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Digital Etiquette: Navigating the unwritten rules
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Digital Etiquette: Navigating the unwritten rules

Jari Worsley
Jari Worsley
19th March, 2024
Digital Etiquette: Navigating the unwritten rules
Jari Worsley
Jari Worsley
19th March, 2024
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Email etiquette: are there any rules?
Managing chat etiquette - the challenges
The Adaptavist Group: Digital Etiquette Report is out now

Email, chat, and generational divide. Here, we explore the unspoken rules of digital communication. Striking the right tone online isn't something we're taught, but it's a skill we all need to learn!

I was thinking about this year's Digital Etiquette report in the car on the way to school with my son this morning, and asked him what he thinks about email.
"We don't get taught how to write email,” he tells me.
Wait... say what?
It's true. As a 16-year-old, he gets taught how to write a formal letter at school—but not how to write an email.
“So... what happens when you need to use email?" I ask.
"Well, it varies from really formal using Dear Sir/Madam and Yours faithfully or informal with no punctuation, capitalisation, or grammar," he explains.

Email etiquette: are there any rules?

In short, no. Well, not in writing, at least.
Even though email has been around for decades, there is still no defined style or method for using it. If there was, they would be teaching it in schools.
If I reflect on my own email usage, I've been using it for over thirty years. Like my son, I wasn't taught how to use it either. So, I treated it like a faster version of a letter. Formal when writing to people I don't know, and more informal when writing to close friends or colleagues.
I still habitually finish an email with “regards, Jari”, and I watch my spelling, punctuation and use of capitals.
So, if we still haven't figured out the right email etiquette after all these years, what about other communication platforms? What's the protocol there?

Managing chat etiquette - the challenges

Over four years ago, Steph Forest, our PR partner, and I had lunch, and that was when I first got the idea for the Digital Etiquette report—now an annual staple in The Adaptavist Group calendar.
It came out of a conversation where I was reflecting on chat etiquette on the Slack platform and the right way to deal with interruptions.
As a child, I was taught that interrupting people in the middle of a conversation is rude. That is still an obvious social rule people follow.
We have to remember we are social animals. The animal part matters - we use all our senses to navigate our social structures. In the physical world, if two people are buried in conversation, you wait your turn, making it clear with physical proximity that you want to join in. At the appropriate point, the two people might pause to allow you to join. A nod of the head, brief eye contact, and maybe a hand gesture are all enough to invite you into the conversation.
Now, picture, the equivalent in online chat—you have no frame of reference for what the other person is doing. You send a message in Slack (other chat platforms are available!) without knowing if it is a convenient time for the other person to receive it. What does the receiver do? Ignore it? Respond immediately and stop what they were doing - potentially interrupting another conversation. The whole thing is fraught with potential for conflict and misunderstanding.
It is a huge issue - good communication is at the core of collaboration and digital working. So it’s something we definitely have to get better at.

The Adaptavist Group: Digital Etiquette Report is out now

If the changing nature of etiquette in the digital age fascinates you, check out this year's Digital Etiquette: Mind the generational gap report.
It dives into the different age groups in the workplace, how they collaborate, how they view each other, what challenges they face, how it affects productivity, what opportunities can be leveraged, and much more.
My top takeaway? If, like me, you are one of the 76% of 45-54-year-olds that still rely on email as their most used tool, then be clear on expectations, and remember, our Gen Z colleagues don't always understand or appreciate our Gen Xer ways of communicating!

Digital Etiquette: Mind the generational gap

Read the full Digital Etiquette report to learn more about the findings.
Written by
Jari Worsley
Jari Worsley
General Manager
Jari’s mission is to simplify and improve work for all. Curious by nature, he uses data and models to uncover what’s missing, always asking, ‘Why?
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