6 etiquette tips for remote workers

Just because you don't share an office doesn't mean you can't be kind
By Amy Wilkinson  Published on 02/22/2019 at 10:00 AM EDT

Working remotely can feel like an office drone’s paradise: sleeping in, staying in your PJs, working from the comfort of your cushy couch. But it also has its drawbacks. Not going into an office—and not getting facetime with your colleagues—can sometimes lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding. (You thought that email you sent to Phyllis about missing her deadline was polite, but she begs to differ…)

Just as any office has a code of conduct, so too should your home office. We spoke with licensed business etiquette speaker and trainer Rachel Wagner for her best practices when working remotely.

1. Designate Your Space

No one wants to be that person on the conference call. You know, the one with the crying baby, barking dog, or blaring car horn in the background. In addition to being a major meeting distraction, these sound leaks can make you look unprofessional. That’s why Wagner recommends, first and foremost, setting up a dedicated office space when working remotely.

“Number one I would say make sure you’re working in an area with a door that shuts, especially if you have family pets or live with other people,” she says. “I also recommend having a headset that you can mute so that the caller does not hear distracting background noise.” (Another conference call tip: If you’re calling into a video or Skype chat, in which your co-workers will most definitely see you, make sure you’re showered and wearing an outfit appropriate for your role. “Then you can wear your slippers with that,” Wagner says with a laugh.)

2. Know When Not to Send that Email or Slack

As a remote employee, the bulk of your communication with your colleagues, and even your supervisor, is likely via email or an instant messaging application such as Slack. While those methods are great for quick questions (“What time was that meeting again?”) or submitting assignments (“Here’s that deck you wanted!”), they’re not ideal for discussing potentially touchy topics, in which tone of voice and body language will be vital to understanding meaning.

“If something is of a more sensitive, emotional, or negative nature you want to pick up the phone and speak with the person or have a face-to-face meeting at the office,” says Wagner. “Any of those type of situations are best handled with a human voice versus email.” If you’re worried about having a record of the conversation, you can always type up notes post-meeting and email them to the parties involved.

3. Watch Your Tone

If for whatever reason you do need to deliver important news or information via email or Slack, try to make sure it’s written in a tone that won’t be misconstrued. “There is a lot of room for misinterpretation, offense, feathers ruffled, and blood pressure raised when we’re communicating in those methods because people look at it as a quick way to communicate,” Wagner says. “I always instruct people to choose your words carefully and thoughtfully. That’s really important to make sure the tone of the message comes across without offending or upsetting someone or having them misinterpret your communication. Reread it before you send it…and if it’s appropriate to do this and not some confidential information, you can have someone else read it.” Sometimes a message that you think sounds perfectly pleasant may be read by another as cold, so a second opinion can be your best friend.

4. Go Easy on the Emojis

If you’re worried about how you’re coming across in a communication and are tempted to conclude it with a smiley or winky face, Wagner recommends treading lightly. “They can be used with someone that you already know very well,” she says. “You want to not use them with someone you don’t know and you don’t want to use them to kind of make up for something that you know you sent was a little terse. Use them very carefully.”

5. Leave an Away Message

One of the perks that comes from working remotely is flexibility—being able to pick up your kids after school or schedule a mid-day doctor’s appointment, for instance. But if you’re planning on being away from your desk for an hour or more, it’s a good idea to let others know, so it doesn’t look like you’re shirking responsibilities or being intentionally unresponsive.

“If you’re going to be out for an extended period just send a chat to let people know that you’ll be out during that time period,” says Wagner. Office etiquette also dictates that you return emails or voicemails by the end of the day—or within 24 hours at the latest.

6. Be Mindful of Time Zones and Evening Hours

Many remote workers find themselves on a very different schedule than their co-workers. If you’re humming along in sunny California while the rest of your office is toiling away in rainy London, it’s likely many of your colleagues will be punching out just as you’re punching in. Wagner recommends scheduling your communiques at times that work for them. That may mean getting up a couple of hours earlier to get in a conference call before they leave for the day, or scheduling an email to leave your outbox when you’re in bed, so it’s the first one they receive in the morning (and doesn’t ping their phone at 3 a.m.). Bottom line, says, Wagner: “Respect the time zones and work-time boundaries of your colleagues.”

By putting in just a little thought and care, you can keep your co-workers on your side…even if they’re thousands of miles away.

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