Were you just chatting with someone whose desk you can see from yours? Don’t be embarrassed. In the modern workplace, that’s life. But work is still work, and it does require maintaining professionalism whether you’re on Slack, HipChat, Yammer, or whatever your organization uses.
As office dynamics evolve, and the remote workforce grows, chat platforms like these become an indispensable part of communication. So now more than ever, it’s important to be up to speed on your professional chat etiquette.
Here are eight essential recommendations to ensure that you don’t end up miscommunicating, offending, or worse.
1. Never write anything you wouldn’t say aloud.
If you’re in IT, you should already be aware that your privacy isn’t guaranteed on chat. It’s easy to send a message to the wrong person by mistake, misread the privacy settings of a group, or even misinterpret a quick note. Remember that work chat is not the same as texting on your personal cell phone or talking at happy hour. So keep it professional.
A good rule: Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want your boss to read over your shoulder.
2. Remember the human behind the chat.
This is especially important if you’re providing customer service, live chatting about a help desk ticket, or otherwise interacting in a service capacity. Part of being professional is being respectful and friendly. Don’t abandon basic manners like greeting your recipient, saying please and thank you, and so on. If you’re chatting with someone for the first time, introduce yourself rather than immediately making a request.
3. Be mindful of other people’s communication preferences.
Chat is great when you need answers fast. But your message may be disruptive for the person on the receiving end, as many chat clients default to sound and visual alerts. If you need a more thoughtful response, or if you know that your recipient actually prefers a different mode of communication, try sending an email, picking up the phone, or setting up an in-person meeting instead.
4. Be prompt with replies.
When someone IMs you, they are probably expecting a quick reply, whether it’s your buddy wanting to go to lunch, your boss asking about training, or your co-worker needing help with a technical question. If you can’t respond immediately, change your status so others know you’re not available, or request that they get in touch a different way.
5. Don’t get distracted or be distracting.
It’s all too easy to let chat become a distraction, especially if your team has set up a bunch of non-work-related Slack channels or Yammer topics. While taking a break to watch a funny video or two can help your productivity throughout the day, you should resist the temptation to linger in off-topic conversations. Chat should be a tool to help you get more done, not a distraction that takes away from your work.
And don’t forget to shut down chat functions when you’re in a dedicated study space. It’s too easy to get sucked away from training time with a quick chat.
6. Be mindful of spelling, formatting, and other mechanics.
Sure, it’s probably fine to abandon capitalization in your IMs, and emoticons can be a fun component of your chats — depending on your workplace, of course. But just because it’s a different mode of communication doesn’t mean you can abandon all standards of grammar, such as complete sentences, spelling, and so on. This is especially important if you’re chatting with customers or end users. And please, learn how to add line breaks to your chats (often Ctrl + Enter). No one wants to read a giant wall of text.
7. End your chat appropriately.
If you’re on a live support chat, you probably have a protocol to follow: Thanking the customer, ensuring their issue has been resolved, and so on. But everyone deserves to know when a conversation has come to a close. Don’t abandon your chats without at least a “thanks” and letting your recipient know you’ve moved on to your next task.
8. Establish best practices.
If you’re in IT, you likely have a role in the selection, configuration, and ongoing maintenance of your company’s chat software. Depending on your role, you may even be in a position to establish standards that encourage participation and proper use of chat, but also set boundaries. Even if you’re not in a position of leadership, set a good example with your use of chat.
Work chat can be fun, productive, frustrating, and everything in between. With a little attention paid to these etiquette essentials, you can make the most of the platform without sacrificing professionalism or risking miscommunication.
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