The etiquette (and empathy) of virtual professionalism

Late to a Zoom meeting because you are “so busy?”

Garbled reception on the phone because you are at the beach and those darn waves keep making noise?

Way behind on your emails because you were binge-watching a Netflix series and slept in?

These are a few of the excuses I have either heard, or addressed with clients, in coaching sessions asking me for counsel on how to handle such a lack of professionalism lately.

While we are safer at home and there is a global pandemic seizing some of our mobility and comfort currently, you know what costs nothing and hasn’t been quarantined? Manners, kindness and outright professionalism.

We all have bad days. Most of us have had down moments, hours or days during the past 120-plus days of this health crisis, that has had an impact on our energy, focus and our businesses. While none of us are perfect, and many of us feel discomfort that is unfamiliar (and unwelcomed), we are all humans and it is a wonderful time to remember that the difference in simply presenting as a human being and a “humane” being, is a reminder to show empathy.

How is empathy part of professionalism and how is professionalism part of empathy?

Well, empathy is ingrained in professionalism when we consider others, what they are experiencing, how it may be impacting them and appreciate that all of those thoughts, and feelings, will be a part of one’s deliverables in their professional role.

At the same time, professionalism shines through empathy when we remember that, simply because we have chosen to stay up, didn’t plan ahead or want to “get away” also can have an impact on others … often now, those who are not around us physically, rather those who are engaged with us virtually.

Since such a large number of your workers want to feel safe, heard and connected, here are four simple, strategic and kind approaches to the etiquette of virtual professionalism:

Use people’s names in emails, voicemails, invitations, on the phone and in video conferences or chats. We have gotten away from that personal connection, and touch, and the simple acknowledgment of someone’s name makes that instant awareness of togetherness and presence.

Stop asking people “How are you?” unless you are willing to listen and hear how they are. Instead, say something like “Great to see you” or “Happy to hear your voice,” if those comments can be sincere, and true, for you at the time. Sound harsh? OK, it can seem that way, it’s just we are often phony in asking. So let’s get real and either ask it from the heart with time to explore, or give up the habit for the sake of being a true communicator.

Be on time and/or let someone know if there is a delay. And, not just a “logging on” text is enough of sharing what is happening; instead, please consider letting the person know your ETA for a meeting, even if that meeting is online or on the phone. “Please forgive me – on at 1:10 p.m” is not ideal to receive and yet getting that message means the other person waiting can make a call or send an email without wondering what is happening.

Smile. Smile through the phone, through your mask, in a Zoom Room or virtual space. And, smile not just for the posed photo someone is taking. Consider that smiling is good for your mood and great for others to see, and feel. Give some emotion that is positive and not forced.

Those four basics of using names, greeting sincerely, respecting time and smiling may seem like pre-work for Professionalism 101, and yet since they aren’t being done as much as they could be, wouldn’t starting with these four steps get us closer to not only the etiquette of virtual professionalism but closer to the humane side of being with that empathy that subtly supports and encourages? ♦

Debbie Lundberg is the founder of her Florida-based firm, Presenting Powerfully, where the focus is reversing the “slobification” of America with effective communication, professional behaviors and thriving relationships. This happens through four offerings: keynotes and talks, strategy and facilitation, teaming and training and consulting and executive presence coaching. Additionally, Lundberg co-hosts “The Business Of Life Master Class Podcast” with her colleague and broadcast partner. A published author, certified life coach, certified leadership coach and certified image consultant, Lundberg’s latest book, Remote Work Rockstar: How to Work and Lead Successfully in a Virtual Environment, was released in May and is available through LuLu Press ( or directly via her website,

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