Internet Etiquette Guidelines for Your Workplace

We spend an increasingly large amount of time online these days, personally and professionally. At the end of 2021, Ladders projected that 25% of all jobs in the United States would be remote by the end of 2022 and that the number of remote and hybrid jobs would only increase throughout 2023. With the rise in popularity of remote and hybrid work options further increasing the time we spend plugged in, it’s important for your organization to set guidelines for internet etiquette in your workplace. 

Internet etiquette, sometimes referred to as netiquette, is a set of standards for communicating and engaging with others online. Many netiquette guidelines simply boil down to common courtesy, but the lines may become blurry when working completely remotely or in a hybrid situation. 

Your workplace netiquette expectations may differ from another business’ expectations, and some organizations may have more formal rules in place for online communication than your business requires. This article discusses general guidelines you can share with your employees to ensure your online workplace is kept secure and professional.

Top view of two professionals typing on laptops with business reports and coffee cup.

Why is Proper Netiquette Important?

Online workplaces can sometimes be overwhelming. You likely have three or more different ways to communicate with your coworkers and leaders. Hybrid and remote work demand increased written communication, even if you have a daily or weekly stand-up call with your team. And with written communication, we often lose important communication cues like body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Scientists believe that a whopping 55% of most communication is nonverbal! We communicate with far more than just words, after all. 

Practicing good netiquette is important because we can make up for some of the missed nonverbal cues. By practicing proper online communication whether you’re using Slack, emailing, participating in a video conference, or messaging your team, you can ensure your message is delivered in the way you intend it to be.

Properly Preparing Your Internet Communication 

With all the different online methods we have at our disposal for keeping our team up to date on project statuses and the increase in online written communication in general, we likewise need to increase the care we give to that communication. 

The 5 Ws

A simple trick to keeping your online communication top-notch is to ask yourself the 5 Ws. Asking yourself the following questions can help you determine the best way to deliver your message.

Who needs to be aware of the information in this message? My supervisor? My teammate? My entire team?

What is this communication’s primary goal? Do I need to ask a question about a new process or product? Do I need to update my team or supervisor on the project’s status? Am I simply touching base with everyone and discussing plans for the week?

When do I need a response to this? Is it urgent? Do I need a response beyond an acknowledgement of receipt? Will the response impact projected timelines or due dates? At what time in the day am I most likely to receive an answer from this person?

Where should this communication be sent? Is this topic best sent through a quick instant message? Does it require an email? Should it be a phone call? Or is it best if I request a video meeting?

Why is this important for me to communicate?

Netiquette Rules for Written Workplace Communication 

While asking the 5 Whys is a powerful way to gauge your audience, understand the need for your message, and determine what the best method of communication is, you should also keep these rules in mind when communicating online:

Be Aware of “Tone”

In text-based communications, it can be difficult to project a tone or attitude through your words since you’re not physically present with your coworkers or supervisors. A lot can be misinterpreted, so it’s important to consider the tone of your writing and display empathy whenever possible. 

While you should maintain whatever level of professionalism is necessary for the purpose of your communication, many email services and IM software like Slack allow for you to include emojis and even GIFs. Don’t bombard your team with excessive images and videos to digest, but a well-placed and well-considered image-based pop culture reference or creatively inserted emoji can elevate or change the tone of many messages. 

Use the Proper Communication Channel

Since we have so many ways to communicate now, it’s important to be mindful of the channels you use, whether you’re in-person or in-office. 

If your message is a brief update or quick touch-base, an instant messaging service like Teams Instant Messaging or Slack can be a great way to keep everyone on the same page.

If your message requires a more detailed discussion or needs to include a lot of information, consider sending an email so that the recipient has time to digest the content properly and formulate questions and comments thoughtfully. 

Similarly, if you need to have a more in-depth conversation with several people or need to relay complicated information, meetings are the best way to go. Requesting cameras be on during video meetings can be a great way to gauge whether your audience understands you, because you have the ability to study facial expressions. It’s also a nice way to feel just a little more connected. 

Limit Excessive Communications and Respond in a Timely Manner

One of the blessings of text-based internet communication is that we often have time to think through what it is we want to say before we press ‘send.’ When you take the time to truly consider your message and audience by walking through the 5 Ws, you give yourself time to carefully craft your message and anticipate questions. Because we reap the benefits of having time to think through exactly what we’d like to say, it’s important we offer the same courtesy to our team. 

When emailing, give your teammates and supervisors time to think about what you’ve said before sending a follow-up email within an hour or two. It’s best to give it at least 24 business hours before sending a follow-up email. Instant messaging has its own set of rules: if you receive an instant message during work hours, not responding within 24 hours may be considered rude, so aim to do so within an hour or two, if you can’t respond immediately. If you feel you need more time to craft an adequate response, simply let your teammate know you’ll follow up with them via an email. 

Always Proofread Your Messages

Your old high school English teacher isn’t the only one who cares about grammar and clarity of thought in your writing. Messages littered with stray commas, missing punctuation, misspelled words, and other errors can be seen as sloppy and unprofessional by the recipient. Instant messaging platforms like Slack sometimes have an editing function you can employ after a message is sent, but it’s not possible to do that with an email. Be sure to proofread your messages for grammar, spelling, and general clarity before you send that message off into cyberspace.

Respect Others’ Privacy

We have clear-cut guidelines for respecting the privacy of others when in-person: don’t snoop on another person’s computer, avoid touching others’ personal objects, be mindful of personal space, respect a closed door, etc. When working remotely, a lot of those situations don’t even have an opportunity to present themselves, but there are still a few things you should do to protect the privacy of others, particularly when it comes to sharing or saving private communications. 

Avoid taking and sharing screenshots of private conversations unless you feel a need to document a situation (and in that situation, you should perhaps consider involving your HR manager). You should also consider carefully before BCCing someone in on an email message: why shouldn’t the recipient know this email is going to someone else? CCing a supervisor in on an email thread is sometimes entirely necessary, but consider whether the previous messages in the thread should be made more public before deciding to do so. 

Netiquette Rules for Video Conferencing 

Netiquette involves more than just emails and Slack messaging–we need to practice good online etiquette when video conferencing, as well. Here are a few tips to make your video conferencing go more smoothly:

Minimize Distractions

If you’re not the one speaking, especially if there are more than two or three people in a meeting, it’s important that you mute your microphone. Even if you don’t think you’re making noise, the microphone might catch you slurping your coffee or pick up the squeaks of you moving around in your chair. Muting yourself limits the possibility of you distracting others. You may also want to consider investing in a quality pair of headphones, as they can eliminate a lot of background noise when you do speak. 

Managing audio quality and excessive noise isn’t the only way to minimize distractions; you should also consider the background that will appear behind you during your meeting. Having a lot of clutter, an unmade bed, people, or moving objects in the background behind you can be more distracting than the occasional slurp of coffee. Try to keep what’s behind you tidy and professional, whether you’re working from a beach house on vacation or your own office. 

Join Meetings & Test Your Equipment

Just like walking into a meeting ten minutes late can be incredibly disruptive, joining a video conference late is likewise disruptive. It’s common courtesy to log onto your video call five minutes before the call begins. This provides you time to test your microphone and camera and ensure audio is working properly. It also gives you the opportunity to ensure you’ll be comfortable in your environment for the duration of the call and gives you a moment to collect your thoughts. 

Be Prepared and Treat It Like a Normal Face-to-Face Meeting

Joining a meeting early is an excellent way to make sure you’re prepared on the technical side of things, but you should also prepare any notes or comments you need for your meeting so that you’re prepared to engage with your team. Consider the topic of conversation and all the documents or questions you might want to have at the ready, just as you would for an in-person meeting. If you’re presenting, this is doubly important, and you should consider going through a test run of your presentation and sharing your slides before the actual meeting itself. 

Further Resources

You’re now prepared to shine during all of your online communications! However, if you’re in search of more guidance on best practices for workplace communication, KnowledgeCity has you covered. Our Learning Library has over 30,000 videos, and many of them are focused on business communications. We have courses on Business Email Best Practices, Communicating as a Member of a Virtual Team, and Choosing the Right Communication Tools. Check our list of communication courses or consider requesting a free demo today!   

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