Professionalism Still Matters

by Marnie Hoolahan and Ray Mankoski, August 2022

Sadly, another summer is coming to a close. If you have school-aged kids at home, you are undoubtedly already taking steps to shake them out of summer mode and get them ready for the new school year with its firm schedule and structure.

For many of us working adults, however, the lines are not so clear. Thanks in no small part to our pandemic-disrupted lives, we now live in what feels like a perpetual state of “casual Friday,” where the regular workday rules don’t apply, but nobody is quite sure anymore what does (or even what to call it).

Indeed, over the past few years, as hybrid work has become the norm, it seems that it has become increasingly difficult for many people to know how to act, behave, and present across the variety of workplace scenarios we encounter each day.

This requires a “reset” or, at minimum, a conversation.

Whether representing the company at a conference, interviewing for a job, developing a relationship with a key opinion leader, or networking to further one’s career (to name just a few examples), it’s still essential that we consider each situation and the potential people involved and “show up” appropriately. Not doing so can have a negative impact on how we are perceived.

Consider this example: On a recent Zoom call with a patient advocate suffering from a serious illness, one of the company participants showed up on his phone wearing a T-shirt and shorts and walking his dog. What must the individual sharing her tragic journey on the other side of the video screen be thinking? From our purview, the decision to arrive in beach wear and visibly multi-task did not convey respect for the topic or the role of the participants.

And so, with all this in mind, and at the risk of sounding a bit old school (and, hopefully, not preachy), we have some thoughts to share for getting back in the professional groove and bringing your best self as September arrives. (Think of it as the adult version of “back to school” reminders!)

1. Dress the part.

Yes, we know you are sitting at home and maybe wearing yoga pants beneath. You still want to show up as if you were physically present in an office.

Of course, if you do your research and see that the company execs you are meeting are presenting in hoodies and baseball caps, by all means, do the same. But absent those explicit clues, you want to choose clothing and a background that conveys professionalism, seriousness, and preparation.

We acknowledge that in our new world of bouncing from meeting to meeting on a screen, and with the clear context of an office environment removed, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that different situations require different attire. So anticipate the day ahead. If switching from business casual to suit and tie and back again over the course of a single day is warranted, it’s worth the effort.

2. Take time to express gratitude.

While nearly nonexistent today, a handwritten snail mail note surpasses all expectations and never fails to delight the recipient when it arrives. But even a thoughtfully written email to express gratitude for someone else taking the time — for an interview, to offer advice, to suggest a resource — has a positive impact.

It need not be elaborate or excessively formal. But if you’re seeking to develop lasting relations and a strong network — and if you’re not, you’re in the wrong industry — performing the basics of business etiquette can help forge relationships that may be mutually beneficial to all involved, months or years down the road.

Leaders, this applies to you, too. Thank your team for their work and engagement. It is all about the people.

3. Appreciate the interconnections.

As consultants, we often help write a job description to replace the role we have been performing for our clients. This is such a positive sign of a company’s growth, and we love participating in the build-out of their team. We are not technically insiders or decision-makers, but we have a full appreciation for what the company needs, its culture, and what the ideal candidate might bring to the table.

And yet, so many potential candidates fail to appreciate our role and influence, leading to a missed opportunity. We have a vested interest in helping our clients see all sides of the candidates to help them realize the company vision. Over the past few years, we have seen a clear demarcation between those who arrive prepared and ready to ask us the hard questions and those who are literally and figuratively phoning it in.

Even if we weren’t close to the C-Suite and other decision-makers (we almost always are), there’s value in developing industry connections and treating everyone as you would like to be treated, regardless of their role.

4. Be present virtually.

As we are well into year three of the pandemic, there is no longer any excuse for not having figured out the fundamentals of your virtual presence. Reassess whether you are optimizing the way you show up.

  • Minimize use of the “background” feature. If you must turn that on, choose one and test it first! People tend to disappear in whole or in part, distracting others on the call.
  • Clean up the background. Remove clutter and other random items so that you are the focus on screen. Remember the “room rater” app in the early days of remote working? The concept still applies.
  • Turn on your video. Zoom is not the same as interacting with others face-to-face, but at the very least, you’ll want to allow others to see your face and experience something closer to a real conversation. If this is not possible, at least let people know that you (or your environment) are not Zoom-ready but are actively listening (if possible, turn your camera on whenever you are speaking).

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

There’s nothing wrong with being more relaxed in a work environment; it may even be preferable to how things have traditionally been done. But it seems that in many cases, we have gone too far. Absent the obvious physical cues that used to guide us in how to dress and behave in various business settings, the hybrid mode has blurred the lines. It’s time to get back on track.

Company leaders can provide valuable feedback, manage expectations, and optimize how their respective teams “show up” and represent the organization externally. Professionalism never goes out of style; the choices we make will always have implications.

It is not just us; check out some other industry observations:

What Is Professionalism in the Workplace?

Workplace Etiquette: 22 Do’s for 2022

Enjoy what remains of the summer, and good luck getting those kids back into school mode!


Posted in All Categories, Organizational Development and Culture, Relationship Building