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Cyber Etiquette: Beware how you behave in cyberspace

18 Nov 2019 at 09:23hrs | Views
"Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own." - Carol Burnett.

In my profession of project management it is estimated that we spend 90% of our time in communication. I can vouch for that. So communication is key to delivery of results. More and more, we are managing culturally and geographically diverse virtual project teams. We communicate project information through various means from face-to-face, telephone conversation, emails, whatsapp, twitter, Skype, generic or bespoke Project Management Information Systems (PMIS), etc. The question is "Are we good at communicating as project managers? Do we follow any cyber etiquette rules?" However this piece is not just for project managers, but for all business management practitioners. Cyber etiquette is defined thus:

The appropriately-named concept of Cyber Etiquette is quite simply the range of manners applied to the Internet and the use of technology in everyday situations. This includes uses of technology in public places, such as meetings or business lunches.

My own caption on cyber etiquette is "Beware how you behave in cyberspace. You are being watched." Netiquette is short for "Internet etiquette." Just like etiquette is a code of polite behavior in society, netiquette is a code of good behavior on the Internet. This includes several aspects of the Internet, such as email, social media, online chat, web forums, website comments, multiplayer gaming, and other types of online communication.

Let's focus on emails. Emails are still probably the most widely used form of written communication in a business environment. Consider all business related emails as formal, requiring the observance of business etiquette e.g. use of professional language. Please take note, emails are legally binding. Emails to friends and family are informal, therefore language is less of an issue.

When writing a business email it is best to start with formal salutation. In a business setting there are numerous stakeholders, therefore it is essential with any communication to consider the formal/informal nature of the communications. "Hi Joe" is a casual expression we normally use in email greetings. However for corporate communications it may be best to stick to the "Dear So-and-so", or "Dear Mr So-and-so," depending on rank and closeness of acquaintance.

When ending and email, "cheers", "thanks", "toodles", etc, are all good ways to end a personal and informal email, but not a business email. "Sincerely", "sincerely yours", "regards", "kind regards", among others, are acceptable business email endings. "Yours in Christ", "God bless you", are good in a Christian organization, but may not be appropriate in business where different religions and cultures may prevail. Your client may be an agnostic atheist and response to a blessing may be a rude rebuff.

Language and tone of email are crucial. Business communication must be kept professional and not casual. No slang and no emojis/emoticons should be used. Always check grammar and proof read before hitting the "send" button. Autocorrect can change your words. For example, one company lost a major contract when a senior executive wanted to pay a compliment to a client organization by writing, "The importance of your boss as a major stakeholder, goes without saying," and it came out as "The impotence of your boss……..goes without saying." Rebuttal and retrieval were not effective.

What is the realistic time to respond to emails? The project management process of schedule management demands that tasks are done on planned time. Normally communication is part of driving the task, therefore the rule is 'respond as soon as possible.' 'As soon as possible' depends on what is acceptable within and without the company. Also at least acknowledge receipt within a short time. I have worked with business executives whose expectation of a response was within 24 hours, and 48 hours is on the edge.

When out of office for some time, it is good netiquette to set an auto response. For example, when on holiday, preparing for exams, or away on a business trip. An example is "Hi there, I'm out of the office until dd/mm/yyyy, with limited access to email. If you require immediate assistance, please email […]"

Let us consider non-working hour emails and yourCyber health. Have you ever received emails at 12 midnight. I have. I even get a whatsapp message "Please read your email" while at home with my family. Is it realistic to send a business email after hours? Harvard Business Review reports on a study which shows that, "Dealing with after-hours emails produces anxiety that is damaging not only to the worker, but to their family." – Maura Thompson, I believe there must be a cut-off time, e.g. 7pm to 7am. Some firms may have an email/social media policy of a cut-off time (e.g. 7pm to 7am), but in a project setting or a 24/7 operation, this could be a problem as urgent issues which require immediate attention are happening in real-time. There should be a company rule on cut-off time for the sake of the health of the employees. But there can be a proviso that in certain urgent cases this cut-off policy is set aside. However this should not be the norm.

The use of 'Cc' and 'Bcc' in emails is another area of major consequence when it comes to cyber etiquette. 'Cc' in email parlance means 'carbon copy.' This is when there is a main recipient of the email and another person or persons who are also important to keep in the loop. 'Bcc' meaning 'blind carbon copy' is best used when there are many recipients to a broadcast message and the originator does not want to expose the emails of the recipients. However 'Bcc' can be and is often abused when say, one of the team members is complaining to another team member and the email is blind copied to other team members and senior managers. This is ratting on your team member, and may result in mistrust and low levels of morale. So the rule is never blind copy to rat on your teammate.

Angry emails, are a NO! NO! "Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them." – King Solomon's proverb. As a rule never respond to an angry email in haste. Never send an email when overwhelmed with anger. Whatever you write may be used against you later. Take heed, "Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own." - Carol Burnett. Instead take a breather when you receive a scathing attack. Then compose you email factually rather than emotionally. Arguing with a fool only proves there are two. – anonymous.

Jokes on email portray a casual atmosphere. This is permissible for personal emails. Do not send or forward jokes on business emails. Jokes waste business time. Keep business emails on topic. I personally am wary of jokes as they can be very dangerous across cultural groups. For instance, one company lost a key account because a middle manager expressed how 'worm eating' disgusted him. The client came from a culture where 'wormburgers' were considered a delicacy.

Lastly, email security is essential for any company. My company email has been hacked by someone who demanded bitcoins from me, otherwise they would use my email to spread porn spam. I ignored it and my address may have been used to spread porn spam. I do not have bitcoins, nor will I succumb to any blackmail. It is prudent for a company to set up email security standards and to make sure the employees are knowledgeable about the standards. Standards should include –
•    Restrictions on using company email address for private communication.
•    Restrictions of company communications on private gmail, yahoo mail,  
family email, etc.
•    Confidentiality rules.
•    Email fraud awareness and security measures against phishing,  
spoofing, pharming, spam, scams, etc.
Source - Engineer Tororiro Isaac Chaza PMP
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