There are easy ways your small team and your company can be professional while maintaining a casual atmosphere.
1 – Dress and act professionally and appropriately.
Companies with few employees like to have and even promote a casual atmosphere. The focus tends to be on productivity and comfort. There is nothing wrong with this except that it may lead to overly casual or inappropriate dress in group meetings and remote calls. There is a difference between dressing casually, and dressing inappropriately or being sloppy. If an employee is working from home, they should be able to dress any way they wish, but if they are on a video call or in a meeting with the rest of the team, appropriate and neat dress should be required. You need a level of consistency that can survive the scrutiny of clients and investors. Additionally, you don’t want employees competing to see how far they can push the boundaries of dress.
Acting professionally and appropriately goes along with how your employees dress. Most people understand this better than dress, but you still occasionally run into an employee that acts in a demeaning or discriminatory way when they think it’s safe to do so. This should not be condoned or allowed to continue. There should be no exceptions.
If your company has “behavior training”, such as ethics compliance don’t just make this about learning how to act, but make the behaviors a requirement for continued employment. Have every (including executives) sign and adhere to the required “ethical” behaviors.
The bottom line is, don’t try to convince your employees to act ethically, require it.
3 – Provide and use professional materials.
All client-facing deliverables and activities need to be professional in both appearance and action. Paperwork such as proposals, contracts, and invoices need to look professional and consistent. Don’t use handwritten copies, and if you’re going to type up your own documents, be sure to use a spell check.
There are various free and low cost services such as Zoho that provide the ability to create your own client-facing paperwork. Packages such as QuickBooks also helpful. Have consistent letterheads, and business cards. These are cheap and also help employees feel they are part of something bigger than themselves.
Reports, diagrams, and other hard deliverables need to have the company name and logo. These not only act to promote a professional look and feel, but also helps to reinforce your name and abilities to your clients—free marketing.
4 – Use social media in a professional manner.
Social media is big and it is a fun and cost-effective way to attract attention, interest, and even customers. It’s still critical that you maintain a level of professionalism when using these services. If you have a corporate account, you need to control who uses it and how. Friends and who you follow needs to be curated if using a corporate account. Everyone you follow needs to bring some value to to the company and reflect the company in a professional manner. It’s not as critical to curate who follows you, but you need to understand that the number of followers your corporate account has is not an indication of the level of interest these people have in your company or products. Don’t follow back those that are just trying to grow their own numbers.
Track whether your social media efforts are bringing in the results you want. Social media should be a lean process loop on its own. Remember that social accounts are not a numbers game, they are a quality game.
Employees, clients, and random people will use social media to talk about your company, and even you. This is a thorny issue best left for another post.
5 – Be responsible and accountable
Each employee needs to be responsible and accountable for their own actions and behavior. Mistakes happen. Employees need to have the integrity of owning their mistakes and problems as well as successes.
Likewise the company needs to be responsible and accountable for the mistakes it makes both to its employees as well as its clients and customers. And by “company”, I really mean the owners and any executives. Admit problems and mistakes, fix them, try not to repeat them.
What does being professional mean to you?