Debrett's Ask the Expert: What is appropriate "netiquette" for the workplace?

 
Debrett's: Ask the Expert
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You should probably avoid emoticons or emojis in your business correspondence (Source: Getty)

Q: I’ve worked in the same industry for many years, and lately I’ve been noticing colleagues taking an increasingly casual approach to email, even when corresponding with clients. Many of our younger staff also seem to live out their lives entirely on social media, which doesn’t always reflect well on the company. Am I just being old-fashioned? How can I insist on better “netiquette”?

As communication methods continue to evolve, employers and employees will experience challenges as well as benefits. The convenience and anonymity of email correspondence and social media compared with speaking to someone face-to-face or over the phone can mean professional formalities are neglected. While a lone “FYI” preceding a forwarded message may be a simple short-cut for some, it could come across as rude to others.

Many companies include email and internet policies in their employee handbook, setting out any restrictions on personal correspondence, web browsing and the dissemination of work-related material. Your HR department should ensure that all employees are familiar with this, and let staff know if their emails and internet activity are monitored.

Your company may also wish to include guidelines on acceptable salutations and sign-offs, establish a template for staff signatures, and even lay down any ground rules relating to the use of emoticons, e-kisses or other digital idioms.

Read more: I'm in a relationship with a colleague at work: Should I keep it secret?

Email can present other etiquette challenges, so it might be necessary to give tactful advice on issues such as replying all when not strictly necessary, copying versus blind copying, and the use (or overuse) of the “urgent” icon. “All Staff” recipient lists should also be treated with caution: humorous or viral emails may not be universally popular.

Many companies now use alternative platforms to facilitate communication between staff, such as Slack, instant messaging and WhatsApp. Many of the same netiquette principles apply across these platforms: pleases and thank yous will generally be appreciated, and new members should be introduced to group discussions so that everyone is aware who is taking part in any given conversation.

Social media has become an invaluable tool for promoting a brand and can be an effective, informal way of receiving and responding to customer feedback. It is also a highly public spokesperson, and new recruits should therefore be introduced to any social platforms advisedly. Ensure that your social media strategy, schedule and tone of voice are established and understood before giving staff members access to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or other accounts. A system by which all posts are checked and signed off before they are made public may limit spontaneity, but will prevent any social media mishaps.

Staff members accustomed to regular social sharing with friends and family may not anticipate the professional implications of posting controversial or political material online. Some companies ask employees to include a disclaimer on personal accounts, stating that their views are their own and not those of the company. It may also be prudent to ask temporary staff not to mention any affiliation with the company on social media platforms.

Similarly, bearing in mind the personal nature of much of the content we share on social media, it is wise for employees to think carefully before connecting with colleagues on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They should also check their privacy settings to ensure that they are not sharing information or images more widely than they realise.

If a staff member resigns or their contract is terminated, companies should ensure email and social media passwords are changed: though a backlash is unlikely from anyone hoping for a favourable reference, there’s no harm in pre-empting – and preventing – digital indiscretions by disgruntled former employees.

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