an employee showed up for a video training while lounging in bed and smoking — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I work in a low-level supervisory role for a social service agency. Most of our employees work remotely and are issued desktop computers with a monitor and camera. The majority of these remote employees do not need to be on camera to complete daily tasks; however, when meetings or training sessions occur, “cameras on” is expected.

Recently, I set up a Teams meeting with an employee of seven months’ tenure (“Wynn”) to train them one-on-one for an additional task. As background, Wynn has exhibited some lack of conformity with business norms, including timeliness of response, reliability, and accepting feedback without excuses. This is not a first job for Wynn. I do not have authority to decide what responsibilities Wynn is given or if they require a performance improvement plan. None of their issues has reached “fireable offense” level yet, but they are a long way from being a model employee.

Wynn had some technical issues with connectivity at the beginning of the meeting. Due to that, I said we could continue with our training without requiring them to use their camera. However, Wynn was eventually able to connect their camera.

Once the camera came on, I could see that Wynn was in bed, not propped up on pillows but lying on their belly looking up at the camera. The top of the bed was fully visible and they did not use the blur feature. Throughout the call, Wynn fidgeted and moved all over the bed; sometimes on their belly, laying their side, sitting up, sitting slightly off camera, playing with their hair, face, and clothing, smoking, etc. While I understand everyone has a different tolerance for staying still, it was constant motion. I was also surprised to see Wynn smoking in a training meeting with a supervisor. They did not take notes and the meeting was not recorded.

I conducted the meeting, saying nothing about Wynn’s movements; however, when they moved off of screen I did ask if everything was okay. The level of visual distraction was high and I felt somewhat like I was intruding on their privacy as they were in bed. I would have no objection to seeing a bed in the background, or even part of a headboard or pillow to support the back, but their sprawl on the bed seemed like too much informality or familiarity for a meeting held with a supervisor. To be fair to Wynn, they seemed engaged in the training, answering and asking questions appropriately.

If this meeting included others, should I have handled things differently? What if an external stakeholder or upper management was on the call too? I am struggling with whether or not to handle this as a coaching on professional norms opportunity, but have not been told if this individual might have a medical accommodation allowing them to recline in bed while they work. Am I allowed to ask my manager that question? Also, one would not smoke in a meeting on-site, and it strikes me as somewhat casual to do when you are being trained, even if one is at home.

Was ignoring Wynn’s movements the best option? I admit to a bias in that I find it unprofessional to show so much of one’s bed and smoke when you are working but do not know if they have always done this in meetings with others in supervisory roles and it’s not been raised as an issue.

Yeah, you don’t take work calls lying on your stomach in bed unless there’s something medical going on and you have some kind of accommodation (which doesn’t have to be formal; it could just be, “FYI, I’m having a medical thing and this is the only way I can comfortably take the call, hope it’s not too distracting”).

You also don’t turn your camera on for a work call if you’re going to need to be moving around like that! It’s distracting to whoever else is on the call.

The smoking is weird too. If it were just the smoking, I’d let it go — it’s unprofessional, but it doesn’t sound like you’re Wynn’s direct manager so you could just let that go … but combined with everything else, it’s part of an overall impression of Not In Work Mode.

We can debate whether or not that should be the case. If we were creating a brand new work culture from scratch, hell I might be an avid proponent of all calls being taken from bed and people not caring about things like smoking as long as they don’t have to smell or inhale it. But we have the culture we have, and it has conventions and norms, and the reality is that smoking on a call from bed while you wriggle around and slouch off camera and play with your hair is as out of step with those norms as, say, coming to work shirtless or, I don’t know, working from a blanket fort.

As for what you could have done in the moment … it would have been fine to say, “I’m finding so much movement distracting, can I ask you to not to do that on camera / would you rather reschedule for another time?” or just suggest they turn their camera back off if that would be appropriate for the context.

As for what to do now … especially given the other issues you’ve noticed with Wynn’s professionalism, it would be fine to mention this to their manager and say something like, “If it happens again, my thought is to say something but before I do, I wanted to make sure there’s not an accommodation in play that I should be aware of.”

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