Updated: Feb 24
Adapting our social codes starts with being kind. It’s that simple.
If there’s ever a time to start “being kind,” it’s now. Remember, it’s always free to be kind.
As the world evolves rapidly to address the COVID-19 virus, social codes are adapting with it. Think about how far we have come over the past few weeks, and even days! A short while ago, I published a piece on changing our introductions to protect others against the spread of germs. In that piece, as many others did, I called for greeting others via elbow bumps. My oh my how we have changed since then!
Back then (what a funny phrase to use), businesses were considering increasing cleanings, cancelling international travel and postponing large groups events. Now, we are encouraged to socially distance ourselves from others — some large US cities are even adopting a “shelter in place” mandate. Most individuals are self-quarantining, only going out to pick up absolute necessities.
That has meant that every industry that can has instilled an indefinite work from home for employees. As the business workforce turns remote, how do social codes adapt — and in some cases, stay the same — to fit our new “normal”?
I was also very fortunate to connect with Tony Hunter, the chairman of Revolution and the former CEO of the Chicago Tribune. He thoughtfully provided us with practices and strategies business leaders should be putting in place to better serve their employees during this stressful time. If a leader is going to step-up, it should be now.
Before I dive into all of that, I’d like to express my gratitude to the workers who are unable to work from home. Either those whose businesses have needed to suspend their operations until the situation has improved, or those who still need to go to work each day to live, especially healthcare workers, grocery store and pharmacy employees and anyone I’ve left out. Thank you.
Now, for the employees and business leaders who do need to work remotely, what etiquette should you be following?
Unsurprisingly, many of the same social codes apply if you work from an office or from home. As much as possible, try to avoid any major differences, especially in your comportment. I will share with you four important mannerisms to maintain while working from home.
1. Be professional. You will feel better about your work if you create an environment specifically for it. Try to avoid working from the comfort of your bed or working in front of your television, and thereby confusing personal with professional.
If you get out of bed each morning and put yourself together, you will be more prepared to face the day. When you have a digital meeting scheduled, especially by video conference, do not dial in whilst wearing pajamas and donning wild, untamed hair. Put care into your appearance; it will go a long way!
Home environments are inherently more casual than working environments, so this is not to say that you must be walking around your house in a pantsuit and button down. Rather, simply be neat.
2. Be communicative. Tony shared with me his belief that during times of crisis, frequency of communication should be increased, yet the length of the communication should be shortened. I love this advice!
It is respectful and kind to keep your coworkers and, if you’re a business leader, employees, as up to date on your work, policies, decisions and — if necessary — conflicts and concerns as possible.
More than this, your communications should follow the proper business protocol. A more casual work environment does not necessarily translate into a more casual style of communication. Continue to use the same language and style you would in the office — now is not the time to add more exclamation points, question marks or capitalized strings of letters into your messages. Again, follow #1 and be professional.
Don’t allow the external environment to impact internal communications. Remember, your emails and texts are a reflection of you, and you’re still at work. Even if you’re not in office.
3. Be on time. As you work from home, you will come across many distractions. A malfunctioning dishwasher, a load of laundry that must be done, a comfy couch that is whispering for you to come enjoy an afternoon nap. However you and your company decide to handle work hours and daily goals, make sure that you are on time for any digital meetings or phone calls.
You would not be late in office, so don’t allow any distractors at home to get in your way. It is more important than ever to be mindful; of your coworkers’ time, of your planned agenda, of your clients.
It is very rude for someone to be late to call in, while the other team members were on time and started the meeting. The late-comer interrupts the meeting flow, and someone has to give an update as to what has transpired so far. Being late reflects poorly—it says you are more important, and busier than the rest of the group. When working remotely, make it a priority to be on time, prepared and do not interrupt. Test technology if you are concerned about it working on your devices or Wifi provider.
While we are discussing digital etiquette, it is important to add the need for new protocols. I am sure you find it as incredibly annoying, and a hindrance to the meeting, when everyone keeps speaking over each other. Recognize who has the “floor” and let them speak, and finish before jumping in.
By setting up some protocols and basic ground rules, you can avoid pitfalls like “over speak,” monopolization, interruptions and disengagement. Your communications will be more productive if everyone minds their manners.
Your digital protocols may make your team more focused because everyone has a chance to participate. In person, it’s easy to remember who hasn’t spoken and encourage them to share; virtually, it’s more difficult to remember who hasn’t chimed in. The protocols can and should include an equitable amount of time each team member has to speak or respond, respectfully and without interruption. Some of the more introverted team members, who could have incredible ideas, will have the opportunity to present and be heard. Also, protocols will not allow a call to be monopolized by the more verbose team members.
4. Be empathetic. Mostly importantly, openly express and act on your empathy. We are all leaning on each other through this time — although I hope not literally!
Teammates are caring for loved ones or children who are unexpectedly home from school indefinitely. There will be unavoidable conflicts and situations that arise. Do your best to understand and put yourself in others’ shoes.
Tony’s style of leadership is greatly informed by empathy. When great leaders put the needs of their teams before themselves during times of great stress, they are showing empathy. He has encouraged his employees to make sure they are aligned physically, mentally and spiritually always, but especially in challenging times.
Respectful and considerate employees and business leaders will make sure their coworkers are prioritizing self-care. As Tony’s experience has shown, simply raising the importance of this alignment brings about more open and honest communication, increases trust in leadership, and improves performance!
This pandemic is taking away our everyday norms. In times of great crisis, we depend on and cling to our core values and beliefs to see us through. The most basic social codes tell us all to be considerate, respectful, compassionate and kind. Let us not lose those, not ever and certainly not now.