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7 Work Phrases That Don’t Make Sense in a Remote World

Updated on June 17, 2022Professionals

Many millions of people switched to remote work at the onset of the pandemic, perhaps returning to the office only briefly since then to grab our desk photos and surviving houseplants. 

Maybe some have been returning to the office routine here and there. But in the meantime, many folks still find themselves habitually using a lot of workplace phrases that, upon reflection, seem laughably nonsensical or even antiquated.

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Here are a few such terms that no longer apply—or at least hit differently these days—along with possible explanations and advice for how you might adapt them to a remote work world.

1  Let’s take this offline

First, thank you: If something comes up that only two people need to go into detail about during a meeting with five other people, it’s considerate of you to wait to hash out the specifics separately later on. 

Trouble is, if we’re all working remotely, there is no “offline”—just a different video chat, phone call, Slack channel, or another opportune communication platform for someone’s pet to steal the spotlight. So instead, we suggest just saying “let’s sort this out afterward,” or, if you crave a shiny replacement term, “we can sidebar later.”

2  Meeting face-to-face

In a technical sense, a lot less of this happens lately—but also, aren’t most of your meetings through a video platform, presumably with everyone’s camera on? (We’re not counting your colleague Tomás, who boldly defies convention by chronically pointing his camera at just the top quarter of his head, but never mind.)

Here, we think the idea you’re trying to convey is meeting directly in real time, not in asynchronous messages and not as incorporeal voices. You might try just saying you’re “meeting directly” instead or even specify your preferred platform. In certain crowds, calling this a “1:1” has also gained some recent cachet.

>>Read More: How to Determine if a Meeting Is Really Necessary

3  Water cooler talk

Did your office even have a water cooler in the Before Times? And supposing it did, would leaning against it be the preferred place to vent about how arduous your commute was—or that incredible blown call in last night’s sportsball game?

Depending on your preferred flavor of “water cooler talk,” we can think of a number of more precise replacement terms:

  • Company gossip (although partaking in this has its downsides)
  • Sports talk
  • Making chitchat
  • Catching up

Actually, then again, the dead metaphor of “water cooler talk” might just be your least ungainly option here.

>>Read More: How to Set Boundaries Around Social Chit-Chat at Work

4  Onsite interview

In a bygone era, this meant getting invited to visit a prospective employer, tour the place where you might soon work, and meet your potential colleagues. It was a solid indicator you were a legit contender for the job. 

But now that it’s increasingly common to work so remotely you’re not even sure you could pick your colleagues out of a lineup, where would “onsite” even be? The cloud? The beautiful anonymous islands of a Zoom background? 

So rather than say you secured an onsite interview, you might just say you’re a finalist for the position. Good luck!

>>Read More: 5 Tips to Make Remote Interviewing a Breeze

5  Shoulder tap

We hope you weren’t deploying this one literally in anyone’s space—least of all while they had headphones on. Anyway, our main memory of it was in the sentence “our office has adopted a strict no-shoulder-tap policy,” meaning “please stop swinging by my desk with random interruptions, I work there.” Hence this answer for a term to replace the outmoded shoulder tap: Be straightforward and call it an interruption.

(This also highlights one of the author John McPhee’s venerable tips: Sometimes, you want a simpler word, not a more rarefied one—and are better off searching for it in a dictionary rather than a thesaurus.)

6  OOO (Out-of-office)

We should just admit this one was awful even when there was an office to be out of.

“Can we reschedule? I’m OOO then” is a lexical mess. It makes us think: Typo? Spooky sound? You’re in awe of something? Feeling nauseous? And then, only in a distant fourth: Ah, got it, you’re off work that day—enjoy!

We’ve seen folks substitute in the slightly more intelligible “I’m on PTO then,” meaning “paid time off,” though this seems a curious humblebrag. If you’re ravenous for an alternative acronym, you might try AFK, which any gamer will tell you means “away from keyboard,” but here’s our suggestion: Just say you’re off that day. 

>>Read More: How to Write an Effective Out-of-Office Message

7  Meeting for coffee

Honestly, we miss this one. It could be a real impromptu treat to walk across the street with a more seasoned colleague for a quick mentoring session over cold brews. Alas, if that type of interaction hasn’t gone outright missing from your workday, obtaining it remotely likely requires a bit more structure and deliberation. 

Here, again, it might be best to go with a straightforward option and be direct. You might have once said, “Hey, I like how the project you just wrapped up turned out. Can we set up some time to talk about how you pulled it off?” Notice that we suggest simply dropping the coffee mention when you ask them to meet. 

Of course, if you’ll just be chatting over video, nothing’s stopping you from having your favorite mug within reach. 

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