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working from home

How to be your most professional self when working online

For many people, maintaining a professional image in the workplace is part of the job – one that usually has clear boundaries. But with a global health pandemic forcing office workers to work from home, the boundaries have become less clear.

In our new virtual workplaces, it can be confusing, and somewhat challenging, to determine where the line is between being casual and professional.

The secret to remaining professional while working remotely is not about how much you change to adapt to your new workplace, but how little you change from your usual schedule.

Here are a few tips to help you stay professional while working from home.

Step one: find your space

Emily Wade, teacher and digital content manager for the Writing, Literature and Culture Group at Deakin, says the first, and most important, thing to remember when making the pivot to an online work environment is that you don’t need to make any significant changes to your regular work routine. ‘It’s simply a change of location,’ she says.

‘If we plan our work from that perspective, we’re more likely to be productive and maintain a professional image.’

Start the transition by simply finding somewhere comfortable to call your workspace. Wade says setting yourself up in a quiet or less cluttered part of your home with a desk helps keep ‘work’ separate from the rest of the home environment.

Once you’ve found your work space, filling it with anything that helps you feel the most productive, like plants or stationery, will help you maintain an enjoyable and healthy working environment.

Step two: dress and act the part

Wade says by getting dressed as she would for any day at work, not answering any phone notifications during designated working time, and sticking to the same daily routine with scheduled breaks helps her maintain a professional manner throughout the working day.

'It’s simply a change of location. If we plan our work from that perspective, we’re more likely to be productive and maintain a professional image.'

Emily Wade,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

‘Setting clear boundaries from the beginning can be highly effective in managing working at home,’ she says.

By re-creating a familiar environment and routine that is similar to your ordinary working day, it will be instinctively harder for you to feel or seem any less professional when you’re sending that next email or joining an important online meeting. 

Step three: stay present

Some would agree that the most important part of maintaining professionalism while working online is your meeting etiquette. What your colleagues hear and see when you’re online plays a big part in keeping that professional image.

Because most of us are working in the comfort of our own homes it may feel more natural to let our professional demeanour slip. ‘In an environment and time when our physical contact is limited, appearing to be ‘present’ is paramount,’ Wade says.

When working online, Wade follows these simple but effective rules while on any online meeting:

  • turn your camera and microphone on when you join
  • test your audio and camera functions when you first join, and let your colleagues or meeting attendees know if you are experiencing issues via the ‘chat’ function
  • check you’re comfortably positioned in the webcam’s viewfinder and that there are no significant distractions visible around you
  • make use of the ‘mute’ function if there is background noise in your location
  • treat others with the same attention and respect you would if you were speaking to them in a physical meeting;
  • if you need to leave the meeting at any point, type a note in the ‘chat’ area and mute your microphone while you are away from the computer.

Step four: minimise miscommunication 

Emails and direct messaging platforms are common in many workplaces, but keeping a professional and clear voice through written messages can be difficult.

To avoid miscommunication when sending something urgent or with negative feedback, finishing the email with an offer to talk over the phone and clarify anything could help you keep a friendly and professional online presence.

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Emily Wade
Emily Wade

Academic, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin Univeristy

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