Office etiquette is simply a set of basic behavior rules that we should all follow in the workplace, for better work culture. In this digital era with most offices adopting the work-from-home mandate, the interaction between office colleagues has become more relaxed, and people are not as formal as they used to be. However, respect and courtesy are two values that will never go out of style. Remember those common etiquette rules we were all taught as little children? Pay attention when someone is talking to you, and never forget the five magic words; please, excuse me, sorry, thank you, and pardon me? Those still apply in the office. However, here are some basic office etiquette practices you should observe in addition to the fundamentals you were taught.
1. Show Up on Time for Meetings and Stay Focused.
This is the oldest rule in the book. Whether it is your first day at work or not, punctuality is key. Arriving at a meeting venue early shows respect for your time and that of others regardless if you are the host or simply an attendee. Also, when you do show up to these meetings, stay focused on the presentations and pay attention.
While in a meeting, turn off notifications on your phone and stay seated till the end if possible (taking too many bathroom breaks and phone call excuses give the impression that the host is boring you). If you must receive an important call, politely excuse yourself from the meeting and only start talking to the caller after you have left the meeting room.
2. Keep your Verbal and Written Communication Clean
Avoid using foul language in the workplace, and no matter how informal your office is, limit your use of colloquial English. Slangs, innuendos, sarcasm, and dark humor should only be used within your close circle, and only during break time. Never use them in presentations, emails, conversations with clients, or work-related discussions with your boss/employee.
As much as possible, maintain professionalism in all interactions you have while at work. It discourages disrespect and reduces conflicts that could arise from misinterpretations during conversations. Using light humor during presentations to ease tension is encouraged.
3. Stay Away from Office Gossip and Public Criticism
The longer you stay as part of a team, the more comfortable you get discussing with your team members. However, when your topic of discussion is offensive, it becomes gossip that is highly discouraged in the workplace. The office environment is not a hair salon or a bar, don’t discuss events that do not pertain to work in the office, or air a colleague’s dirty linen in the cafeteria during lunch break. Keep secret conversations private.
If you have an issue with a coworker, address it via a one-on-one conversation with the person; don’t begin to badmouth him or openly criticize his work because of that. In the same vein, leave office events in the workplace when you close for the day. Good office etiquette says, “whatever happens in the office, stays in the office”.
4. Be Mindful of How Your Actions Affect Others
Respect other people’s space while in the office. Especially if you share the same office space with the rest of your team members, your actions will influence their productivity and workflow.
- Answer your calls but if you would rather not, silence the ringing. The loud ringing and vibration could distract others who are trying to remain focused on their work.
- Don’t interrupt conversations. If you walk in on some of your coworkers engaged in a conversation, do not jump into the discussion, wait until they acknowledge your presence and quieten down before stating your mission.
- Keep your voice down when responding to phone calls or having side talks with your friends in the office. The sound of your loud voice may be distracting to other team members. If you get frustrated while on a call and feel the need to raise your voice, notify the caller that you are at work and will return the call later.
- Don’t play loud music. Listen to your favorite playlist using your headset and Airpods.
- Pacing while on the phone may help you relieve tension and ease your nervousness, but it is distracting to others. Don’t do it.
- Avoid wearing perfumes with overpowering fragrances, to keep your colleagues who may be asthmatic or allergic to strong odors safe. You don’t want to trigger an asthma attack or allergic reaction that could escalate into an emergency.
- Ask politely before you borrow other people’s things, or better still, get your supplies.
5. Maintain Work-Life Balance; Don’t Show Up on Sick Days
Maintain a good work-life balance by taking breaks when required, not working late hours at work, and taking time off when you fall sick. Showing up to work on sick days not only affects your recovery but also puts the health of your coworkers at risk if your illness is contagious.
When a colleague is on sick leave or a vacation, respect their “me time” and keep all interactions with them for work-related reasons minimal. Only reach out to them to ask about their wellbeing and recovery process.
6. Keep Your Body Language and Emotions in Check
It is tempting to take out your frustrations from the morning traffic or tussle with bad drivers on the road, on your colleagues when you get to the office and they are all having a bright morning. However, you must keep your emotions in check when you are in the workplace. Don’t give in to the urge to slam doors or place objects violently on your desk when you are angry. Take a time-out to breathe instead and come back when you have better control of your feelings.
Eye-rolling, hissing, making offensive gestures, or mimicking a team member is highly prohibited and discouraged in the office, that’s bad office etiquette. These actions give a poor representation of your company to clients who witness them. Horseplay is also not encouraged in the office environment.
7. Don’t be a Gatekeeper
The use of professional terminologies is a must in an office setting, but don’t overdo it. There is no need to use corporate jargon all the time when communicating with your colleagues, you will only come across as obnoxious and annoying. Tone it down when you’re not trying to bag a deal from a client. Also, be liberal in sharing knowledge on your areas of expertise with your colleagues when requested. Don’t deliberately hoard knowledge that could help a team member execute a task successfully.
Be nice to new employees and offer to help when it is in your power to do so, it is the simplest office etiquette rule. Remember that one good turn deserves another and if you do good to others, good will find its way back to you.
8. Adhere to the Official Dress Code
Dress appropriately for work and adhere to the stated dress codes. Don’t wear provocative attire that could attract crude comments and inappropriate compliments, and don’t walk around in the office building on slippers no matter how fancy they look. A business casual outfit is perfect if you don’t like to look too formal, and yet don’t want to flaunt the rules.
9. Use Social Media Cautiously
The internet never forgets, so keep your posts and comments regarding your company and coworkers on social media, respectful and non-controversial (especially if your colleagues are part of your social media network). Venting about your work struggles on social media may be therapeutic to you, but it could be damaging to your career if prospective clients or future employers come across job-depreciating posts on your feed. Don’t share sensitive information about your job or work pattern on the internet, for data security’s sake.
10. Respect Constituted Authority
The adage “respect is reciprocal” is more than just a saying, it is a warning. Showing disrespect to your superiors would lead people to think you are irresponsible, and in turn, make them disrespect you. Even as an employer or manager, if you do not treat your subordinates with respect, you will not get any in return.
- Respond to questions directed at you politely every time, even when you are not in a good mood.
- Clean up after yourself, don’t litter, and don’t make a mess at someone else’s desk. Pick up trash when you see it and do your bit to keep the office environment clean.
- Keep your desk neat and organized all the time, a tidy workspace encourages productivity.
- Don’t eat at your desk, always make use of the cafeteria during lunch break.
- Respond to emails as soon as you get them, and return calls sent to voicemail in your absence when you get back.
- Stay quiet if you do not have anything nice to contribute to a discussion, even if you are prompted to give your opinion.
- Do not be the office etiquette police. If someone breaks any etiquette rules, try not to go all Hulk on them with “courtesy demands that…” bring it to their notice nicely anybody can make mistakes.
The workplace is a breeding ground for productivity, and practicing good office etiquette helps to maintain workflow and promote good work culture. I hope you find this helpful.