Virtual Office Etiquette: 10 Common Sense Tips

Working from home has provided a unique opportunity to balance work and life. However, virtual workers shouldn’t forget that virtual office etiquette isn’t a point of contention. Even in an online forum, this etiquette dictates the professionalism of a person and makes a stark impact on the effectiveness of online meetings. While many facets of virtual office etiquette remain similar to onsite workplaces, workers must still recognize borders, boundaries, and courtesies to foster respect and harmonious work relationships. Here are some of the top etiquette tips to employ at the home office.

Virtual Office Etiquette: 10 Common Sense Tips

One of the many benefits of remote employment is the freedom to work where you wish. However, whether you work in your home, a co-working space, or a coffee shop, working offsite can present issues when relating to your virtual office employees, co-workers, and managers. Just like working onsite, you adhere to professional norms and basic office etiquette.

Following some basic rules of courtesy, consideration, and respect can go a long way to ensure productive and harmonious remote working relationships. Here are 10 common sense tips to help you maneuver the potential pitfalls of a virtual office.

1. Pick the Appropriate Method of Communication

Determining an effective way to professionally communicate isn’t simple due simply to the sheer amount of options. However, choosing the most appropriate communication method to relay your message should remain a top concern.

When to Send an Email

For example, do you need to provide detailed information? Be mindful of your recipient’s time and send the information via email. This method allows the recipient to print the information for reference while also giving you the space to provide all the information required. Remember to always keep emails professional and concise and proofread your messages.

When to Use the Phone or Video Calls

Alternatively, do you have to relay an urgent message or need a quick response to a time-sensitive question? Avoid an endless chain of back and forth emails and pick up the telephone. Sometimes a well-placed phone call can save a lot of time and energy. Even if the call is not answered, you can avoid miscommunication by leaving a detailed message in an appropriate tone of voice.

Video calls are also an effective way to communicate with time-sensitive material. The advantage is that not everyone is keen to receive or make phone calls, especially if you can convey the messages during a video. Plus, you can also use this communication method for icebreakers, team meetings, or company-wide recreational activities.

When to Use Messaging Tools

If you’re part of a distributed team or globalized workforce, phone calls and video meetings aren’t always an option. In this scenario, you should opt for a messaging or collaboration tool. Platforms such as Slack and Asana provide instant messaging that’s a great alternative to other communication methods—especially across time zones.

2. Zoom Etiquette Tips

Virtual office etiquette on Zoom is integral to conveying professionalism and solid first impressions.

Zoom is a video-calling platform that has soared in popularity since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. By all accounts, it’s here to stay as the foremost way for remote teams to communicate. But like most other types of virtual communication, Zoom has unwritten rules of virtual work etiquette that are vital to understand.

The Microphone Mute

Background noise is perhaps the most distracting aspect of a Zoom call. Obviously, the neighbor mowing the lawn or the kids screaming in the background are causes for concern. So if possible, mute your microphone until you’re ready or asked to speak to limit distractions from the meeting or conversation.

Kill the Private Chat

Zoom allows users to engage in private chats on its interface, yet this is another major distraction. Even if you get along with a few coworkers more than others, sending messages during a meeting isn’t just distracting for other attendees. It also comes off as rude and unprofessional.

Position Your Camera and Don’t Go Overboard on Backgrounds

Before you hop on a Zoom call, position your camera properly. Nothing’s more distracting than a camera aimed at someone’s forehead, lap, or something else in the room. In addition, many people choose to use Zoom’s endless amount of free and paid backgrounds to add a bit of humor or professionalism to the video chat. Just don’t go overboard. Temporary changes to your background in a light-hearted manner are alright in the correct atmosphere. But make sure to gauge the conversation before throwing on a random background.

Don’t Multitask

In the same vein as other distracting actions is multitasking. The reason this is bothersome is to look at it from others’ points of view. If you’re shuffling papers, busting out a calculator, or doing some sort of housework while you’re on a meeting, your actions come off as apathetic. So try to get other activities done before the meeting or hold off until afterward.

3. Trust Your Colleagues and Staff

Do you dislike the feeling of someone constantly looking over your shoulder? Are you relieved that working remotely has delivered you from this uncomfortable fate? The members of your virtual team probably feel the same way. If you shoot off emails every hour for a project status or demand to know what your staff or colleagues are doing every second of the day, consider taking a virtual office etiquette cue to step back and allow people to do their jobs.

When dealing with experienced professionals in a virtual office, remember that each person has already established their workflow. Set a deadline or schedule a status email around the midpoint of a project. Focus on goals and accomplishments instead of employee activity. In the remote world, results often matter more than set hours or the speed of work.

4. Be Mindful of Time Zones

With the rise of a global workforce and the popularity of the digital nomad lifestyle, the odds that your boss or colleagues work in the same time zone have decreased exponentially.

When deadlines roll around expecting an immediate response to a message or email is tempting. But keep in mind that different time zones will affect everything from response times to meeting availability. What seems like a normal or reasonable hour in your time zone may not be similar other remote team members.

This is where tools such as World Time Buddy can come in handy. This application can simultaneously compare the time zones across multiple locations. Remember that if you run a U.S.-based company and have a global workforce, your European-based team may not gel with this schedule. 

To ensure everyone participates in company meetings during regular business hours, consider shifting the schedule. Provide the option of downloading a recording or transcript of the virtual meeting for remote workers who are unable to attend because of scheduling conflicts.

5. Respect Off-Hours Time

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Time zones are difficult to keep in order. But to compound the issue, workers must also remain cognizant of other peoples’ off-hours time. What makes this troublesome is that you’re not sure when people are behind their desks. Everyone has different hours. Some may have to work a normal 9-to-5 shift while others have more flexibility and autonomy.

Therefore, you should set boundaries on your own. Think inwardly to develop these habits. Can you be interrupted during a project and carry on without much trouble? Not everyone can. In addition, others may have obligations such as caring for parents or children outside of work hours. So when you find the perfect meme to share at 11 p.m., wait until the next day. As much as humor and impulsivity can enable team solidarity, it can also detract from it.

6. Be Sensitive to Cultural Differences

Although casual conversation online has supplanted water cooler chats, consider this. In today’s global workforce, a lighthearted joke in one area of the world is an insult to another.

Since major religious holidays or cultural events in other countries have the potential to affect productivity, ensure all team members are aware of any scheduling restrictions. When joining a global workforce, avoid discussing controversial topics. This list includes religion, politics, or sex.

For digital nomads or companies with a large global workforce, culture shock is a real thing. Spending some time learning about the social norms of your peers can mitigate communication issues and build effective working relationships.

7. Do Unto Others…

In a virtual office environment, isolation is a true concern. You may often feel alone working by yourself. However, remain considerate of your co-workers, staff, and supervisors by ensuring that you are accessible. This doesn’t mean equate to an unrealistic 24-hour-a-day schedule. But practicing good virtual office etiquette means you should communicate your hours of availability. Or, make sure to set aside some designated time to be available for feedback or questions.

When a colleague or client sends you an email or text, virtual office etiquette dictates that you respond in a polite way. Don’t ‘ghost’ your peers. Nothing is more disruptive to virtual collaboration than a disappearing remote worker who refuses to respond to communication attempts.

If the company uses work communication and productivity software programs, verify that all staff members are familiar with tools. This allows them to get instant feedback or enables them to interact with technical support as needed.

8. Never Forget You Are a Working Professional

There's a time to be light-hearted or joke around, but remember that you're still an office professional, even in a virtual setting.

One of the perks of having a virtual office is that unless you are in a co-working space or a coffee shop, you are usually the only one in the room. Hence, pajamas and casual wear tends to be the daily wardrobe of choice for remote workers. But sometimes, dressing the part of a working professional is necessary.

An example is participating in video conference calls with your peers or prospective clients. Since first impressions and professionalism are always important, demonstrate virtual office etiquette by making sure you look presentable and alert during video calls. Also, stay mindful of your body language and facial expressions. If you have an early morning video meeting, ensure you are fully awake before appearing on camera.

Although most video communication focuses on the upper half of your body, make sure your outfit appropriately covers your bottom half as well. You never know when you might have to stand up and walk away from your desk during a video call.

Finally, don’t eat during the meeting. There is nothing more distracting than someone chewing, gulping, and slurping during a conference call.

9. Be Clear When Communicating Expectations

Remote workers should remember that unless they are solopreneurs, they do not make significant decisions all on their own. No matter how brilliant a new idea is, last-minute decisions can change the scope of a project or impact the team workflow.

Collaborative software programs can be invaluable tools in getting virtual team members on the same page. Here are some commonly used options that companies can incorporate into their company workflow:

  • Basecamp
  • Slack
  • Trello
  • Wrike
  • Zoho Projects
  • Google Drive

Collaboration is difficult enough with a remote workforce. According to the 2020 State of Remote Work report, 20% of remote workers struggle with collaboration and communication while working remotely. By encouraging remote staff to communicate with each other and using collaboration software, companies can help maintain and improve productivity.

Actionable Steps

Bonus Remote Management Tip: When managing remote workers, be clear with expectations. Let remote staff know exactly what is expected of them productivity-wise. Provide the resources necessary to complete their jobs effectively. Moreover, assign responsibilities from day one, set milestones and priorities, and clearly discuss the final outcomes of the project or assignment. Delegate project leaders, and set a hierarchy to allow for potential shifts in project scope.

10. Don’t Waste Others’ Time

Working in a virtual office means you can no longer blame tardiness on traffic delays. So, don’t be late for scheduled conference calls or virtual meetings. This poor virtual office etiquette disrupts everyone’s schedule while they wait for you to join the meeting.

Prior to your calls or virtual meetings, check your equipment and learn how to operate new software or tools. Eliminate distractions by closing windows, turning off the television or stereo, and locking doors to reduce the likelihood of interruptions.

Be prepared with talking points and stick to the agenda. Derailing a meeting while you search for information or engage in small-talk is not only unprofessional but also shows a lack of disrespect for everyone else’s time.

Virtual office etiquette isn’t as straightforward as in a typical office setting, simply because the modes of communication and setting are far different. But don’t let that become an excuse. Instead, employ these ideas, and you’ll find that your mix of professionalism and personality shine through to colleagues, coworkers, and clients.

Do you have any virtual office etiquette tips or amusing anecdotes about virtual office etiquette? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and questions. We’d love to hear from you!


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