Digital etiquette programmes: Best face forward

By Reya Mehrotra, 

In a world that has learnt to live and thrive online, the latest are digital etiquette programmes to help professionals be more polished in their conduct online. Come January and The British School of Etiquette in India will start its five-day flagship programme that deals exclusively with digital etiquettes. Called The International Train the Trainer Course, it will launch on January 25 in Mumbai and include modules like social etiquette and good manners, business etiquette, presentation skills, personal image, presentation skills, emotional intelligence, dining etiquette and so on. By 2022, the programme could be extended to other cities as well. “We had this programme planned even before the pandemic. Its launch turned out to be very timely. The flagship programme is coming to the country for the first time. We plan to cover various cities by 2022,” says Mumbai-based Niraalee Shah, CEO, The British School of Etiquette, India.

The programme is a sign of the times. As the pandemic forced the world indoors and online, the phrase ‘digital etiquette’ found its way to our vocabularies and lives. Emails today no longer say ‘Hope you’re doing well’, but ‘Hope you’re doing well & safe!’ Offices start early morning as usual, but from the confines of living rooms. Weddings, too, are being streamed online for relatives and schools are educating students digitally. The pandemic ensured that our life went online and we haven’t logged off ever since.

Naturally, with people spending more and more number of hours online, a new code of conduct has evolved for our digital selves. With virtual spaces replacing human touch, there’s an increased thrust on digital etiquettes, or netiquettes, today.

Virtual format

At the beginning of the pandemic, when conference room meetings were replaced by video calls and online classes took over physical teaching, it was a tough move for many, including children. No change is easy and adapting takes time, say experts. “Nobody taught us how to cope with a pandemic… so it’s important to remember that you are not being judged or evaluated for what you know. A person who is confident offline is confident online. People have adapted themselves beautifully to the evolving virtual environment,” says Saloni Suri, a Mumbai-based executive leadership coach and trainer.

Some things, however, remain constant. Like first impressions, which are usually the last both online and offline. “In the current virtual format, an individual’s face, tone of voice, expressions, hand movements, posture, clothes and background attract attention on the screen during an interview. It doesn’t matter if you are matchbox-sized on the screen or a large square, your attention to each format should be the same,” says Suri.

The era of virtual hiring, working and interviewing has made us more familiar with technology, believes Shah. Sharing some tips, she says, “You need to be familiarised with the technology to be comfortable during the call. Your background must be clear of clutter and plain, or with a bookshelf… it shows you’re respectful of the interviewer. The internet connection and the computer must be working well.”

The interview code

With hiring moving online, on-screen interviews have come as a big relief to many. After all, who wouldn’t like being interviewed in the comfort of their home without the interviewer judging them from top to toe. Digital interviews can prove to be a boon and are easier to crack than physical ones, believes Shah. “People are more confident and calm on screen than in person. People tend to get very nervous, especially in in-person job interviews… things like where to place the bag, how to walk in, arriving on time, etc, build up stress and that shows in the body language. In such situations, even though one knows the answers and is talented, one gets conscious,” she says. Being in a familiar homely environment helps hugely. “As people are getting used to the digital environment, they are getting more and more confident on screen,” Shah adds.

As for special occasions, the pandemic surely dimmed the spirit of celebrations this year, but could not stop people from bonding and celebrating online. Be it virtual garba nights, birthday get-togethers or Diwali celebrations, the internet was the most happening party space this year. Some people even streamed their weddings online, which meant a larger audience than they could afford otherwise and saving on expenditures. However, etiquettes are a must in online celebrations as well. Experts suggest dressing up according to the occasion and muting the mic whenever necessary to not interrupt. Clearly, it’s time to up your netiquette game!

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