If you’ve shifted to remote work over the last year, you’ve undoubtedly had to recalibrate your approach to professional communications and relations. After a few months of adapting, the best etiquette and processes for interacting remotely with colleagues are becoming clear.
Core to these new best practices is empathy, which is central to kindness. Understanding your coworkers and their perspectives also helps foster an enjoyable workplace—even when it also happens to be your living room.
DO: Set boundaries on when to ping coworkers
Lately, many people haven’t just been working from home—they’ve rarely gone anywhere else. This can make it feel like you never leave work, and breaches of work chat etiquette don’t help. Nobody wants to hear an after-hours Slack message alerting them while they’re trying to break away for dinner and a movie, so don’t be the person pinging when it’s inappropriate.
Align with your coworkers on the definition of “after hours”—and what constitutes a worthy exception. And if you decide to work ahead by dashing off a few emails on Sunday afternoon, consider scheduling them to go out Monday morning so as not to interrupt most people’s leisure time.
DON’T: Schedule unnecessary meetings—especially the video kind
The last year has been hard for many people, and meeting by video can feel like extra work. What’s meant to be a connective check-in is too often rife with interruptions: kids innocently disrupting, roommates or partners running the coffee grinder at the worst possible moment, and dogs that would’ve appreciated a walk an hour ago.
As we’ve noted elsewhere, a lot of meetings could just be phone calls, and a lot of phone calls could just be emails. This is not to say every video meeting is an unreasonable affront, but be deliberate about putting one on the calendar. Ensure there’s a true purpose to a real-time discussion.
DON’T: Forget about time zones
If you’re used to hitting deadlines on Pacific time and owe a draft to someone in Europe, you might have conflicting definitions of “by the end of the day.” To avoid this, make a habit of being clear about what time zone you have in mind, e.g., “I can get that to you by 6 p.m. PT.”
Also, remember that more than a few US states can sometimes trick you because they contain more than one time zone. If scheduling a meeting involving several time zones starts to resemble a math test, get people to clarify. Your online calendar may also be able to help you do this automatically.
DO: Reach out to new employees
Starting a new job is often challenging, and getting to know the people you work with is especially hard from a distance. Make time to connect with newcomers and help them feel welcome, whether it’s in a friendly email or Slack message. Note that this doesn’t have to be an epic process—even just a few kind words at the right time can go a long way.
DO: Prioritize informal opportunities to connect
Some of the most valuable connections with coworkers happen outside work proper, and folks shouldn’t have to miss out on that when working remotely. It can be healthy and worthwhile for people to chat in a less structured setting, both about work-adjacent matters and life in general.
If you’re organizing this type of event, be mindful that it doesn’t smack of “mandatory fun.” You might be pleasantly surprised by how many coworkers turn out, even when doing so is optional.
DON’T: Forget the mute button exists
During a conversation among remote workers, if zero disruptions or unpleasant noises occur, it’s either a miracle or a testament to the power of the mute button. Remember to put yourself on mute when you’re not speaking. Making this second nature helps limit distractions to your coworkers.
DO: Feel their pain
You may not have seen your colleagues in person in months—or ever. But think about what they’re experiencing, both in terms of the pressures of the job and the complexities of the world we live in. Considering how you can make these things even slightly better for them will make you a better person to work with, no matter what distance you’re working from.