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The M Dash

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4 Ways to Communicate in the Modern-day Office

May 19, 2015

As the workplace becomes more casual, it can be tricky to navigate office etiquette. Open offices and personal relationships with coworkers blur the lines even further. In particular, internal communication can be a point of contention. Gchat is the new water cooler, but every medium has its own unique role to play. Before hitting send, consider the following guidelines.

1. Gchat / Instant Messenger

Instant messaging can be very useful for big offices or those divided by cubicles; and it’s a lifesaver for those in large open offices where noise travels. In small offices where you’d literally be messaging the person next to you, it may make more sense to just talk to them. Just make sure they’re not deep in thought when you approach them.

Avoid: Chatting for more than 10 minutes at a time. Banter is great and all, but you are at work to—well—work.

2. Email

Email is essential to any business, but it’s easy to get too lax about what you send into the ether. Public officials (and Sony employees) are notorious for inappropriate emails. Take a lesson from their missteps. As a general rule: If you wouldn’t want it on public record, don’t email it. Then again, if you’re working on something where a paper trail is key, make sure you’re communication happens via email (with the appropriate parties Cc’d).

Avoid: Writing a novella. If you can’t express your idea(s) in a fairly concise email, it might be wiser to schedule a phone call or in-person meeting.

3. In Person—Spontaneous

One of the benefits of working in an office is that you can actually get to know—and hopefully like—your coworkers. But that doesn’t mean you can chat them up whenever you feel like it. It’s universally acknowledged that headphone-wearing means “leave me alone.” Try catching your coworkers when they’re out of their seats or have that “I’m not doing anything important” air about them.

Avoid: Lurking. If you go over to someone’s desk and they don’t acknowledge you within the first few seconds, it means they want you to go away. You’re in a standoff. Retreat, and either send them an email or try again when they seem less busy.

4. In Person—Scheduled

Anytime you want to talk strategy or need more than a quick answer, arrange a formal time to meet. It’s more efficient than drafting a lengthy email, and it gives your coworkers time to prepare so they can be fully present when you convene.

Avoid: Scheduling unnecessary meetings and/or blowing them off. If you schedule a meeting, your coworkers should feel confident that it will be a worthwhile and efficient use of their time.

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Melissa studied communications at NYU and has been communicating ever since. She's the former programming coordinator at the New York Television Festival and has worked as a script coordinator and freelance writer on television and digital productions throughout New York. Read more of Melissa's posts.

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