Four easy ways to maintain professionalism in a laid-back world.

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The recent political climate got me to thinking about all the inappropriate and ineffective workplace behavior I’ve experienced over the years. While I like to think I’m a modern gal, I’m also very traditional in some ways and think that erring on the side of professional goes a long way, even in the most casual of offices.

Here are a few areas where you might want to check it before you wreck it.

Clothes: Consider your audience. When I was a publishing executive, I invited a young editor to present at a sales conference to bunch of middle-aged male sales reps. I outlined what clothing would be appropriate for the event. She showed up wearing a blazer but as the room warmed up, she took it off to reveal a tank top and a large tribal tattoo on her upper arm. Rightly or not, it pulled focus from her presentation.

Think about the image you want to convey and dress accordingly. Working in a creative environment? By all means, wear jeans, but pair them with shirts and footwear that convey flair and confidence, not your undying devotion to the Grateful Dead. Are you an accountant or attorney? Stick to something that exudes authority and skill. Ironic t-shirts don’t always fit the bill.

Email: While the rules of etiquette have loosened as we’ve moved into a paperless culture, take a nod from traditional correspondence. Start your emails with a greeting and wrap up with a sign off, be it “sincerely” or “best regards.”

Don’t ever, for the sake of all that’s good and holy, type your emails in all caps. IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE YELLING. No one likes to find a digital dress down in their inbox at 9 a.m.

Meetings: In addition to paper correspondence, email has also replaced phone calls and meetings. That’s not always a good thing. Another employee of mine refused to pick up the phone, even though her client was getting more and more agitated about a project. He just wanted to be heard, which I discovered when I called him and talked him off the ledge.

Pick up the phone, set up an in-person meeting, and your professional relationships will solidify and soar.

Personal effects: You may not have an office or cubicle but whatever is on display — including personal photos, posters, artwork, sports banners and political ephemera — has an effect on how your co-workers perceive you. Your cubicle isn’t your teenage bedroom or man cave, so resist the urge to display your bobblehead or PEZ dispenser collection. Cultivate an air of mystery instead and keep your surfaces clean, neat and focused on the job at hand.

Jennifer Worick is a veteran freelancer/contractor, publishing consultant and New York Times bestselling author. Email her at