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Business Etiquette in Modern Online Business Communication


The last decade has seen some incredible changes in terms of how communication takes place in business.

Remember the days of having to travel hours for a 30-minute meeting?

Well, those days are long gone!

The development of the interconnected global economy, the advancement in digital technologies and the COVID-19 pandemic have all pushed organizations, businesses and professionals online.

Many well-known brands have even refused to go back to their previous ways of working. For example, Dell Technologies, Siemens, Mastercard, Spotify and many others have now made the shift online with various remote, virtual and Working From Home (WFH) models.

Business communication now is predominantly online and as a result, the etiquette has changed.

We no longer have to worry about whether to kiss, bow or shake hands but rather, what backgrounds we should be using on our video calls, or what tone to use in emails.

Let’s explore a few more examples.

Online Corporate Events

Although when attending online events there is much less to worry about in terms of etiquette and how to behave, there are still some important considerations.

To successfully navigate a corporate event, its attendees really require good business communication etiquette, because opportunities to make a good impression will be very limited.

You need to learn to be clear, succinct and make an impact with what you’re saying.

Another area of online events that have become more and more important over the past few years has been punctuality and timeliness.

‘Online time’ has become very precious and as a result, being late, talking too much at the expense of others and not sticking to time limits have become poor etiquette. Learning how to moderate meetings has also become an important business skill.

Some other etiquette pointers include:

  1. Keep yourself on mute until you need to speak
  2. Ensure the camera shows your face
  3. Avoid eating food other than small snacks and drinks
  4. Do not smoke or vape during online events
  5. Chewing gum should be avoided

Dress Code for Online Meetings

Dress codes are gradually changing as the new system of working virtually settles in.

Initially, people were quite casual about what they wore at their Teams meetings or during Zoom calls. Nobody really cared that much if you were in a hoodie or even your pyjamas!

However, today things are a bit different.

Professionals are presenting themselves much more consciously when engaging online – extra effort is now being made to look good, appear well-groomed and dress as if you were in a professional face-to-face environment.

Having said this, dress codes usually have a lot to do with the culture of the business you’re dealing with. Some are casual, others a bit less so and others very formal. It’s always best to try and reflect this in your own choice of clothing.

Business Correspondence

One thing that has not changed over the years is the need for business correspondence.

As well as learning how to craft a well-written formal letter, professionals also need to learn about email business etiquette in terms of structure, content, format, use of official signatures and the like.

This is especially true if you work across different cultures, as this has a big impact on business correspondence etiquette.

For example, Japanese business etiquette still expects faxes to be used in formal communications. The same document is often passed between departments several times, gradually acquiring new handwritten notes, comments and messages.

Some cultures can be quite casual in their communication, whereas others can be a lot more formal.

Business Etiquette in Messaging Apps

One area in which we have seen a big shift is in the use of messaging apps.

In many companies with a remote, global and digital workforce, messengers are the main way of communicating with colleagues and even clients.

The benefits of using messengers for business communication are that:

• It’s ideal for fast communication and quick solutions to work-related issues
• It offers useful functionality such as using hashtags to easily find relevant information, editing messages, scheduling and delayed messages, etc.
• It’s an easy way of saving, sharing and tracking files in all one place you can refer back to.

If there is one rule of etiquette you need to know about messengers and chat rooms, it’s this: separate your private correspondence and messages from business communication. There is nothing worse than being in a group chat about a specific issue at work and then having to read people’s lunch ideas.

Here are some other etiquette pointers to consider within the professional context:

1. Avoid using nicknames.

People want and need to know your name, not your nickname or what you’re 7-year-old has recently changed your profile name to. In some cultures, people also add their job titles.

2. Communicate during working hours.

Remember that many of your colleagues use sound notifications so that they don't miss important messages. Try to stick to messaging during shared work hours if possible.

3. Stick to a business communication style.

Although messaging apps are considered an informal channel of communication, in business it’s important to stay professional which means avoiding slang, using too many emojis or dropping a colleague’s formal titles.

4. One message - one topic.

Try to keep each message to the point and about a single point, not many points. This will help your colleagues find the information they need faster in the chat, especially if you use hashtag navigation.

5. Don’t chase people in group chats.

This is especially useful if working globally because it helps maintain group members’ sense of face. If someone is late or not responding, follow up with them directly.

If you, your team or your organization want to learn about or even set the rules of business etiquette in online communication, then business etiquette training can do a lot in supporting your development.

Remember, we’ve only touched upon a few examples of etiquette in modern business communication to give you a flavour of some of the things professionals need to be aware of.

It’s up to you, whether a business or a professional to take your learning further and understand things at a deeper level.

Image by The IMF (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


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