Office Life

How to greet someone professionally online

As technology makes it easier for us to greet each other in professional contexts on personal social networks, we are now running into new challenges of how to communicate professionally with one another online that go beyond writing “All best,” at the bottom of emails.

How do you give a virtual handshake? Should you ever accept a poke from a co-worker?

Take Facebook’s Greetings feature as a case study. According to Metro UK, new ways to react to profiles on Facebook are rolling out to select users in the U.K., France, Thailand, Australia, Canada, and Colombia as part of a test. People using the social media platform in those countries can now wave, high-five, hug, wink, or poke users through a new “hello” option under users’ profiles.

New forms of wordless communication are aimed at increasing users’ engagement with technology platforms, but it’s more interesting to consider how our relationships to each other change when we’re given new options to react to our coworkers. As a general public service announcement, I would argue that the same rules of handshake apply no matter where you’re giving the salutation.

Think about who has the power

Clinical psychologist and author of “Work It! Get in, Get Noticed, Get Promoted,” Denise Dudley, warned that the guiding principle to giving a handshake is to remember the power dynamics of reciprocal touch. “Who touches whom is a function of who believes they have the power in the interaction,” Dudley told Ladders. “We don’t want to ever touch people in a way that’s non-reciprocal, where they don’t feel free to touch us back.”

Under this logic, advice on how to give a physical salutations at work applies to virtual ones as well. Any form of a high-five or wave is acceptable, because you can reciprocate whether you’re an intern or an executive without feeling the weight of uneven social expectations. But hugs, pokes, and winks are more intimate, intrusive forms of expression — even when given through the casual click of a button, so dole them out selectively to your friends and family, not your acquaintances or professional networks. You should never wink at your coworker or interrupt her with a shoulder poke while she was giving a meeting, so don’t do it virtually.

Careful who you friend

Of course, one of the best answers to solving this tricky question is being selective with who you accept as a friend or connection on your personal social networks. But as our personal and professional networks continue to be purposefully blurred by tech giants who want access to every part of our lives, it’s a good rule of thumb to stay cautious as you connect with co-workers on Facebook. Be as careful sending digital greetings as you do ones in real life. Rules can become relaxed if we are both friends and coworkers. I may be more receptive to a virtual hug to a personal announcement if we are friends outside of work.

But if we are casual work acquaintances, feel free to send me a digital salutation of likes or high-fives when I announce my promotion or new job on my personal networks. But don’t send me a winky face, a virtual hug, or poke me.