While remote work environments can be more relaxed than traditional office environments, it’s still important to maintain a level of professionalism in your communication and behavior to ensure that you’re presenting yourself in a positive and respectful manner to your colleagues. Strike a balance between building professional relationships while maintaining boundaries.
Avoid the Overshare
It can be easy to blur the lines between work and personal life when you’re working from home, but it’s important to remember that your colleagues are still your professional connections. Avoid oversharing personal information or engaging in overly personal conversations, and maintain a professional distance in your interactions. Examples of oversharing personal information when working remotely might include:
- Sharing intimate details about your personal life, such as relationship problems or health issues, with colleagues.
- Discussing topics that are not appropriate for the workplace, such as your personal beliefs or political views.
- Sharing details about your personal life that are not relevant to a discussion focused on a work project, such as celebrity rumors or hobbies.
Oversharing can make colleagues feel uncomfortable, create distractions, or negatively impact your professional relationships. Here are some tips to help you avoid oversharing:
Be topic savvy
Keep your conversations professional and avoid sharing details about your personal life unless it’s relevant to the discussion. Keep your message and any personal anecdotes relevant to the topic at hand and work appropriate. Avoid topics that could be divisive or uncomfortable for your colleague.
Avoid private details
If you do need to share personal information, keep it brief, relevant to the topic at hand, and work appropriate. We’ve all heard the acronym, “TMI” which means Too Much Information. For example, if you are caring for a sick family member, avoid going into great detail about the illness.
Avoid sensitive topics
Avoid discussing sensitive topics like politics, religion, or personal relationships with colleagues. These topics can be divisive and can create tension in professional relationships.
Find the middle ground
Now that we’ve explored some strategies to avoid oversharing, let’s focus on ways to find a safe middle ground to maintain professional boundaries when communicating in a remote work environment.
Start with small talk
Begin conversations with a bit of small talk to build rapport. Begin with a topic that is neutral and non-controversial, such as the weather, special interests, or a work-related project. Pay attention to your colleague’s responses and listen actively. This will help you to find common ground and keep the conversation flowing.
Use appropriate tone
Be mindful of the language you use when communicating with colleagues. Use a tone that is friendly and approachable but still professional. Avoid sounding too casual or chatty in your messages and maintain a professional tone. For example, using slang, profanity, being dismissive, using excessive exclamation points or emojis in formal written channels.
Be respectful of others’ time
When communicating with colleagues, be mindful of their schedules and workload. Avoid sending messages or requests outside of business hours or when they may be unavailable.
Respect cultural differences
Be aware of cultural differences and how they may impact communication styles or expectations. Be respectful of your colleague’s opinions. Avoid making assumptions or being judgmental. Be respectful and open to learning about different perspectives and ways of working.
Utilize video conferencing
When possible, use video conferencing to connect with colleagues. This can help build rapport and establish a more personal connection. The more opportunity we have for hearing tone and reading nonverbals, the better we can adjust our message respond to remote colleagues.
Know when to take a break
Be respectful of your colleague’s time. It’s okay to take a break or step back from the conversation. You can say something like, “I need to step away from our conversation for a bit” or “We probably need to focus back on work now.”
By finding the right balance, you can establish strong working relationships while still maintaining appropriate levels of personal and professional distance.
Redraw the boundaries
If you find yourself in a conversation that feels like your professional boundaries are being crossed, here are some tips to help you step back in a respectful way and navigate the situation:
Begin with a positive statement
Start your message by acknowledging your colleague’s interest and expressing appreciation for their willingness to build a positive working relationship.
Reiterate the boundaries
Be clear and direct in reiterating your boundaries. If a colleague is asking you questions or discussing topics that make you uncomfortable, be clear and direct in letting them know. You can say something like, “I appreciate your interest, but I would prefer to keep the conversation focused on work-related topics.” Let your colleague know what you’re comfortable discussing and what topics are off-limits.
Remain polite and professional
Throughout your message, maintain a polite and professional tone. Avoid using accusatory language or sounding defensive. You could say something like, “I need to step away from this conversation for a bit” or “I need to focus on work now.”
Make sure that you’re respectful and empathetic in your communication. Acknowledge your colleague’s perspective and show that you’re open to finding ways to work together while still maintaining appropriate boundaries.
Close on a positive
End your message on a positive note, reiterating your appreciation for your colleague’s interest in building a positive working relationship.
After the conversation, follow up with the colleague in a professional and respectful way. You might thank them for the conversation and express your appreciation for their perspective. By maintaining a positive tone and focusing on professional communication, you can ensure that your message is received in the right way.
For more on building relationships in a remote environment, check out out our article: How to Build Trust in a Remote Environment
Make an effort to be more aware of what information you share with colleagues and sticking to professional, non-offensive topics of conversation, you can maintain appropriate boundaries and foster positive professional relationships.
Finding the middle ground with small talk is all about being respectful and mindful of your colleague’s time and opinions. By starting with neutral topics, listening actively, and keeping the conversation brief, you can establish a positive working relationship with remote colleagues while still maintaining appropriate professional boundaries.
Setting professional boundaries is an important part of maintaining a healthy working relationship. By being clear and direct in your communication and following up in a professional and respectful way, you can ensure that you’re setting yourself up for success in your remote work environment.
For more training on communicating effectively in the remote workplace, sign up for our Remote Professional Certification. In this certification track, you will learn more about factors that can enhance communication efforts for remote workers.