Although over 82% of workers are keen to work remotely in future, they face a number of challenges in doing so - and the younger generation is particularly adversely affected, according to new research.

No pets or children! Video conferencing etiquette makes workers anxious during lockdown

The study from Adaptavist highlights some key considerations for the long term success of remote working. The report covered 2800 workers across the UK, Canada and Australia. The study shows that actually it is the younger generation that is most anxious about how they communicate online. ‘Millennials’ in this context has been broadly defined as under 35 year olds.

Key findings are:

  • 46% of Millennial workers worry daily about how they communicate virtually (vs an average of 38% and just 22% of over 45s)
  • 27% of under 35s have had to apologise to someone for something that may have been misinterpreted vs just 17% amongst over 45 year olds.
  • 41% of us are actively engaged on over 4 platforms a day, but only 44% of us have never had any training on how to use them
  • Only one in five (21%) under 35 year olds feels it is unacceptable to discuss confidential company information on a messaging platform, but ⅓ over 45s feels this is unacceptable
  • One in ten under 35 year olds considers it utterly unacceptable for pets or children to appear on a video conference vs one in four over 45 year olds - pets are generally considered more acceptable than children.
  • Around 22% of under 35 year olds feel speculating on management decisions on a company messaging platform is acceptable even in a wider group channel
  • Women are also far less comfortable with partners or flatmates appearing than men (41% of women found this was never acceptable, vs just 29% of men)

The shift to new channels

Love it or loathe it, we are accustomed to email, which was the main communication channel for the vast majority of organisations prior to COVID-19, but lockdown and the accelerated shift to remote working has driven a shift towards video conferencing as the primary communication channel. According to the study, which covered over 2800 workers across the UK, USA, Canada and Australia, now more than one in three workers say their organisations are using this as their primary means of communication.

Digital communication angst amongst the young

Along with the shift in the channels and tools we use comes a new challenge in how we communicate - two in five (38%) of us now worry daily about how we communicate on digital platforms.

Millennials and those who have spent most of their professional life using video conferencing and messaging platforms have more relaxed attitudes to acceptable behaviour on video conferences. One in ten under 35 year olds considers it utterly unacceptable for pets or children to appear on a video conference vs one in four over 45 year olds. In fact, across all age groups the appearance of pets on a video conference is considered slightly more acceptable than children (on average 19% disapprove of children appearing vs just 16% for pets).

However, it's actually this younger generation that are most anxious about how they communicate online.

  • 46% of Millennial workers worry daily about how they communicate virtually (vs an average of 38% and just 22% of over 45s)
  • 27% of under 35s have had to apologise to someone for something that may have been misinterpreted vs just 17% amongst over 45 year olds.
  • Millennials are also more likely to have misinterpreted the tone of a digital communication (40% of under 35s have done so vs just 23% of over 45s)
  • Twice as many under 35 year olds had been seriously offended by the tone of a digital communication than over 45s (19% vs 9%).

The research highlighted that, although 41% of us are actively engaged on over 4 platforms a day, 44% of us have never had any training on how to use them.

Differing attitudes to the formality of digital communications contributes to the overall challenge of communication. Only 17% of under 35 year olds saw the formality of communications on digital platforms as about the same as in person communications vs 30% of over 45 year olds.

Threats to confidentiality and departmental differences

A further concern is the lack of consensus on behaviours such as discussing confidential company information: only one in five (21%) under 35 year olds feels this is unacceptable vs a third (35%) of over 45 year olds.

Different departments also vary in their views on what’s acceptable. Engineers feel that making critical comments on work based messaging platforms is broadly acceptable (only 16% felt this was unacceptable), but 33% of those in sales or marketing find this unacceptable.

Even within age-groups there is a lack of consensus in what is acceptable as around 22% of under 35 year olds feel speculating on management decisions on a company messaging platform is acceptable even in a wider group channel, yet a further 21% believe that this is never acceptable.

Making remote work, work better

Simon Haighton-Williams, CEO of Adaptavist commented: “The transition to remote work requires not just a technological shift, but more importantly an evolution in culture. So often organisations focus on implementing the tools without the proper frameworks in place for how to use them, let alone guidance on expected behaviours in this new “working space”. A company’s culture is it’s lifeblood, and transitioning that online requires a shift in the way we approach leadership and collaboration.

Communication channels are changing so fast that training on digital etiquette is often ignored, but being conscious of the behavioural shift your teams are undergoing in this transition and providing guiding principles and parameters can help.”

Prof Cary Cooper, Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at the ALLIANCE Manchester Business School, University of Manchester commented: “Being able to glance across and see someone looks worried enables us to quickly address concerns and allay fears. This level of support is particularly important for those who are less experienced in the commercial world. Unchecked, concerns can escalate causing unnecessary stress and anxiety and this is one of the risks with an increase in remote working long-term and something that companies should prioritise.”

According to the study, understanding the mood of our direct reports was seen as one of the greatest challenges in working remotely and what people missed most was working side by side with colleagues.

In order to help organisations to better manage this transition to remote working, Adaptavist have set up a remote working and digital etiquette resource centre on their site with tips and advice at adaptavist.com/remotework along with further information on the Adaptavist Digital Etiquette Study.

Additional data

  • 45% of managers say they are now communicating more via video calls and 28% are communicating more via messaging platforms to manage their direct reports.
  • 1 in 3 (33%) have misinterpreted the tone of a communication on a digital platform and 1 in 4 (24%) of us have had to apologise for or received an apology from someone for communication on a digital platform.
  • Half of us (50%) have seen something they believed to be unacceptable on a chat / messaging platform.
  • Whilst 1 in 5 (20%) consider it always acceptable to have children appearing on a video conference, but almost as many (19%) felt this is never acceptable - even in lockdown
  • Drinking (tea, coffee etc) is generally acceptable with only just over 1 in 10 (15%) objecting to this, but eating is far less acceptable with nearly 2 in 5 (37%) believing this is never acceptable.
  • A caution to anyone who’s done a video conference from their bed: ⅗ (58%) feel this is never acceptable
  • Women are also far less comfortable with partners or flatmates appearing than men (41% of women found this was never acceptable, vs just 29% of men)
  • Around half of respondents (45%) felt it is generally acceptable to discuss confidential / internal company information in a 1:1 chat, but 1 in 4 (26%) felt this is never acceptable - even in a 1:1 chat.
  • Workers also divided on the use of emojis and memes in the workplace with 1 in 3 Millennials (under 35s) advocating the general use of them in the workplace, whilst 1 in 4 believe they should only be used with close colleagues. A further 27% of under 35s are happy for others to use them, but hesitant to use them themselves. Whilst only 6% of under 35s think emojis and memes should never be used in the workplace 1 in 5 (19%) over 45s would keep them out of the workplace. However, the over 45s are equally split in what’s acceptable as the same proportion (19%) would actively encourage others to use them at work.

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