Professional Communication Etiquette: What's Considered Appropriate Today?
The pandemic changed so much about our lives, including how we communicate. It blurred the lines between personal and professional, as more people worked from home than ever before while dealing with the uncertainty and stress of a global pandemic.
We scrambled to set up adequate spaces to work from home while helping our children through remote learning and adjusting our routines to accommodate stay-at-home orders. At the same time, many essential workers couldn’t work from home, so they went to their workplaces every day, wearing masks and social distancing, to keep essential businesses running.
Whether you worked from home or not, your communication changed abruptly. Gone were the days of walking over to chat with your co-worker or picking up the phone to call your client’s office. Social distancing ushered in a new era of electronic communication, especially emails, video calls and online collaboration tools. We used these tools before (some more than others), but now they became standard.
In addition to embracing technology, we learned new processes, adapted our routines, and figured out how to make everything work in our new environment. Should we stop working at a set time every day, or respond to emails at all hours? We learned to deal with new interruptions while working, as our kids and pets crashed Zoom calls and needed our attention now—whether we were in a meeting or not.
As we move forward, how many of these changes will stay? And what’s considered professional communication today, anyway? We’ve put together a quick guide on professional communication etiquette to help you communicate effectively and get things done through the rest of this year and beyond.
Let’s Get Social (With Guidelines)
As the pandemic disrupted our lives, social media usage hit record highs. People turned to social media during quarantine for entertainment, connection and communication. While some customers had been using social media for their customer service needs, the pandemic accelerated this trend. With so many people working remotely, it became imperative for businesses and brands to be available on social for their customers to communicate and connect with them.
Brands upped their social media game to stay in front of their customers by increasing engagement, holding contests and encouraging user-generated content. While you want to encourage your community to get social with you, it’s important to set guidelines that work for everyone involved and dedicate the necessary resources.
If a significant amount of your customer service activity has moved to social media, have you responded accordingly? Some companies, especially larger ones, set up separate accounts for different areas of their company, including customer service. Does your customer service activity warrant a separate account? How will you staff it? Have your customers asked for more resources on social or more responsiveness? If you determine that you can move forward with the same setup, is it staffed appropriately?
What guidelines have you put in place? Will your social media channels be monitored around the clock and responded to accordingly, or will staff only be available during your regular business hours? While you’re determining availability on social, consider your current staffing levels. Respect your social media staff’s contributions, mental health and time off like you do for your other employees.
Will you accept artwork, other order-related communications (purchase orders, order changes, etc.) or payment via social media? While you want to be available to your customers, make sure you can accommodate these changes to your processes without disrupting your ability to deliver the best customer experience. Once you create guidelines, communicate them to your online communities.
Text Me (If I Opt In)
As companies increase their mobile marketing efforts, text messaging has crept into the business world. Usage increased during the pandemic, as people communicated with colleagues, clients and vendors logging in from here, there and everywhere. As we move forward, is it appropriate to text people for business?
People use text messaging differently. Some consider it private and only use it to communicate with family and friends. Others text often, preferring it as their primary communication method. That’s why it’s important to have a conversation with clients, vendors and other business professionals about communication.
“How do you prefer to communicate?” This simple question goes a long way toward understanding people’s comfort levels with text messaging and other forms of communication. Develop a communication plan with clients or guidelines for your communications on a company level.
What are acceptable or preferred methods of communication for specific tasks? For example, will you accept orders or changes to orders via text? Your policy may state that you require these to be submitted in writing, but people may interpret that differently. It’s helpful to be as specific as possible when publishing your guidelines, so everyone is on the same page.
Are Emojis Professional? 👍 or 👎
Emojis are common in text messages and show up in emails and on social media, too. Should you use them in professional communications? Yes, within reason—but know your audience.
Use them sparingly to maximize their effectiveness and not confuse your communication efforts. A smiley face or winking emoji can convey emotion in a business email or text that the recipient won’t understand otherwise. Word of advice: sarcasm is often missed in written communications! 😉
Add an emoji to your email subject line or social media post (even on LinkedIn!) to grab your audience’s attention, if it fits your brand voice and is appropriate for your audience.
Note that some emojis have different meanings and display differently depending on the user’s system, so make sure you understand what you’re sending. You don’t want to inadvertently send the wrong message to a client or business contact that could negatively impact your relationship.
Email Signatures Have A Lot To Say
While emojis can help you convey emotion, email signatures are valuable real estate. Utilize them to help people communicate with you, build brand awareness and convey important messages.
Make it easy for people to communicate with you by including your full contact information in your email signature, even your email address. That may seem redundant, but your email address can be lost in an email chain that is forwarded or replied to before it reaches the right person. Also, include your support team’s contact information if people will need to communicate with them on your behalf.
Your email signature is an effective place to build brand awareness, because it’s viewed so many times during correspondence. In addition to your contact information, include your tag line and current marketing message or graphic. You may be surprised how often people look at your email signature, so take advantage of this often overlooked space to showcase your brand.
Finally, use your email signature to remind recipients of timely messages, such as new business hours, product launches or shipping updates. One person seeing your update can start a conversation about a new project or resolve an issue before it happens, but it will generate more impressions than you think.
What’s considered appropriate in professional communication today? While our personal and professional lives converged during the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to know your audience. Make a communication plan with your clients or create company guidelines, so you can meet your customers where they’re at as much as possible while still delivering the best customer experience. Bring your full self to work, treat people with respect and create an email signature to remember.