We’re well into a shift to remote workforces and stats indicate that all is well productivity-wise, as stated by Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman. “We learned that we could not only effectively operate our business as a distributed remote workplace, but that our people could thrive and be just as, if not more, productive while remote.”

That’s good news for those who like remote work and feel this is the future of work for them and their organizations. With productivity stable, hiring on an incline, and the ‘new-normal’ becoming normal, settling into the WFH routine is also proving to increase happiness, job satisfaction, flexibility, and balance.

However, the once “not normal” in business culture is creeping into the virtual business lives and blurring the lines between what’s acceptable at home and what’s acceptable in the office.

This begs the questions – in this digital era, where professionals collaborate virtually and communicate through screens, have we all become too casual, non-discerning, and complacent when it comes to business etiquette? Or is this just all part of the renewed business culture and what was once frowned upon, is a-okay?

Not only have the seat locations shifted, so have some of the protocols. Working from home doesn’t mean we abandon professionalism. It means finding new ways to adapt and excel in our virtual interactions, creating a supportive and inclusive environment. As a leader you need to set the expectations, and we’re not saying it must be one way or the other, just organizationally consistent.

“Hey, you can’t say that.” Or can you?

In face-to-face interactions, we rely on non-verbal cues like body language and facial expressions to understand each other’s intentions. However, in virtual meetings and email exchanges, these cues are often lost or misinterpreted. And all too often social media, video conferencing, and non-personal contact has given us that buffer to ‘say what we’re thinking’ without diplomacy. Experts say that even with the virtual shift, communications need to remain respectful.  Just because some seem to over-share does not dictate that others are expected to. Everyone should set boundaries but remain respectful. Remember the adage- if you wouldn’t say that in person…

To maintain diplomatic communications, try to:

  • Foster empathy and understanding: Encourage employees to consider the impact of their words and tone in written communication, ensuring that messages are clear, respectful, and mindful of different perspectives.
  • Promote active listening: Emphasize the importance of actively listening to colleagues during virtual meetings, acknowledging their ideas and providing constructive feedback.
  • Provide communication training: Offer workshops or resources on effective virtual communication to help employees navigate the nuances of digital interactions.
  • Be open to adapt and learn new skills to effectively convey thoughts and emotions solely through words on a screen.

Did you wear pants this week?

I mean real pants not yoga or sweatpants.

Casual Friday has taken on a whole new meaning, with remote workers embracing workout wear, fleece, and t-shirts or shorts. The infamous news reporter incident, where professional attire was abandoned below the camera frame, may have seemed ridiculous, but it highlighted the shift towards more relaxed clothing choices.

To balance professionalism and comfort, try to:

  • Set guidelines: Establish clear expectations for professional attire during video meetings, specifying acceptable attire that aligns with your company’s culture.
  • Encourage self-presentation: Encourage employees to dress as if they were going to a physical office, as it can boost confidence and create a more focused mindset for work.
  • Flexibility on non-video occasions: Allow for flexibility in attire when employees don’t have client meetings or video conferences scheduled, promoting comfort and individual expression.

Commuting to the kitchen.

The absence of physical proximity in remote work has impacted social interactions and networking opportunities. Water cooler conversations, informal chats during lunch breaks, and chance encounters in hallways no longer exist in the same way. Building relationships and fostering a sense of camaraderie among colleagues becomes more challenging.

To define expectations for virtual behaviours, try to:

  • Establish guidelines for video meetings: Define expected behaviours during video meetings, such as muting microphones when not speaking, maintaining appropriate virtual backgrounds, and minimizing distractions.
  • Encourage professionalism in virtual environments: Remind employees that virtual meetings are still professional settings, even if conducted from home, and that behaviours like eating during meetings or consuming alcohol may not align with professional norms.

Remote work has undoubtedly disrupted traditional business etiquette but brings the opportunity to redefine what professionalism means. It’s about balancing productivity with individual well-being and embracing a more human approach to work. It has pushed us to reevaluate our preconceived notions of professionalism, adapt our communication styles, reconsider power dynamics, and find innovative ways to build relationships. As we navigate this new era of work, it’s essential to reflect on these changes and ask ourselves the right questions to ensure a harmonious and productive remote work experience.

~Cherene Kambeitz, Marketing & Communications Director – Levvel inc. Reach out to Connect@levvel.ca

Business in Balance