Professional Etiquette for the Digital Workplace

It’s easy to forget manners when you’re all alone. Being physically removed from your coworkers can make communicating clearly more difficult.

Since 2005, remote working has grown by 103% in the US alone. But the digital workplace is still a fairly new environment – figuring out the rules, not to mention reminding yourself to follow them, can be tricky.

Here are 10 professional rules for the digital workplace everyone should remember. Keep in mind though, the point of this list is to apply it to yourself. Feel free to share the article, but don’t go pointing out each infraction to others – that would NOT help!

Be on Time

Early is on time, and on time is late. Online, punctuality is still the golden rule.

Digital meetings come with their own set of challenges. Booting up your device, opening programs, checking that the microphone and camera are working, bringing up the agenda and any other relevant material…these tasks can take more time that you realize. One more task to not forget: TURN OFF NOTIFICATIONS! They will distract you from getting tasks done you need to. LinkedIN, Twitter, Facebook and other online distractions can wait until you are not working.

You can’t log in and get things ready one minute before a call starts. Being “on time” means setting up at least 10 minutes before the scheduled start time of every meeting. Creating that buffer will ensure you don’t violate anyone else’s timeline with your own “technical difficulties.” Plan accordingly – give yourself enough to have time to have everything ready BEFORE the meeting starts.

Get Personal

Memos and company-wide emails are not well received. With our already cluttered desks and inboxes, there’s no quicker way to get something dismissed as “not for me” than sending a lengthy document addressed to every single employee in the company or even every individual in your team.

While being direct, clear, and short in your emails is a great starting point, truly getting personal means minimizing text as much as possible.

Getting personal is especially crucial when it comes to emotionally charged conversations and when you need to provide constructive feedback. Email and chat often lead to misunderstanding. Whenever you have to address touchy issues, select communication channels that get you as close to real life as possible.

Follow Through

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you’re not face-to-face management or clients that you can shirk your commitments. Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’ll do it.

Follow through is essential, not just an ingredient of etiquette. Consistency allows for measurement, creates accountability, establishes your reputation, and makes you relevant to others.

If for some reason you’re unable to complete your promised tasks on time, a quick email or (even better) a call to say there will be a delay is far better than forcing your colleagues or clients to wait indefinitely. Being someone your team can count on is invaluable, especially in remote working situations.

Establish Clear Expectations

One of the main reasons follow-through is a problem with remote, digital workers is because people are often vague with their commitments or requests in the first place. Don’t be the one that says, “Let’s look into that,” in an email thread or chat with five other colleagues. When no one is singled out, no one takes responsibility. Whenever you’re in this position, keep these two truths in mind: Everyone’s job is nobody’s job. No due date means never due.

Set clear expectations by assigning tasks individually, settle on deliverables in writing, and agree on deadlines from the outset.

Respond Regularly

The total number of global emails is currently 205.6 billion per day. Business emails account for 112.5 billion. While “Inbox Zero” may be out of reach for you, overload is no excuse to ignore the messages you get from your colleagues, especially when you’re a remote or digital worker.

Use folders or labels and parking email requests there until you are able to respond. Keep them organized and respond appropriately.

If you can’t handle a request immediately, take a few seconds to reply and let your colleagues know.

Keep Everything in One Place

This isn’t just about etiquette, it’s also about productivity, and it’s important that you—and your team—use similar tools. Tools like Dropbox, Evernote, and Slack can help keep everyone organized while providing a central place for all members of the team.

Whatever tools you end up selecting, remember: less is more. Choose the tools that make sense for YOUR needs. You don’t need to implement every shiny new tool that comes out, but you do need to make sure that the tool(s) you select are helping your team, not hindering them.

Explain Why, or Why Not

Don’t underestimate the power of “because.”

A classic study conducted by a Harvard psychology professor revealed that people were 33% more likely to oblige to someone using a copier before them when they gave a reason for the request.

The takeaway is obvious: people are far more likely to understand, empathize, and agree with you when you explain the reasons behind your actions.

If you’re a subordinate, explaining why is the most respectful way to decline a request or offer an alternative course of action. If you’re a leader, explaining why reveals you’re not just an online dictator, issuing commands and saying “No” arbitrarily.

Use Emoji Wisely 😉

Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the year for 2015, wasn’t a word at all. It was this:


Officially named the “Face with Tears of Joy,” Oxford selected it because it was the most frequently used emoji of 2015. And that’s saying something, given that the global use of emoji’s has tripled between 2014 and 2015 alone.


But are emoji a violation of professional, business etiquette?

As it turns out, emojis are serious business in the visual communication world. They are capable of relaying emotions in a straightforward and realistic manner when we are unable to do so face-to-face. As childish as emojis may seem, it’s high time to get on board with the program. (Daniel Tey)

Use of emoji in business communication requires wisdom. Don’t use them with a superior or a client unless they use it first and establish it as an accepted norm.

The safest way to go is to stick to the basics. Avoid the wink face, which might be perceived as flirty, and only use others when there is clear context and the meaning won’t be skewed. When it doubt, leave it out.

Be Specific

While we’ve touched on this point, it’s worth being specific about being specific. When it comes to digital communication, never leave anything up to chance or personal interpretation. Keep everything simple and to the point. More words mean more confusion.

In email, state your request and urgent details clearly in the first paragraph. When someone glances at an email, especially on the go, they’re usually just reading the first couple sentences and skimming through the rest.

Don’t bury your request four paragraphs in or use phrases like:

  • “Please let me know …”
  • “I would love to connect you with …”
  • “I can be reached at …”

Instead, be polite and just spit it out: “Please reply to this email and I’ll set up a quick demo at a time most convenient for you.”

For colleagues, do the same. Instead of, “Can you call Tom?” be specific: “Please call Tom by EOD tomorrow to confirm the wireframes will be ready by the 21st.”

Specificity equals singularity. Ensure that your message makes one request—and one request alone.

Say “Please” and “Thank You”

You’d be surprised to know how easy it is to forget simple phrases like “Please” and “Thank You” when you’re communicating virtually. When you type from a mobile device or send a quick email on-the-go, you’re so busy saving words that you might think these are not as important as in a real-life conversation, but they are.

With verbal communication, you can frame your speech with tone. Unfortunately, tone is much harder to communicate in writing, so “Please” and “Thank You” go a long way.

What’s more, make your “thank you”s timely, personal and specific.


via Lifehacker