Working-from-home (WFH) was always considered as a flexibility offered by more progressive organisations. Though the number of people working from home or working remote has been on the rise for years, the pandemic may have pressed the fast-forward button on this trend. It is no longer flexibility, but more of a necessity.
The availability of low-cost data and free video conferencing options ushered by the cut-throat competition in the telecom and video-conferencing space has eased this transition for the new-bee remote workers.
With conferencing tools facilitating the primary mode of communication between co-workers, most of the meetings and 1-on-1s happen over video conferences. The complaints of sexual harassment over video conferencing are also seeing an increasing trend. Situations such as forcing an employee for a video call, at odd hours, explicit pictures/posters on the t-shirts or virtual backgrounds and insensitive comments about work-life balance in a group call have all resulted in subtle discomfort or even sexual harassment for fellow female employees. As the remote work is here to stay, we must understand the issue better and find ways to provide a conducive remote work environment for our colleagues.
Legal Definition Of Workplace
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 states that the workplace is “any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment”. Work from home or remote work happens during the course of employment. So even home is technically considered as workplace when the employee is working.
So the POSH Law will be applicable for sexual harassment and the employee may register a complaint with the organisation’s internal committee for further inquiry. If the organisation does not have an Internal Committee (IC), the women employee may register the complaint on the Shebox web portal provided by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, government of India. Any complaint to the IC or Shebox will be investigated and punishment will be based on the Service Rules of the organisation. If there is a misconception that “home is not part of the workplace, so office-rules won’t apply”, then it must be corrected with this awareness.
Privacy Is A Fundamental Right
While home can be considered a workplace as defined by law, it is still their home, a private place. The lines of boundaries in space and time are constantly blurring when working from home. Yet, it must be considered that the individual may not be comfortably attired to get on a video call all the time, or may not have an environment suitable to be shared on video. Calls at odd times may not be convenient for all, with the family sleeping in the same room. It is important to be sensitive and respect the privacy of the individual.
With home considered as a part of workplace (while working remotely) and yet it is a place where individual’s privacy must be respected, let us see some best practices during video calls.
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts one should take into consideration:
Ensure your colleagues are aware of your work schedule to avoid any assumption about your availability. If you are the organiser, schedule the calls during reasonable working hours.
If you are not comfortable turning your video on, you may politely inform that you will remain connected only with the Audio. Do not force other team members to turn on their Video if they are uncomfortable. If it is a critical call, where the video is a requirement, provide sufficient and reasonable advance notice to the participants enabling them to make arrangements. When on a video call, make sure the environment & dressing etiquette is maintained. Avoid insensitive pictures on your t-shirts, posters on the wall and revealing clothes.
Language & Etiquettes
Mind the language and body gestures during the call and demonstrate professionalism throughout the call. Avoid personal comments about appearance, family or other sensitive topics. If you are uncomfortable by an act, or incident, immediately communicate this to the other party, giving them an opportunity to correct their mistake.
If one still feels offended, contact your Superior, HR or Internal Committee. Creating a great working environment is everyone’s responsibility. With a little understanding and by being sensitive to other’s feelings, we can contribute positively to this endeavor.