Life etiquette in a virtual world

man wearing black headset
Photo by Ola Dapo on

A couple of days ago an associate contacted me to say that she was “chided” for the tone of her email.  Instead of getting to the business at hand, the recipient felt it was her duty to inform my associate to “watch her tone,” —a co-worker “Karen”. 

Of course, this took on a life of its own. Perhaps unnecessarily, but certainly unaccounted for, time was spent on the back-and-forth about “how the email sounded” rather than the business at hand.

Several days later, whaddaya know, I received a request asking me for my etiquette perspective when writing emails, especially work and professional emails. The request also inquired about suggestions for communicating in a virtual world. 

Below are tips to keep in mind when sending emails, and some considerations for meeting in a virtual world.

  1. When it comes to business and professional situations, keep in mind that it’s “business.” Be clear, direct, gracious, and respectful.
  1. Use the person’s name to let the person know you are talking to that person. Starting off an email with a request, demand or information can sound curt and thoughtless. It only takes two to three seconds to type Robert, Rob, or Mr. Roberson). The greeting should reflect the nature of your relationship with the person, i.e. how formal or informal you should be (should you say Hi, Hello, Dear or use the person’s name). 
  1. Some people scoff about sending emojis. But sometimes an emoji says/conveys the sentiment quite well. Just keep it in perspective. 
  1. Use correct spelling. Thank goodness for spellcheck and grammar check. Use them. One time I typed hello without the “o.” Enough said.
  1. If sending personal emails from work, be mindful of the above tips and keep it short and sweet.
  1. Be as positive as possible.  Critical conversations, anything that can be misunderstood, misconstrued or contentious in anyway, should be held in person or by phone. Have you ever gotten caught up in an “email battle”?  Not pretty.
  1. Before sending a joke or anything controversial, consider the effect it could have on that person, someone they know, and your relationship.
  1. If you are “feeling some kind of way,” wait, review, revise (if necessary), then decide whether to send the email…or not. 

Etiquette tips for communicating in a virtual world

Zoom, TEAMS, DUO, SLACK.  From kindergarten to senior citizens, we are all communicating in a virtual world. Almost daily I receive accounts of rude behaviors or virtual etiquette faux pas. Here are some tips to keep in mind so that you are not placed in the “rude zone.”

  1. Be prepared for video. Whether at home or in the workplace be presentable in your appearance.  We know when we are too casual or when we “really don’t care” about our appearance. It matters. Be ready for a meeting at any time. Just like we are expected to be “ready” in the in-person world, we need to be ready in the virtual world.
  1. Keep your background presentable as well. Unless you totally use a virtual background, always keep a meeting space ready.
  1. Mute upon entering but be ready to unmute when called upon or when you are ready to share. I’ve heard some things that I should not have. Just sayin’.
  1. Because of COVID-19, we are more gracious and accommodating of children, pets, and spouses in the house, but as much as possible, create space to be fully present and keep noise/interruptions to a minimum.
  1. Just as when a conversation is over, when the meeting is over, say goodbye and leave the meeting. Unless you and the other parties decide to chat informally for a few moments, be prepared to end the meeting, allowing you and others to move on to other tasks, appointments, etc. If the meeting is over 1.5 hours people need a break.

Remember, manners are memorable. Put your best foot forward and claim your seat at the table!