9 Simple — Yet Often Ignored — Office Etiquette Rules

You all know the general rules of office etiquette: don’t dine on stinky food at your desk, don’t take the last of the coffee without making more, don’t come to work sick. While all still very much apply (yet still happen fairly frequently!), “the office” has evolved to mean more than just a physical address. With 4.3 million employees working from home at least half the time, the office now includes the coffee shop, the kitchen table and even the poolside lounge thanks to today’s collaboration solutions. And as the office setting evolves so, too, does office etiquette.

Here are some new rules and old reminders to help you not be “that” coworker.  

  1. Schedule meetings only for the time you need. It seems harmless: you schedule a meeting for an hour, it ends early and “everyone gets 40 minutes back.” But this tactic — scheduling extra time “in case you need it” — can actually waste more time. What usually happens is the agenda is addressed in 20 minutes, but rather than adjourning, attendees start chit-chatting or discussing another topic and the full hour is used anyway.  
  2. Just because you are working on the weekend, don’t assume others are. Sometimes work needs to be addressed after hours. So, if you find yourself working on the weekend, save emails and messages for Monday. Many of us reflexively check our email and collaboration apps off the clock, so when an email or IM comes in we shift into work mode, interrupting a well-deserved break from work. Instead, compose your message and schedule it to send Monday morning (depending on the application). The work still gets done, but you aren’t interrupting anyone else’s free time.  
  3. Pay attention. This advice dates back to your elementary school days, but it is harder than ever in today’s totally connected, always-on world. But all this multitasking reduces productivity by up to 40%. However, when you are fully present for a meeting or other interaction, you can listen better, think better and engage more productively. Don’t be the person who has to ask for a question to be repeated because you weren’t paying attention.  
  4. Know when to mute/unmute your microphone. A surprising number of people still forget to check the status of their microphone when on a call. No one wants to hear your dog barking or the barista blending your frappe. Likewise, when someone asks you a question, they don’t want to hear 10 seconds of silence followed by, “Sorry, my phone was on mute.”  
  5. Test your system BEFORE the meeting. This is especially true when you are using someone else’s conference system (like an important client’s or prospect’s). There are a plethora of both video and audio conferencing solutions, and many require plug-ins or app downloads. So about five minutes before every call you should attempt to log in to make sure you can get connected before the meeting starts. 
  6. Have your presentation (and only your presentation) open for screensharing. No one likes to watch you fumble for a file. And it’s best if meeting attendees don’t see the 57 files on your desktop, 17 open tabs on your browser and the open chat window discussing lunch plans with a coworker. If you know you will be presenting materials via a screen share, have the file open before the meeting and close all other applications. 
  7. Say Hello. Sending an instant message without prefacing it with “Hello” or “Are you available?” is like barging into someone’s office without knocking. Similarly, when someone’s status shows they’re unavailable (such as Do Not Disturb or In a Meeting), respect their privacy and don’t message them until they become available again.
  8. Respond quickly, but understand when others can’t. Instant messaging (IM) is for quick interactions and to get questions answered. So if someone IMs you, try to respond within 10 minutes. If you can’t, say something like, “On a deadline. I will respond in an hour.” And if you message someone who doesn’t respond to you, don’t send multiple follow-ups, like “helllooooo,” or “are you there???”  
  9. IM is not texting. It may function the same way, but business messages are not the same as texting with your teenager or close friends. So tempting as it may be, don’t use acronyms (LOL, brb, TY, np), don’t shorten words (ur, b4) and use punctuation. And please, no emojis. 

With so many ways to collaborate and work remotely, it’s not always easy to know the “right” and “wrong” ways to communicate. So when in doubt, use a polite and formal communication style or ask your supervisor or HR department for company policy. But rest assured, as habits evolve, workplace generations change and new technologies enter the fray, Select will have its finger on the pulse of “office” trends. Give us a shout if you want any tips for operating in the modern workplace!