How is Your Online Behavior?


By Sarah Elliston


BIG BLEND RADIO INTERVIEW: Sarah Elliston discusses work-related online communication. Listen to or download the podcast on,,, or hear the whole show she was part of on

In the past 8 months, many of us have learned to work from home and continued to do so. Interestingly enough, the workplace culture that existed in companies before the COVID-19 lockdown, has continued online. CNBC surveyed experts asking about how the virtual environment has impacted work relationships. One of their learnings is that due to the lack of personal interface, a creeping toxicity is developing in virtual relationships.

55% of what is communicated in normal conversations is through nonverbal cues; 38% through verbal cues and 7% through spoken words. When much of the communication is done through emails, the communication can be off-center since the participants can’t see each other. With many team meetings being done on platforms like Zoom, people can see each other but there is more opportunity for gossip in the chat rooms and comments made about other people.

In addition, experts discovered some of the stereotypes are re-emerging in the remote meetings where women and minorities find their suggestions are passed over leading to a tendency to stop sharing new ideas. There is less security in relationships with colleagues and supervisors. Printed feedback is not the same as face-to-face feedback and there has been an increase in cyberbullying online among colleagues.

We appear to be more willing to write something critical or even mean in an email or a tweet, while are less willing to say it to someone’s face. There could be severe ramifications to in-person gossip while sniping in emails, chats or tweets isn’t always acknowledged. “SAY IT ON THE STREET, THAT’S A KNOCK-OUT, BUT YOU SAY IT IN A TWEET, THAT’S A COP OUT,” Taylor Swift sang in “You Need to Calm Down.”

My experience with this tendency was early in the use of computers and email at work. I was requesting a particular report from some data I was using in our organization and the IT department was responsible for creating the reports. I hadn’t been taught on-line etiquette and when my contact in IT sent me reports I found myself getting more and more annoyed because they were not what I requested. I emailed questions like, “What about what I said did you not understand? Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t understand? How much longer am I going to have to wait for this report?”

It turned out that the tech I was working with was learning about the software as he was developing my report and we ended up learning it together. It took a savvy supervisor to invite me to come down to their area where he laid it all out for me and it took a tech being willing to share his inexperience with the software. It took me being willing to eagerly volunteer to learn it with him, to resolve the issue.

With the new technology facing us today, with multi-level computers trying to interface with each other, with different platforms for meetings we are always in a learning curve. Virtual relationships need care and nourishment.

Supervisors need to take the time to say, “Hey, how are you?” to their employees in personal ways. They no longer have the luxury of sticking their head around the corner of a cubicle and asking the same question. Employees need time to relate in personal, positive ways. Time has to be taken individually to check on the morale and interest of individuals.

Be aware that attention from the boss can also bring some concern about, “Is my work ok? Am I being evaluated?” Beyond that, managers can build in opportunities for input from everybody during online meetings – having round robins, calling on each employee, pointing out that everybody gets to speak before someone gets a second turn.

Finally, managers can help their on-line workers by respecting the boundaries of weekends and after hours. Tweets and emails with suggestions when the team is not supposed to be working can feel like pressure even if you start by saying, “You don’t have to respond right now…” Suggesting that someone can take a minute to finish something in the evening because they are working from home is unfair and leads to toxic work relationships. Some companies have invited their staff to choose when they want to be working and when to be off; others have identified days of the week as non-working days because so few of the staff chose time off.

So, heads up here.

What are you doing in your on-line work relationships?

Are you just getting through meetings focusing on problem-solving while maybe ignoring some staff or some negative comments about suggestions? Have you noticed a lower morale? Have you checked the comments being made during meetings? Have you asked if people need updates, tech support, or learning/educational assistance? Have you tried a few smiley faces to lighten the load? Have you taken a stand with your staff to respect boundaries and insist on polite interactions?

We are all learning how to work in this new environment. At some point we will probably return to our offices, but many may stay working from home. We need to look at and adjust how we are relating in the current workplace culture of online relationships.

Sarah Elliston is the author of “Lessons from a Difficult Person – How to Deal With People Like Us, is a faculty member of the Glasser Institute for Choice Theory, and is a workshop leader and trainer who is certified in Values Realization and Parent Effectiveness Training. More at


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About the Author:

Sarah Elliston is the author of “Lessons from a Difficult Person – How to Deal With People Like Us, is a faculty member of the Glasser Institute for Choice Theory, and is a workshop leader and trainer who is certified in Values Realization and Parent Effectiveness Training.

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