Date posted: 26/05/2020

Virtual etiquette and why it’s important

Find out why having a good handle on virtual etiquette is important, and how you can improve your email, phone and video communication skills.

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With schools, universities and workplaces across Australia and New Zealand having moved to online learning to stop the spread of COVID-19, there is no better time than the present to practice your virtual communication skills.

Unlike in-person interactions where you can get instant feedback and pick up on social cues from the person you're communicating with, virtual communication by email, phone or video means you need to pay closer attention to verbal and nonverbal cues, the flow of the conversation, and your appearance (if communicating via video).

Here are some simple tips to help you put your best (professional) foot forward online.

💻 Write with the wow factor

Whether you're asking your teacher a question, applying for a job, or networking online, it is essential to know how to craft a well-written email with an appropriate tone and structure. Remember, sometimes an email is a recipient's first impression of you, so you want to be sure to get it right and make it count.

  • Who sent this?: If you're not writing from your student or work email address, create an email address featuring your name so the recipient will instantly know who is writing to them.
  • Lead with a clear subject line: Keep the subject line brief and specific so the recipient knows what the email is about just from reading the subject line.
  • Address the recipient: Set a friendly tone at the start of your email with a greeting which can be formal or informal depending on the scenario. If you are reaching out to someone for the first time, it is best to use a formal greeting. For example, "Hi John, My name is Mary Smith and I'm writing to you to ask..."
  • Be clear and concise with short sentences: Keep your writing concise and direct to convey your message to the recipient effectively. Short sentences are key. Organise your ideas into tidy paragraphs and/or bullet points.
  • Don't forget to sign off: If there are any priority actions or next steps to be taken, be sure to summarise these, then end with a thank you, your name and contact details.
  • Proof-read your email before sending: Be sure to look out for any spelling and grammatical errors before you hit send.

📞 Answer the phone professionally and impress your callers

Phone etiquette isn't a big deal when it comes to the everyday calls we might make to our family or friends. But when it comes to answering a call directly from your teacher, manager, or a potential employer, do you know how to answer the phone professionally?

  • Speak clearly: Try your best to get your message across to your caller by speaking clearly. Remember that your voice is the only thing that connects you to your caller.
  • Find a quiet space: If you are in a public, be mindful of the background noise. Try to find a quiet spot to take the call so you can hear and be heard without any trouble.
  • Actively listen and take notes: Be proactive by actively listening and taking notes during the call to ensure that you miss no important information. Always have a pen and paper ready!
  • Stay engaged: An energetic tone can go a long way to putting your caller at ease and communicating your interest in what they're saying when they can't see your face. Remember that your caller is just another human being, like you!
  • Honesty is the best policy: Remember that it's ok if you don't know the answer to a question. Rather than making excuses or giving your caller false information because you feel pressured to give an answer, tell them that you will find out and get back to them.
  • End the call politely: Thank your caller for their time, and try not to make it seem as you are in a rush to get off the phone by waiting for them to hang up first.

📹 Ready, set, zoom!

We're hosting and attending more video conference calls than ever before. There's a difference between a casual FaceTime call, and sitting down to an online learning class held over a video conference. While it can be helpful to approach a video call like you would an in-person meeting with a teacher or manager, there are a few more things to keep in mind.

  • Get dressed properly: It's important to wear smart casual clothing just like you would going to a face-to-face meeting.
  • Tidy up: Before you join a video call, take some time to tidy up your background. Try to clear your surroundings of any distractions.
  • Find a quiet space: If you can, find a quiet space to take the call. If you have roommates, partners or family members who are at home, let them know that you will be on a call to minimise interruptions.
  • Be on time: Being tardy to an important video call isn't a good look. Always aim to join early rather than late.
  • Picture perfect: When you're on a video call, try to look at the camera. Remember that looking into the webcam lens is the equivalent of looking into a speaker's eyes. It helps to minimise your video call window and move it as close to just below the lens as possible. This will keep your eyes trained on the right spot.
  • Find your light: A nicely lit face is key! Make sure that there is enough light in the room in front of you, so you aren't just a dark silhouette. Backlighting and video calls are not friends!
  • The right equipment: If you're able to, use a good quality set of headphones with a microphone. This will allow you to hear a video call, and be heard clearly when you are speaking.
  • What does your body language say? During the video call, aim to sit upright and avoid crossing your arms. Make sure you are paying attention to the speaker, and nod occasionally to show that you are engaged in the conversation.
  • Know when to put yourself on mute: When you aren't speaking, it is important to mute your microphone to avoid any interruptions or distractions caused by background noise. Think barking dogs and loud housemates… Even when taking a sip of water or blowing your nose offscreen, it's polite to mute your mic.
  • Signal when you want to talk: When someone else on the call is speaking, make sure to wait for a few moments of silence before you interject so you don't interrupt the current speaker mid-thought. If you're using Zoom, you can also use the "raise hand" function to signal that you want to speak up. This especially comes in handy when someone else on the call is giving a lengthy presentation and you need to jump in with a question or comment.
  • Stay focused: Keep in mind that you are ultimately more visible on video calls than in face-to face meetings because attendees are looking at everyone on the call at once, even when only one person is speaking. Be attentive, practice active listening throughout the call, and be prepared to ask or answer questions at any time.