The Way We Work
October 26, 2009 by Christopher Smith

My faith in professional online etiquette was called into question last week, when I spotted a rather unflattering eBay auction—posted by a professional dealer no less—advertising a car. In a single run-on sentence devoid of capital letters, the auction promised heightened sexual attraction for anyone in the driver’s seat, contained several obvious spelling mistakes, and concluded with no less than 18 exclamation points. If ever there was an example of how not to conduct business online, this auction was it.


Acting professional in online communications, whether through email, online postings, or profiles, should be a matter of common sense for oDesk providers and buyers alike. Unfortunately, the comfortable anonymity that stems from communicating through a computer keyboard can be quite deceptive. As a result, the automatic etiquette-check in our brain that separates professional communications from informal situations may never get tripped. Should this happen, lucky individuals will just eat a crow sandwich and move on. Those less fortunate could miss key employment opportunities or even lose clients.

Blogs and guides for more detailed “netiquette” are everywhere, but should be a prerequisite for anyone venturing into a professional online career. Carol Bory’s daily blog on business etiquette and Marcia Pledger’s suggestions are also worthy reads. If you don’t have hours to study the finer points however, these six etiquette tips can help ensure you don’t commit a professional faux pas.

  • Don’t use smiles or emoticons. These are fun, cute ways to convey emotions in an informal email or forum post, but they don’t belong in a professional communication. Good rule of thumb: if you’re not sure a particular passage will be taken correctly without a smiley or emoticon, don’t use that passage.noemoticons2
  • Don’t get fancy on fonts or formatting. Formatting can change between computers, fancy fonts or multi-colored formatting can sometimes be difficult to read, and frankly, it also looks like a cheap attempt to get attention.
  • Keep email attachments small. Under 256 Kilobytes (Kb) is a good rule of thumb. If you’re unsure what kind of connection your recipient is using, contact them first to ask permission on larger attachments.
  • Don’t use internet lingo or abbreviations. Everyone likes to LOL, but AFAIC, such lingo is far too informal—and potentially confusing—for anything but basic chatting between friends.
  • Include your email address in your closing signature. Aside from being convenient, some mail readers don’t display email addresses. Sure, one could just hit reply, but what if your message was forwarded to someone else?
  • Don’t type angry. You will type things when you’re angry that you’d never, ever say to someone in person, and if you send it, you will regret it.