Read this post for more information on maintaining professionalism in the workplace in a digital age.

How to keep workplace relationships professional

Did you know that four in ten employees in the UK have been involved in a relationship with one of their colleagues?

Research carried out earlier this year by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) led to the discovery that 41 per cent of workers have been romantically involved with someone they've met at work, with 64 per cent of managers not minding this, as long as the relationship does not interfere with their job.

With the advent of the cloud and other electronic document sharing technologies, it is now easier than ever for colleagues who are dating to maintain an air of discretion and professionalism. Here, we take a look at exactly how this is the case.

Relationships formed in the workplace

The sheer amount of time that we spend in the office means that the forming of relationships is inevitable - whether they be purely friendships or something more romantic.

A report from CareerBuilder UK published to coincide with Valentine's Day 2015 found that 39 per cent of employees have dated someone from work, with 36 per cent of these going on to marry their colleague.

Some 17 per cent of these relationships began in the pub after work, while 12 per cent of office romances blossomed at lunchtime and 12 per cent due to workplace collaboration. In addition, 11 per cent of office relationships started at a company party and nine per cent began due to employees working late.

Although some bosses may be hesitant to allow such relationships to form in their workplace, chief executive of the ILM Charles Elvin believes there is no need for them to be detrimental to a company's performance - and they could even benefit an organisation if discretion and professionalism are maintained.

He commented: "Employers may want to think twice before vetoing love at work or they risk forcing staff to hide their relationships, creating a culture of secrecy and deceit.

"The key is how employers handle workplace relationships: if organisation and their managers set clear guidance or policies with boundaries, then certain situations can be prevented. It will also help if policies are communicated down from various members - as sometimes the boss is the last to know."

Workplace friendships

Of course, not all workplace relationships have to be romantic - some are purely friendships, with research from Jobsite showing forming these is key to job satisfaction for 70 per cent of UK employees.

Working with colleagues that they like and get on with came out on top of the recruitment website's 2012 survey to find what motivates people to stay in their jobs. Work friends even came above salary and stress levels, emphasising just how important collaborating with colleagues to form close working relationships can be.

Maintaining professionalism

With so many people starting romantic relationships with their colleagues, how exactly can they keep these as discreet as possible, while maintaining an air of professionalism?

It's important to trust that before you embark on a relationship with a colleague, neither of you will make things awkward for the other if it comes to an end. It's also vital to make sure you're both on the same page with regard to how public you want to make your relationship. People might see you holding hands at lunchtime or heading home together after work and you need to have decided how you'll react to and deal with that.

The same goes for your social media activity - be sure that you're ready to make your relationship public to your colleagues before filling your Facebook with photos of you all coupled up.

Although work will inevitably come up in conversation while you're out of the office and what you're having for tea or what you're doing at the weekend might get discussed at work, try to work and your home life as separate as possible to maintain the greatest degree of professionalism.

And it should go without saying that public displays of affection or obvious flirting in the office are to be avoided at all times.

Greater discretion through shared documents

In times gone by, having to head over to hand a colleague a file or meet them for a chat at the water cooler might have sparked office gossip, but thanks to the cloud, this speculation can be lessened and relationships kept more discreet.

The ability to scan documents and share them via the cloud allows colleagues who may be in a romantic relationship to work together on projects discreetly, without drawing attention to their closeness.

Forming a close relationship with a co-worker enables an individual to gain a better understanding of their colleague's professional goals and stance on the organisation, so if you're placed in the same team for a project that requires to contribute to the same document or file, you are arguably in a better position than others to produce results - as long as you keep your relationship out of the picture for the time being.

What's more, cloud-based instant messenger apps enable conversations between partners or friends to be conducted privately, without interfering with other people's work.

Maintaining professionalism during a workplace relationship may be challenging at times and require discipline, but there is no doubt that electronic forms of document sharing and the cloud have made this significantly easier in recent years.

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