements into a nightmare! Is this the case with you?

Scenario 1

Neerja had just sat down to have her dinner when she could see the light on her phone flicker; there was an incoming call and even before looking at the screen, she knew who it was. This had become the norm for the last two months.

What Neerja had imagined would be a big relief had turned into a stressful nightmare for her. When the company she worked for announced work from home for its employees in the middle of March, owing to the Corona outbreak, Neerja had been elated at not having to endure the long hours of travel to work; she assumed that it would save her precious time, which could be used more productively. The thought of working from the comfort of her home was relaxing as well. But little did she know that she was soon going to detest this.

While Neerja’s workday in the office started in the morning around 9.30 A.M, she would wind up for the day by 7 or 7.30 P.M at the max. But in the last two months, it seemed like the working hours did not seem to end at all. She would keep receiving messages and instructions from her boss throughout the day and each time the work had to be done ASAP. Even if she tried telling him that she was in the midst of her meals or attending to some personal work or that it was late, the reply would be the same, “Pause whatever you are doing and get this done. Anyways you are working from home only, you can get back to whatever you are doing at any time.”

This was only leading to Neerja’s feeling more irritable and being perpetually stressed throughout the day.

Scenario 2

Vani was a freelance content creator who had been creating content for several prominent business houses for nearly half a decade now. Work from home was not a new concept to Vani as she had been doing it for years but for several of her clients, it seemed like the concept was very new and they had not even bothered to understand it.

The clients assumed that since work was now being done from home anyways, Vani should be available at any time and she was expected to deliver her work at the beck and call of the client. She had always been particular about limiting her communication with her clients to her working hours and letting them know at the start itself about her work timings and the number of days in the week that she worked.

This had seemed to work fairly well all these years but since the last two months, a lot of her clients had begun telling her, “You are anyways working from home, how is it going to inconvenience you to work through the weekend or schedule a meeting after 8.00 P.M?” Vani was baffled and irritated at being taken for granted and the unprofessional manner in which she was being treated.

Scenario 3

Arjun was at his wits’ end now! When his employer had announced work from home two months ago, he had been elated at the thought of all the additional time he would get to spend with his family. But he couldn’t have been more wrong – here he was on a Sunday morning logged into a team meeting.

As if this were not enough, his boss was there on the screen guffawing, “Stop looking so morose guys! By scheduling this meeting I have saved you from spending your Sunday morning getting nagged by your wives.” Arjun was annoyed and aghast and wondered which part of the statement uttered by his boss was funny that the guy was guffawing so much.

Do all these above scenarios sound familiar to you? Then, welcome to the…

Souls Troubled by Work From Home Club

I am sure most of you who identify with these scenarios will agree that until a few months back, we were eager for such an opportunity. Wouldn’t you have been ready to go any lengths to avoid facing the morning rush to leave on time, the crazy commute, the need to make small talk with the innumerable number of people you meet on the way and the rushing back in the evening, negotiating even crazier traffic on the way back?

But now, with almost two months of work from home owing to the Government imposed lockdown, not many of us consider this a happy opportunity any longer. Though a lot of us may be missing our group back at work and those chit chat sessions, honestly, that is only a part of the reason. The main reason for our fatigue is that work from home has made an already existing problem faced by the Indian workforce even more intense – that of lack of respect for personal space or personal time.

Desk Time = Value Employee

“The longer hours you spend at work, the more you are rewarded” – this has been the motto of most workplaces in India. Sadly, in our country, most employers value, cherish and reward employees based on the number of hours they spend at work, rather than how effectively they are spending the time. Much as we might hate to accept it, a person leaving work on time is abhorred and chastised by the employer. This is a belief and practice which most detest but will never question and maybe when they are in a position of power, practice it with vindictive rage.

Mentioning the word personal life or personal time is considered the greatest sin at most Indian workplaces and if you are a woman, it’s a far greater sin. This hugely popular monologue explains it in the best way possible. The result of this unwarranted entitlement claimed by a vast majority of employers in the country is that corporate jobs have been reduced to glorified slavery.

The one small respite that was available before the lockdown, when Work from Home entered our lives was, there was an end to your office day. Maybe two hours or three hours later than your designated time, you logged out of the office and that could at least mean some respite from work till the next morning. But with the onset of work from home, you are expected to be available at any time, irrespective of it being your usual working hours or not.

A popular argument doing the rounds is that if the economy has to bounce back, the workforce in the country must be willing to work for long hours, the usual eight hours won’t do. What the proponents of this theory don’t understand is that its not the hours of work that is going to boost productivity and thereby the economy but the effective utilisation of the time at work.

With this new expectation of expecting a person to be available to you at any time during the day, just because you pay them for the work delivered, is irrational and unprofessional to say the least. Statements like, “You are working from home anyway, how does the time or day of the week matter” reflect poorly on the person making such a demand, and the person delivering the work would have lost the respect they had for the speaker, the moment they uttered such inanity. Don’t we all know the result of professional relationships that lack basic respect?

Follow this work from home etiquette for a fairer workplace

Notwithstanding the issues we all have with this practice, the truth is that work from home is fast becoming the new normal and it does have a great number of advantages if only we could follow this basic etiquette:

  1. Draw a schedule and stick to it, keep your work timings fixed like you would do if you were in office.
  2. Respect the timings and schedules of your co-workers and subordinates. Do not expect them to be available at all times during the day. Work From home has only changed the place of work and not the time of work.
  3. If there are days which are designated as holidays on the company calendar, then treat them as one and do not come down on your subordinates or team members for making personal plans on such days. Even in a lockdown people have personal work and commitments and that is the reason there are off days in a calendar.
  4. If you are hiring a professional for any services, respect and comply with their working schedule and timings. Just because people are working from home, do not expect them to be available at any time you prefer or deliver at your convenience. If you need the work delivered to you on priority, ensure you communicate the same at the outset and not force the professional at a later stage using their working from home as an excuse for their availability.
  5. Ensure when you are attending calls, there is minimal disturbance in the background and if it’s a video call, you are attired professionally.
  6. While quiet surroundings are essential for a meeting, do not create an issue over the fact that the other person’s family can be heard in the background or you can hear or see the movement of other people in the background during a call. In a densely populated country like ours, a lot of people live in a constrained space with 4-5 other family members, some of whom could be small children. So, if they do end up walking into the screen or are heard in the background, it is not a sin.

Following this basic work from home etiquette could go a long way in making this phenomenon of work from home a pleasant and productive experience for people at both ends of the spectrum. If respecting the personal spaces of co-workers, subordinates, and employees is learned as a concept now now, it could prove to be effective when people get back to working from offices. This would help in making that often dreamt of new dawn a reality where asking for personal time off is not considered a sin and leaving the office on time is not treated akin to hara-kiri.

But till better sense prevails, if you want to maintain your sanity and prevent yourself from falling into the trap of ‘Work From Home All Day Long’, follow in Neerja’s footsteps (you will remember her from the first scenario). She cut the incoming call and sent out a message to her boss, “Sir, it’s 10.30 P.M and I have worked for nearly 14 hours today, so I have called it a day. I will reach out to you tomorrow morning. Have a good night.”

She sent the message and kept her phone aside and started eating her dinner in peace. That’s the cue we all need to follow to keep our peace of mind intact. Take a stand for yourself, and stick to it.

Image via Pexels

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