Can we agree that business etiquette and effective communication now must incorporate new standards and rules with our mass reliance on virtual business? While many of us previously telecommuted, employed persons working remotely, at least part-time from home, surged from 16% of the total workforce in October 2019 to almost 24% as of June 25, 2020. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. June 25,2020)
What does this look like in 2020? As multi-generational parents juggle parenting and care-taking roles alongside their career responsibilities, how do they balance remaining accessible to their loved ones, while remaining professional and effective in their work role? This becomes more challenging when both occur under the same roof – the one we all call home.
Although we may be working from a more relaxed environment, maintaining standards of business etiquette, and being attentive to professional communication and project management outcomes are significant. Further, remaining aware of the countless tools to improve effective, timely communication, while enabling us to professionally work remotely, will be useful to most individuals whose offices are now home-based.
What are some considerations that working remotely from home present?
Reliance on Email: We lost the ability to pop our heads into a colleague’s office door for quick clarification of a question, or to toss an idea out and assess their reaction. We no longer have the opportunity to exchange hallway greetings or check in on the stress load of a peer over lunch.
Instead, now we rely on email to serve that purpose. Some are working unique hours, staggering schedules opposite a spouse or partner – so answering a quick phone call may not be practical. Similarly, although we may send a “quick” email – the recipient may not review and respond until hours later, due to a flexible work arrangement. This delay may affect our ability to be productive & responsive with various tasks.
On the flip side, there are many who no longer have a clear boundary between work and home – which they established years ago to manage a stressful workload and avoid burn-out. Instead, some are answering emails from phones as their child practices reading their sight words, or responding to messages or calls while bathing kids or preparing their meals.
What are the Outcomes?
These types of accommodations are likely to impact our outcomes. We may be distracted and less likely to proofread our work. We may be rushed and less attentive to our word choice or tone. As we balance our limited time, we may be more abrupt, forget to use names, omit acknowledgements of appreciation and recognition. Each of these are standard rules of business etiquette, as well as common standards of effective communication.
Video Meetings: Reliance on virtual meetings and webinars continues to create a huge demand for services like Zoom, WebX, Skype, FaceTime, Google Meet, StreamYard and more. Many of these services were responsive to this need with expanding features available on free accounts, and offering tutorials on how to use their services effectively. You may now be a pro at starting meeting & webinars, recording and facilitating attendees and guests.
What may be lacking however is the business etiquette guidelines that are commonly considered polite and professional, but may not be as obvious or seem as important when we are working from home in a more casual environment.
Virtual Business Etiquette Guidelines
- Promptness is important whether you are in the conference room at the office, or if you are logging into an online meeting. Logging in, checking your audio and camera status and getting settled can be intrusive interruptions to other attendees and the meeting facilitator – just as if you walked in and the door clicked (or slammed!) behind you. Logging in a few minutes early and being ready for the meeting to begin is advised.
- Introductions and greetings – sharing greetings and pleasantries do not have to be reserved for in-person meetings. Welcome your peers by name! Spend a moment or two connecting with others and creating a warm and engaging atmosphere. It may go a long way to encouraging a productive, responsive meeting with effective communication.
- Attentiveness is equally important in both environments. In the virtual world, this may mean ensuring that you are on mute unless you are speaking, to prevent background noise and interruptions. Business etiquette in the office or at your home assumes that you are following the meeting agenda – and not scrolling your phone or checking your email during the meeting.
- Logging in and out of a meeting, thus creating “beeps” as you exit and enter is analogous to you getting up out of your seat during an in-office meeting, and/or walking out and back into the conference room. Each creates disturbances, interruptions and unless it is urgent would be considered rude and unprofessional business etiquette.
- When a meeting is ‘open’ and there is no facilitator managing the chat, it is upon us to be respectful of when others are talking and avoiding interrupting; don’t be the person who turns on their audio to comment or ask a question as someone else is mid-sentence. Whether in a conference room or in an online meeting – remain attentive to the meeting flow and discussion and time responses accordingly to remain respectful of others. This will significantly encourage positive and effective communication.
- For some meetings, we need to have our cameras on to see one another. Be mindful of your appearance. Business etiquette for any meeting, in-person or online, suggests considering your position and the person you are meeting with. They may show up in a sundress or tank top, or t-shirt with a slogan, but if you are in a professional capacity – you should be wearing professional, or casual business attire – even if you are at home.
- Similarly, be mindful of your background environment. What can meeting attendees see? If the background is not conducive to a professional meeting, using a green screen backdrop is recommended, or re-position yourself or your desktop, as needed. Further, are you in a secure space free of others hearing your conversation?
- Interruptions – Meetings are generally scheduled in advance. While the ideal is to have young children occupied with a nanny, or in a daycare, this was not an option for many during the pandemic restrictions. Even when working from home with children, we can be planful with asking others to watch them, setting them up with an engaging activity, planning meetings during nap time and other methods of ensuring that we can be fully present and others are not walking into confidential meetings, or interrupting and distracting us while we are working.
- Communication Nuances – We all have been witness to peers who express their emotions through various non-verbal methods during meetings. While an inappropriate eye roll or look of disgust may not be evident when the camera is disabled, other communication nuances can adversely impact effective communication and challenge appropriate business etiquette.
- Voice tone and inflections, sarcasm, exaggerated silence, delayed responses, raised voices, word choice, short and clipped responses, monopolizing monologues, and more; all demonstrate our opinions and thoughts, whether we are meeting in person or remotely. Remaining mindful of how we are communicating is likely even more crucial with virtual work; the way others communicate influences our perception, and we tend to infer things we cannot see, based on the input available to us at the time.
Advantages of Effective Communication
- It helps create and support a healthy workplace culture.
- It leads to higher job satisfaction.
- Employees will feel more like a connected team, which creates strong teamwork.
- It creates less misunderstanding and facilitates conflict resolution more easily.
- It provides clearer direction to all team members.
- Clear direction, teamwork and a healthy workplace culture all lead to increased self-confidence and increased business success.
Signs of Ineffective Communication or Unhealthy Team Communication
- Lack of response, or delayed responses to emails or voicemail messages.
- Responses that do not fully answer question(s) posed and necessitate further emails or voice messages and create added delays.
- Passive-Aggressive type communication that indirectly implies or creates a cloaked inference rather than being confident, direct and professional in tone and messaging.
- Demand based commuication that suggests your time or need is of more value or urgency than others and/or disregards others.
- Communication that is repetitive, interrupts, demands or conversely, ‘beats around the bush’ and is unclear.
- Communication that suggests lack of attention and/or is incomplete, lack of clarity, is incoherent, lack of care, empathy or courtesy of others, and does not serve to either inform or inspire – but instead creates confusion, tension, doubt, mistrust or other dysfunction among team members.
Methods to Improve Communication
- Provide your full attention and practice active listening. In person, you would face the person, offer eye contact, nod, smile and affirm throughout the conversation. In a remote environment, if you are on video – all of these same methods of engaging and showing attentiveness still apply. If you are not on camera, you can still sit attentively, face the screen, listen carefully and take notes. When the conversation ends, you can comment, affirm and/or paraphrase.
- When responding to an email, to a letter, or listening to a phone message or a video call, take a few moments to jot down notes about the nature of the call, and the specific questions or concerns posed. When replying, be certain to cross off each of those main points in your messaging to ensure a complete, thorough response.
- Practice replying with concrete and concise language that reflects patience, consideration, empathy, clarity and courtesy. By doing so, you will consistently communicate effectively in a confident, positive and attentive manner.
- Create routines that sharpen areas you may struggle with. If grammar and tone are not your thing, then allowing time for proofing your work or having a peer offer feedback are recommended. Planning ahead for important communication, to allow time to leave it for a day and come back with fresh eyes and mindset can be beneficial with refinement of tone, language and clarity of message.
- If your strength is visual communication and you get nervous or forgetful with phone conversations or video meetings, then prepare in advance with bulleted notes to help you stay on track and feel more confident when communicating thoughts, concerns or ideas.
Resources to Support Remote Communication
There are countless apps created to facilitate improved communication and effectiveness. While we have already discussed many of the familiar meeting tools, there are other resources offering value in other unique ways. The ones listed below are just a small sample of what is available. I have personally used each of the tools/software listed below, and you may enjoy exploring them as possible resources to support your communication and project management as a remote worker.
- Evernote: Collaborate with your team. Manage projects, deadlines, clients and meetings with ease. Capture ideas and inspiration in notes, voice and pictures.
- Basecamp: A project management and internal communication tool for remote teams. They house an all-in-one hub with both free and paid plans.
- Grammarly: Polish your grammar and improve your professional written communication with this helpful app.
- Slack: Share chat channels with those your regularly work with. Talk it out over voice or video calls directly from Slack. And if you need to show your work, you can share your screen too. Drag-and-drop PDFs, images, videos and other files directly into Slack. Get feedback on your work and create an archive of your progress.
- Screencastify: This is a Chrome browser extension that records your screen, face, voice, and more. It is a handy tool for quickly communicating visual or tutorial information.
- Loom: This is a video recording tool that helps you get your message across through instantly shareable videos. With Loom, you can record your camera, microphone and desktop simultaneously; it is a very similar option to Screencastify.
- Trello: Dive into the details by adding comments, attachments, due dates and more directly to visual Trello cards. Collaborate on projects from beginning to end and stay well connected by communicating project/task status. A visual project management tool with strong team communication benefits.
- Asana: Designed to improve team collaboration and work management, it helps teams manage projects and tasks in one tool. Teams can create projects, assign work to teammates, specify deadlines, and communicate about task progress directly in Asana.
Advantages and Responsibilities
Like anything worthwhile in life, advantages are balanced with responsibilities. Working remotely offers many positives, including saving commuting time and expenses, offering conveniences, and during this pandemic – it is of course safer for us, our families, and society as a whole. However, it does also require us to assume a leadership role in assessing our work environment, communication practices and workflow systems to ensure that we are adhering to common business etiquette practices, exercising professional communication and productive, efficient outcomes.
Many industries, just like Thomas Allen, Inc., deal with highly confidential information. This is another resposibilitiy that befalls us – if we are using an app or software tool, we need to educate ourselves on their privacy policies, security measures and determine if they fall within our agency policies and procedures and/or are approved tools and resources.
A Little About Us
Are you familiar with Thomas Allen, Inc. and the services we provide? If you are interested in learning about us, our corporate website can be viewed at Thomas Allen, Inc. Or, if you are interested in learning more about employment opportunities, resources, reading frequently asked questions, or reading our blog check us out here.
A Little About You
Tell us, what has been your experience working remotely? Do you prefer working from home, or do you find you are more successful and/or happier in an in-office setting? Lastly, do you have other suggestions to support professional, effective communication and business etiquette in this expanded realm of virtual offices? We would love to hear what works for you, resources you recommend and how the past few months have impacted you as a remote worker.