Posted by Monica Nakamine on Friday, February 27, 2015 - 00:00
Whether you’re on the casual side of the fence or you’re more traditional, professionalism in the workplace can manifest itself in varying degrees. Knowing where your company and industry fall on that spectrum will dictate your own behaviors and how you interact with others.
For instance, financial firms on Wall Street might stick to a more traditional interpretation. In Silicon Valley startups, the concept of “professionalism in the workplace” has taken on new meaning because of the industry’s informal and youthful vibe. Small, early-stage startups generally care more about getting stuff done than they do about formalities and etiquette. As they grow out of their startup stage to become mid-size or big companies, some conventional processes are put in place in order to manage a large workforce and set the tone for a professional environment. But that doesn’t mean they have to lose their playful nature!
Either way you look at it, showing professionalism in the workplace boils down to respecting other people – their time, expertise, backgrounds – and being accountable for your own work.
Here are a few areas to be mindful of that will help you be your most professional self:
Emails and Instant Messages (IMs)
Written communications may not be your strongest asset, but if you understand some of the general mechanics of what an email or IM should include – and what it should not – you’ll be able to get your point across succinctly. Here are a few tips:
— When emailing or IMing people outside your department, don’t use IT jargon and spell out acronyms.
— Use bullet points in emails as much as possible.
— If you’re making a request, provide a specific deadline.
— Be brief in your emails. If it’s turning into a novel, it might be more effective to pick up the phone.
— If emailing instructions, put them in a Word doc and attach it.
— Avoid sarcastic remarks and jokes. However innocent, you don’t know how they will be interpreted.
— Write in complete sentences, spellcheck and use proper grammar. Sloppy writing and shortcuts could be construed as laziness.
— Use IMs for quick questions to an individual or two people, at the most. Emails are better when you want to save conversation strings for documentation or as reference points and when you’re communicating with a large group.
Starting a new job and you don’t know how to dress? On your first few days, always lean toward a more formal look. Take that time to ask around and notice how other people dress. Maybe jeans and a T-shirt are totally acceptable. Or maybe business-casual is preferred. When in doubt, ask your supervisor.
Around the Water Cooler
It’s inevitable. Informal conversations around the water cooler are bound to happen. Avoid controversial topics – like politics or religion – or other ones that people have strong opinions about. Don’t let your friendly discussions take a nosedive.
— If a conversation seems to be getting heated, find a way to politely end the conversation and head back to your desk. Say something funny, but not offensive, to diffuse the situation, and change the topic.
— Figure out who likes to talk in a break room and what they might want to talk about by listening and observing when you first start a new job. It can take time to get to know new colleagues and work culture.
— Don’t get too in-depth. Keep it short and at a high level. Why? You don’t want to waste too much time not working, or something else?
In a group setting, be respectful of your teammates. Don’t talk over other people. Listen at least as much as you speak. Regularly acknowledge and thank other people for their work on a project, or for pitching in to help you. When offering feedback, be kind and constructive. Start be talking about what you liked about a project, and move onto areas you think might improve and how they could improve. When you listen attentively to colleagues and treat them respectfully, they will generally treat you the same way, and you’ll have a much more productive working relationship.
As you manage your own time, be cognizant of other people’s time. Whether it’s a call-back, a project deadline or an appointment, make sure you meet those commitments. If you’re not able to, let the other person know as soon as possible instead of after the fact. Give them the opportunity to make other plans, but don’t make them wait. Reschedule or give them another ETA. Most people just want to make sure they haven’t fallen through the cracks.
IT pros can sometimes get a bad rap for being unprofessional. But professionalism in the workplace is becoming more important as IT is now essential to just about every business function in a company. As IT pros have increased visibility in the companies they work for, professionalism in the workplace will continue to be a key element to achieving success and driving your career forward.