By Kevin Eikenberry

Dan works from the deck of his beach house. Barbara Skypes while walking on her treadmill desk. Alex’s dogs bark through a conference call. Susan jumps on video chats wearing her favorite Grateful Dead shirt.

Professional? What do you think?

I hear leaders from all levels, within all types of organizations talk about professionalism. They utter things like “I want my employees to be professionals” or “Why can’t they be more professional?” The thing is, when I ask them to actually define what it means to be “professional,” they typically can’t provide a clear answer.

It is completely fine that you want your team members to be professional. Employees should be professional, but that also means defining for them what you mean by “act professional.” If you expect your virtual employees to work at a designated desk, eight hours a day, in business casual attire, you need to lay that out for them. Because, honestly, one of the perks of being a virtual employee is the flexibility that comes with the job. For some people, it’s a benefit to not have to dress in a suit or get all dolled up to sit at a desk all day.

So you have to lay some ground rules, and you absolutely need to define for employees what it means to be a professional. Here’s my definition. Professionals are …

  • Personally accountable. Professionals recognize their role in activities and results around them. They recognize and take responsibility for their actions, words, choices, words and more. They know they can’t control others but they can influence them. They aren’t victims; they take ownership to create the best possible results.
  • Able to see the big picture and adjust their actions based on that vision. Professionals see their role in the big picture of their team and work. They operate based on that vision, so they rarely create silos and participate in ways to move the entire organization toward those desired goals.
  • Willing to help, even when it’s not “their job.” Professionals see themselves as part of a team, so they are willing to help, but not take over. In part because of their big picture view, they recognize and look for ways to help; because they view their job as more than the restrictions of their job description.
  • Able to work well with others. Professionals know they are part of multiple teams and in order for them to succeed, the team must succeed. This means they focus on working well with others and building the relationships to help make that happen.
  • Trusting and trustworthy. Professionals realize the importance of trust in the workplace. Team and working relationships can’t become very strong without trust, and so they build trust by being trustworthy first.
  • Committed to building their skills to excel at their job today and in the future. Professionals value their job and are consistently and intentionally working to get better. They pursue improvement through deliberate practice, training, study, observation and more. They possess a mastery mentality, with the goal of becoming the best they can be.

That’s my description, and yours might be different, which is completely fine. My goal is to get you to think about your definition, clarify it in your mind, and use it as you coach your team members to greater success.

If you have an employee who possesses all those qualities, does it matter that she works in bunny slippers? And if an employee is a top performer and a true team player, does it matter that he works outside occasionally?

Truly think about what matters when it comes to your employees’ (virtual and on-site) behavior? And decide what you can and can’t live with. Most important, if you are going to use the word “professional,” be willing and able to define what you mean when you say it. That’s what a professional would do.

If you decide you do need to address virtual employees’ professionalism or any other issue, join us June 8 for Effective Remote Coaching and Feedback, to learn how to coach at a distance.

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