The Traditional Office
Let's consider a professional office setting. In even the starchiest of accounting or law offices you will find family photos and other personal objects on the desks of almost everyone, from managing partner to file clerk. These may be placed there as comfort for their owner, but they serve other functions as well. They humanize the individual. We now better understand that our boss, our colleague, our employee has a life outside of work. He is someone's father, brother, son, friend. These personal objects also serve as ice breakers and bonding points in meetings with co-workers or clients.
The Virtual Office
Since online workers are almost exclusively working via device screen, personalization to the degree that fits your industry and personal style, is critical. I am currently ghostwriting a book for two sales guys. They could not be more different. This was apparent to me from our first Skype conversation. However, it wasn't until I received notes for the "about the authors" section of the book, that I really felt I knew where the differences were coming from and how I could exploit those in the book and in our business relationship. These guys are not writers and have no social media presence. We work mostly via Skype (they call from a phone; I use my Skype account) and emailed voice recordings. Developing a good understanding of their personalities and work styles took digging on my part. Now I know that the extrovert is sales, through and through - a leader by example, having been high school and college team captain in a number of sports. His partner is analytical and data driven in his approach. An ironman competitor and family man, his personality is reflected in his personal style at work. What a complementary team they make! I love that I can now reflect this in my work with them.
What Should We Share?
While I don't believe my clients need to be my Facebook friends, I do think it's important for them to understand my personal style. They need to know that I have a family, that I like to travel, and that I don't have any pets. These are all things they would know about me if they came into my cube in a physical space, just by glancing at a single family photo. They should also know that while I am attentive to detail and working within a given structure or set of rules, I am also innovative and not afraid to take risks. They might get that from seeing how I dress in an office, classic style with an fashion-forward accessory, a ring or pair of shoes. Finally, clients need to know that I am open and I am listening. In an offline relationship, they would get this from body language, appropriate eye contact and an easy smile.
How Do We Share?
In my case, I sent out a Happy New Year letter with a picture of my family and a few personal and professional notes about the previous year and the year to come. I had an amazing response with six new pieces of business coming from that one note. Whether it was the personalization or simply a reminder of projects that needed to get off the ground, it worked. Since then, I have not been afraid to share bits and pieces of my personality with my clients, in the same way that I would if we were meeting over lunch or in my physical office space.
A caveat: I do not recommend telling clients about what you are having for dinner (unless it is really extraordinary), your mother-in-law, or personal problems. Keep it safe, light and all about injecting your personal style into the interaction.
How you choose to share is up to you, but from my experience, only good can come from being your authentic self.
For more about our online family lifestyle, visit FamilyFreedomProject.com and 'Like' it on Facebook to follow along.