WORKPLACE ETIQUETTE

Use of Electronic Communication

There is a growing debate whether relationships have now become more superficial with the use of technology in business communication. This is because a lot information exchange are done via emails, texts, instant messaging, through intranet, blogs, websites, podcasts, webinars, virtual conferencing and so on.

Technology is seen as very advantageous due to the speed in which information is passed on from one person to another, and the convenience, especially if meetings, for example, require a lot of time organisation, and travel. Economy is another reason for businesses and organisations who prefer electronic communication over face to face as in the case of video conferencing, where instead of having attendees spend time on the road to a meeting offsite, the video conference can put together “in a room, at the same time” people who are physically located in different places or locations.

However this begs the question of the “rules” of communication. And workplace etiquette is affected by these rules. There is more room for misinterpretation using electronic communication because of the absence of the human aspects of communication, for example the body language that includes gestures, facial expressions, and the inflection/intonation or use of voice. How does one express true politeness in an email, or how do the words get interpreted differently as opposed to hearing it being said in person? The “tone” of an email is different from the “tone” of a person expressing an idea in a situation where the listener can actually ascertain the mood or emotional state of that person expressing an idea.

The concept of “being late” is another issue that presents itself in electronic communication. With the expectation of immediacy, how long does one wait for an email to be responded to, or for an SMS or instant message to be acknowledged? In terms of workflow, how long can a person wait to hear back from a colleague expected to deliver a report, an attachment, a file or any other output that is to be actioned by a receiver? It is similar to the rules of attending a face to face meeting, how long is a meeting organiser to wait before starting the meeting, when there are still some attendees missing?

Let’s talk about communication breakdown. This is really what is in the heart of electronic communication that affects workplace etiquette. Specifically, what one writes that leads to another person’s misinterpretation, or what one writes about, that did not get clarified by the person receiving the information. What is worse is when one does not even express properly what they mean.

In both situations, whether electronic or face-to-face, there should be an opportunity for dialogue if the message given is not clear, and there needs to be an opportunity to apologise for any confusion caused. Electronic communication can also be a tool for developing good working etiquette if one knows how to play the rules properly. There is an element of “listening” on both counts, and an opportunity to enhance workplace relationships if people just remain professional. Meaning, regardless of the mode they chose to communicate in, people need to remind themselves that working cooperatively requires looking after the interests of others, not just themselves. In that way, people are able to establish real or genuine working relationships with colleagues, which is at the heart of a successful team environment.