Tracy Ho, Founder and Director of Frame & Fame Personal Branding, on the importance of mastering business etiquette in order to effectively communicate in today’s business environment
The way we do business has always undergone change, but the COVID-19 pandemic has led to changes on a scale we haven’t seen before – it has introduced businesses to new work standards to keep their operations afloat. As the world adapts to the new normal, companies are pushed to explore various options to be more practical, strategic and creative while battling the challenges of the global health crisis.
Over the course of the pandemic, numerous companies and corporate executives approached us for consultation and/or training on business etiquette in the so-called “new normal.” This did not come as a surprise as everyone has, at some point, had to embrace a work-from-home setup and utilize business communication apps and platforms.
As an executive presence coach, I support C-suites, senior executives, and business owners to be more mindful and strategic in terms of their image, communication, and composure – and business etiquette is one of the most frequently discussed topics. Usually upheld by custom and not always spoken of, this set of manners and practices plays a very important role in building executive presence, corporate credibility, trust, and an individual’s overall personal branding. Therefore, it is important for business professionals to be able to uphold these standards even if most of their interactions with colleagues and business partners happen virtually.
Common communication platforms
The pandemic gave rise to various external and internal messaging solutions. These platforms utilize various channels such as mobile phones and functionalities such as video conferencing, task management, and group messaging. Other platforms even have specialized features for project management, collaboration, file sharing, and customer messaging. As people get used to remote work, these platforms prove to be a big help in real-time communication and efficient task completion.
Some of the most popular communication apps that rose to popularity during the pandemic include Slack (internal messaging), Trello (collaboration), Asana (project management), and of course, Zoom (video conferencing). Not to mention personal and group messaging features of popular social media channels. Through these platforms, internal and external business communications are made fast and reliable.
Business communications, however, should not only be fast and reliable; it has to be kept professional as well. Otherwise, your credibility, executive presence, and overall personal brand could bear the consequences – something you wouldn’t want to happen in a cutthroat business world.
Video conferencing etiquette
Everyone’s time is valuable. People working from their homes may have to tend to chores outside of their workload, so respect their call schedules and demands. More importantly, make them feel that their presence is important and that you appreciate their time and effort. Here are some ways to enhance your etiquette for your next video call:
- Send colleagues or clients a calendar invite specifying the meeting’s details;
- Dress up appropriately and look presentable;
- Prepare everything beforehand such as materials or presentations, etc. Test your audio and camera early on to prevent any technical difficulties during the call;
- Don’t make them wait; hop on the call five minutes earlier if possible;
- Keep your camera in a stable position and focused at eye level. Use proper lighting and an appropriate background;
- Focus on the call or meeting by muting your smartphone and turning off any notifications that may distract you;
- Keep your focus when talking and listening. Look at your camera and not at yourself on the screen;
- Speak clearly and ask relevant questions. Take notes when needed;
- Mute your microphone when you’re not speaking and ensure that you have good quality audio; and
- Send meeting notes or summaries via email (or any official communication platform) to note any discussed areas, action items, and agreements made. When people are working remotely, such notes often come in handy and will help increase clarity and avoid confusion.
Sensitivity, empathy, and respect
I believe that business etiquette in the new normal all boils down to how you observe sensitivity and empathy towards your colleagues and business partners. Doing business in challenging times such as the pandemic should be easier when you know how to respect others and ensure others do the same.
Despite having a means to personally message co-workers, including higher executives, one must also be able to respect hierarchies and follow reporting protocols and communication flows. While there is open communication, it remains important to respect seniority and reporting lines when voicing out and addressing work-related matters.
As businesses go global and continuously embrace diversity and inclusion, multicultural communication etiquette is also given more importance than ever. Online communication tends to make interaction among people of different cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, and those who speak different languages more prone to misunderstanding. This underlines the importance of being culturally sensitive and aware of these differences in order to foster a good business relationship anchored on respect. One’s presence and manners can say a lot about who they are as a professionals, making it crucial for business etiquette to be observed to maintain professionalism in the workplace – be it online or in-person.