Communicating online: keeping things professional
What you can do to keep your interactions with other people professional and safe.
Everyone sends thousands of messages online; this guide details how to keep things professional, and safe.
On video calls wear the same clothes you would wear if you were meeting someone at the office or at school or college. Think about the background of the call - if you’re at home you don’t need to try to make it look like an office, but you can also make reasonable adjustments - e.g. if you can, it’s better to do the call from a table rather than a bed, and avoid having a particularly unprofessional looking background (e.g. hide any dodgy posters you might have on your bedroom wall, or just blur your background).
Imagine an investigation
It might seem a bit negative, but this is a useful thought to keep in the back of your mind: when you write any professional message, imagine that you’re in the future, something has gone wrong, and an external person is reviewing all your messages. Is the message you're writing clearly professional, or could someone misconstrue what you are saying?
Copy other people in
One smart protocol is for a young person and an adult to never exchange messages 1-1, and instead to always copy in another adult.
Nothing is secret
In data protection law a basic premise is that the data subject (the person who the data is about) has a right to see the data that is stored on them. This extends to notes saved about people. So don’t write down anything anywhere about someone that you really don’t want the person to see.
What methods do you use to communicate?
What are the correct ways to communicate with other people online? Some methods (like email, and messaging on LinkedIn) feel more professional than others (like messaging on Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok).
The safest methods to use (like Unifrog’s commenting system between students and teachers) have in-built safety measures, for example making it so that all messages can be seen by more people than just the sender and the receiver.
Some people use WhatsApp for professional messages, whereas other people reserve that for friends and family only.
You should always lean towards using the more professional methods of communicating. At the same time, it’s important that you can communicate when you really need to, and there are some instances (for example during a placement) when it’s probably okay for a student and an adult to swap phone numbers, in case they need to speak in an emergency.
When communicating, always think: is the method I’m using the most professional method I can use, that also makes sense in terms of how we need to communicate?
Use a tone in your messages which is professional but straightforward. This means it’s more formal than how you might write to your friends or family (e.g. no nicknames or slang), but it’s not trying too hard either - for example you should stick to simple words like ‘use’ in place of try-hard words like ‘utilise’.
Once you’ve met someone, begin messages with a greeting like ‘Hi X’ rather than ‘Dear X’, and sign off with a simple ‘Best wishes’ or ‘Kind regards’ rather than ‘Yours sincerely’ or ‘Yours faithfully’. Hopefully this is stating the obvious, but to keep the tone professional never sign off a message with Xs.
When it comes to emojis, things are tricky. To be honest we recommend not using them at all, but it’s true that at many workplaces now emojis are used a lot, particularly in internal messaging apps like Slack. If you do use them, make sure you pick your emoji carefully (no hearts of any kind), and if you’re the young person in the conversation, don’t be the first to start using them! The same goes for sending GIFs and memes.
Unless it’s an emergency, only send messages to do with work during work hours. If you’re working out of hours and need to email someone, you can schedule the email to go first thing the next day using Gmail and other similar email clients. There was a time when people thought sending work messages really late made them look impressive, but now people tend to think this is inconsiderate of the other person, (and might even suggest that they can't complete the work they need to do during the normal working day).
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