Office Etiquette – the art everyone should learn

Office etiquette is the standard of behavior expected by all those who share an office space. It is not something that can be directly or blatantly taught, rather it is something you need to learn from observing, listening and mimicking others. Each office and each company has a different office etiquette, just like how each has a different culture. However, what remains to be universal are the basic rules that everyone follows in order to show respect and create a friendly and healthy working environment. So what exactly are the basic office etiquettes?

1. Being respectful is the bare minimum

An age-old rule that always holds true. Respect yourself, others, and the space you share. Your respect is the basis of office etiquette. When you grant it, you acknowledge others’ value. In return, when you receive it, your value rises. Without respect, there can be no genuine etiquette.

When you tell others your name, include your last name. When you first meet someone, pay attention to their name. It is the first show of respect. If you aren’t sure how to pronounce it, be sincere and ask. Don’t carelessly butcher their name or invent a nickname. Call people what they want to be called.

Whether in email, in person, or on a project, always follow through and follow up with work. If someone is asking or being asked to do something, a follow up is respectful acknowledgment.

>>> Read more: Vietnam workplace etiquette: How to survive and thrive as a foreigner working in Vietnam

2. Introduction, handshakes and a smile is recipe for success

No one likes to awkwardly stand with a group of people who have no idea who they are and what they are doing there. It’s uncomfortable. If you strike up a conversation with someone and are with a person that they haven’t met yet, it is polite to make an introduction. Give a little more information than just their name though. You might add the person’s role at your company and what they do. This gives others some background, but keep it brief.

A handshake is still the professional standard. It shows you’re polite, confident and approachable. But please make sure it’s a firm handshake and remain good eye contact. There’s nothing worse than giving a limp (soft) handshake and averting your eyes. It tells the other person you’re weak, lacks confidence and honesty, all of which can give the completely wrong idea about you.

Lastly, a smile always ties everything together. Whether it be the awkward silence when you first meet someone or when someone new is still getting used to the new office, adding a smile with the handshake and introduction combination always make people feel more welcomed and open. It will also give you a good first impression for someone who has never met you before.

3. It’s called personal space for a reason

Whether you work in an open office or one with several rooms and cubicles, you must always be aware of each other’s surroundings. Consider where your personal space is, where others are, and what is shared. Many people need their personal space to stay focused and feel good.

Always knock on the door or if the door is open, poke your head and ask if it’s ok to enter. Don’t just ente someone’s office unannounced.

Don’t eavesdrop! Everyone is entitled to have their private conversations either face to face or on the phone. The same goes for email; don’t stand over someone’s shoulders while they’re writing an email and read it.

4. Watch your language, both online and offline

Choose your words carefully and wisely. Rude and offensive language is never acceptable but neither is slang especially when communicating with clients and customers.

Always remember to greet everyone. A simple “Hi, how are you?” or even a smile and nod is enough. However, adding more could make them remember you and view you as friendly and pleasant. It can also strike up conversation. Be considerate though. If they appear to be in a rush or not interested at the moment, don’t force a conversation on them.

Be mindful of your sounds when having informal conversations during business hours. Unless everyone is in on the joke, keep loud conversation to a minimum. There might be a distraction but you don’t want to become one. Besides that, if you must take a personal call, take it outside. You don’t want to use common areas to deal with your personal matters.

5. Emails stay forever, remember that

Always remember to proofread your email for grammar and typo mistakes. Each message sent reflects on you, so you need to make sure that they are professional and well-written. You shouldn’t have typos in emails. It only takes a few seconds to proofread your emails before hitting send.

Also, never forget to say “please” and “thank you”. This is a basic form of courtesy, whether you are in a business setting or not. Sending a thank you email is very acceptable (for example, after a business lunch or a job interview) and, if you can, a handwritten thank you note is a nice gesture. It may take a few more minutes of your time and a little change for postage, but it is more appreciated.

Email tone is very hard to read, so be sure you’re using language that helps the recipient understand it. And despite what your middle school English teacher may have told you, exclamation points are almost required these days. A simple line like “Really appreciate your help! Thank you, Emma!” is better than “Thanks. Emma”

6. Cleanliness — from personal hygiene to common space

A clean workspace is good for productivity. It minimizes distractions both for yourself and for others. Even if you do not mind clutter, many people find it distracting. A clean workspace is also crucial to the company in case you have visitors, particularly potential clients.

Help keep common areas clean. Everybody has a stake in a common area, regardless of how much they use it or what they use it for. Be fair to your coworkers and keep an eye on the general tidiness of common areas. A little cleaning by everyone goes a long way.

7. Time is a big deal

Whether it is arriving at work or a meeting or making a deadline, punctuality is critical. Time is precious. When you miss a deadline, the whole team is affected and may have to cover for you. Teams rely on everyone to do their part. It is easy to underestimate how much time you’ll need to complete a project if you don’t regularly track your work.

When you are late, you are being disrespectful and inconsiderate of another person’s time and commitments. Don’t be late. If you are running behind schedule, contact them as soon as you realize that you won’t make it on time. Don’t show up too early either. Arriving between 5 to 10 minutes before your appointment is ideal.

>>> Read more: Time management: The key to happiness (in the workplace)

8. Dress to impress?

As much as we like to tell ourselves not to “judge a book by its cover,” our immediate reaction is to do just that. In fact, studies have shown that the first thing that people notice about others is their appearance. It is the primary influence on first impressions.

You don’t have to put on a three-piece suit, but dressing smart shows that you put effort into your appearance and are more likely to put the same enthusiasm into your work. When you dress in loungewear in a professional setting, people may think that you are lazy. It doesn’t mean that you can’t wear a comfy shirt and jeans occasionally. If it is appropriate for the work environment and situation, then go for it.

9. If you’re inviting, you’re paying

Lunch meetings give you the opportunity to get to know a colleague better, impress an investor or learn more about a client and their needs. The rule of thumb is that the person who extends the invitation covers the bill. Don’t make a fuss over it.

On the topic of eating, table manners matters. Eating while talking business can be difficult if you choose a messy item from the menu. (Stay away from finger foods!) The rules may change based on where you eat. If you are eating a five-star, luxury restaurant, you’ll want to know the table placements.

10. Video Conferencing etiquette

Since the pandemic broke out, we have definitely gotten used to the Zoom world by now. Here are a few rules to abide by all the time during business calls:

  • Don’t be late.
  • If it is the company’s rule to turn on the camera, turn it on.
  • No eating.
  • Know how to interrupt politely. Coming off mute means “I’m about to say something.” but don’t disrupt the flow of someone’s conversation. Ask to jump in or add on.
  • Don’t multitask. Your boss can still tell when you are not paying attention even if they are not next to you.
  • Put your phone on complete silent mode or just take it to a different room.
  • Control your background. A messy background can cause people to focus on the clutter around you rather than on your words and ideas.
  • Remember the outliers. Sometimes a video call is between a room full of people and one person in a remote location. It’s important to ensure that people participating outside a group are included in the dialogue and given cues and openings for questions or comments.

Office etiquette is an important factor to help you not only further your career but truly take in the experience when you are working for any company. While each company has different rules and cultures, it is important to master the basic skills and learn the office etiquette that are applied wherever you decide to work.

The JobHopin Team


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