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Business etiquette in a virtual environment

  • Published
  • By Eugene “Jay” Berry, Director, Installation Protocol
  • 88th Air Base Wing Protocol

Commentary: As a Protocol officer, I have been asked numerous times to provide etiquette training for our total force Airmen. Many of the people who attend these seminars are new to the military, but some lessons are valuable reminders to all of us.  

As we continue to shift to operating in a virtual environment, we utilize and rely on electronic communication more than ever before. Understanding some basic business etiquette rules will not only improve communication but also promote professional and mutually respectful relationships.

Etiquette is defined as the rules that govern correct or polite behavior in society. Simply said, it is the practice of demonstrating good manners. Business etiquette refers to the expectations of ethical behavior, practices and conduct among professionals.

Telephone etiquette

In a virtual environment, conducting business on the telephone has become more common, even with someone you have not met personally. That said, business telephones should be answered in a pleasant and professional manner.

Example: “Wright-Patterson Protocol, Jay Berry speaking, how may I help you?”

When calling either domestically or internationally, the caller should identify himself or herself, company name or office, and location.

Example: “Good morning. This is Jay Berry from the 88th Air Base Wing, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. May I please speak with Mr. John Smith?” 

When referring to oneself, civilians should never give themselves an honorific.  

  • Incorrect: “This is Mr. Jay Berry…”
  • Correct: “This is Jay Berry…”

Military members, however, should use rank to identify themselves when conducting business on the telephone.

When using a mobile phone, remember that a conversation in a public or crowded area is not private. Turn off or completely silence your mobile phone when in business meetings, events and ceremonies.

Email etiquette

Conducting business via email has been a popular technique for years. Even though we have used this platform for a while, here are some basic rules to follow:

  • Know your audience. Begin by utilizing the proper courtesy title when addressing your email. Avoid using terms and acronyms that may not be understood by all.
  • Always review your communication before sending it.
  • Email does not include emotion, so always make sure your message says what you intend it to say. For example, the use of punctuation and capitalized letters may inadvertently change an innocent message into an offensive one.
  • Just like when you send messages, avoid negative interpretation where they may not exist. If you are offended by an email, take a moment to think about it from the sender’s perspective before reacting. Bottom line, never reply immediately when emotional issues are involved…sometimes, no response is the best response.
  • Be sure you are not copying individuals you shouldn’t and not removing people from the email traffic who still need the information.
  • Answer emails directed to you within 24 hours, even if it is to simply confirm receipt.

Video meeting platforms

The virtual environment has made video meetings a popular way to conduct business. As the newest format of electronic communication, we are still defining the best ways to conduct ourselves.

  • Set your environment: 
    • Always system-check equipment to ensure your video camera and microphone are functioning properly.
    • Blur out or utilize virtual backgrounds if the area you are using is unsightly or distracting. Be cognizant of lighting. 
    • Close your office door to minimize interruptions and distractions.
  • Make sure you are prepared:
    • Dress appropriately. Rule of thumb is to wear what you would if the meeting was in person.
    • Be on time and ready to contribute. Log in to a meeting 5-10 minutes prior to start time with all notetaking and briefing materials ready.
  • Conduct during the meeting:
    • Turn on your camera when you are speaking — it’s all about staying connected.
    • Mute your microphone when you are not speaking to reduce unwanted background noise.
    • Interrupt appropriately — raise your hand, unmute your mic or use the chat function.
    • Don’t eat or do other things you wouldn’t do in a face-to-face meeting.