Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who runs a business about managing in the new remote world. We were talking about the challenges of keeping employees engaged, and he told me about his strict rule that employees be on video at all times, in part to ensure that they are "dressed" and "not sitting on their beds."
In his own experience, he found himself far more productive when he was in that state, so he felt like it made sense to expect that his employees were always in a similar state.
Now, normally, I'm a huge believer in demanding attention. My general rule is if the meeting is important enough for you to attend it, it's important enough for your full attention. This means no "distraction machines" (open laptops or phones) in the room. If you feel like you can't be present and engaged, no worries--just don't come to the meeting.
But a calendar full of virtual meetings is completely different. We can't be on at all times, and research shows that staring at a screen all day is exhausting.
It reminded me of an old business parable about an upcoming final negotiation for the sale of a business. The buyer and the seller were going to meet to hammer out the deal. The buyer apologized for being "so busy" and asked the seller if they could meet at 7 p.m. so that he didn't lose a workday. The seller agreed.
On the day of the final negotiation, the seller got up early in the morning as was his custom and worked hard all day. He took phone calls and meetings, snacked through lunch, and arrived to the final negotiation already tired from a typical day at the office. The buyer, in contrast, cleared her calendar for the day and resisted the urge to be busy. She slept in, spent some extra time with her family, worked out, and then got a spa treatment. She made sure to eat a lunch, and then fueled up with a heavy snack just before the 7 p.m. negotiations would start.
You can imagine how those negotiations went. The seller was low on energy, low on fuel, and generally tired. His brain wasn't processing information, his body was primed to override decision making to prioritize getting food. He came to the most important meeting of his day, and possibly his life, at a profound disadvantage, and so he negotiated a far worse deal than he could have. The buyer took him to the cleaners.
That same dynamic plays out in our daily life, especially while we are all working remotely. We all have meetings that are more important than other ones. If we apply the same standards of attention to each of our virtual meetings, we will deprive our minds and bodies of the energy for when we need it the most.
If you treat everything as important, nothing is important.
Encourage your team to disconnect for some meetings. Recommend that they take the time to walk in nature or at least get some fresh air. If someone happens to be more comfortable sitting on their bed or dressed down, try to resist the urge to reflexively judge that behavior.
Rather than focusing on all of the norms (like what to wear), focus on expectations (be present and attentive, prioritize important meetings to avoid background noise). We all need to manage our mental energy and stress levels. Enforcing arbitrary standards may actually end up being counterproductive to that cause.