Everything you need to know about office etiquette and why it matters

In every office, there are rules both written and unwritten that serve as the guidelines for employee behavior. Collectively, this code of customary behaviors is known as office etiquette. Understanding why workplace etiquette matters can go a long way toward ensuring that you’re doing your part to make your office a respectful and productive place. 

While it may seem like common sense to know what is acceptable and unacceptable within an office and put it into practice, office etiquette goes beyond simply following office rules and procedures. Knowing how to treat others with courtesy can help keep the entire office running smoothly. 

Office etiquette and company culture

Adhering to the basic rules of office etiquette is crucial to keeping your workplace a place where everyone feels considered, as this can foster a sense of appreciation among coworkers, leading to better overall company culture

A company culture that is rooted in understanding how to maintain respect through etiquette has numerous benefits. Respecting the way that others communicate, their personal space, and their personal beliefs can help foster a sense of harmony in the office. 

While you can’t change how others behave, you do have control over your own workplace etiquette. Plus, the behaviors you demonstrate could set a good example for others to follow. It’s basically the golden rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. 

Office etiquette and productivity

Maintaining a productive workplace is one of the main benefits of exercising proper office etiquette

If your supervisor has to constantly remind people to be respectful and maintain etiquette, it can have an impact on productivity. Not only does your supervisor have to stop their own work to correct behavior, but they may call meetings to address overall etiquette, which can take away from the time you and your coworkers are actively working. 

Maintaining etiquette with respect to people’s workspaces is another factor that can impact productivity, as an office setting is typically filled with both common spaces and more enclosed, personal spaces such as cubicles or smaller, closed offices. 

Respecting the way that each of these spaces works can help ensure that people have the space to work productively. This also allows people the opportunity to have places to take breaks and not feel uncomfortable while doing so, and these breaks can lead to more productive work time.

What are the rules of office etiquette?

Your office likely has a set of rules that dictates what employees can and cannot do. Everything from how to dress to what time to arrive at work is probably spelled out in an employee handbook or other documentation. At the very least, these guidelines are explained to new hires and employees are expected to follow them for the duration of their employment. 

Every workplace is different, but following basic rules of office etiquette can help you to contribute to a workplace that is respectful and productive.

Here are some common rules of workplace etiquette that are generally good to follow regardless of any specific office rules in place:

Communication:

  • Learn your coworker’s names: You may think this is a no-brainer, but it can be seen as lazy or disrespectful if you don’t know your coworker’s names
  • Look at others when they’re speaking to you: The simple action of making eye contact shows common courtesy to your coworkers. 
  • Don’t speak over others: Trying to talk over someone can be seen as rude, so it is best to take turns when speaking with others.
  • Don’t curse: Your office might be lax on this, but to maintain professionalism in the workplace, forgo using curse words at work.
  • Return messages within 24 hours: Whether it’s an email, phone message, or handwritten, responding to a team member’s query within a day (when possible, within reason) will help keep operations streamlined.
  • Avoid gossip: It may be tempting to contribute to the office rumor mill if others do, but not gossiping is part of maintaining office etiquette. 

Space:

  • Respect personal space: The office is not a place to overstep personal space boundaries. Even if you share a cubicle or desk, it’s important to respect the space of others. 
  • Respect common spaces: From the kitchen to the bathroom and the conference room, be courteous of others and clean up after yourself. These places are not your personal office, so don’t act like it is.
  • Don’t take without asking: If you need to borrow a pen, ask. If you need to re-stock your staples, hit up the supply closet instead of raiding your co-worker’s stash.
  • Be mindful of food: Try to avoid bringing foods to work that are especially pungent. While you may love the smell of steamed fish, your officemates likely won’t like the scent it permeating the office walls. 
  • Leave the thermostat alone: If you’re cold at the office, layer up with a sweater, and if you get warm easily, consider wearing light clothing. There’s no way to make everyone comfortable at the same time, so just do what you can to help yourself without adjusting the temperature of the whole office.

Personal considerations:

  • Follow your office dress code: Respect the office rules regarding attire and dress accordingly. This includes taking care not to over-apply perfume or cologne, as to not overwhelm others with the scent. (Even if it smells amazing, lighter scents are more office appropriate.)
  • Don’t come to work sick: Especially in the era of COVID-19, coming to work when you feel under the weather can spread germs and potentially make others ill as well. Also, be sure to follow office procedures for mask-wearing at all times. 
  • Silence your cell: The constant dinging from messages and notifications can be distracting for both you and your coworkers. Opt instead for putting your cell on vibrate or silent and check it at regular intervals if you’re expecting an important call or message.
  • Be mindful of personal calls: If you need to make a personal call, either step outside to use your cell phone or keep it brief and quiet on an office phone if allowed. 

While not inclusive of every single aspect of office life, it’s good to keep these general tips in mind in order to maintain professionalism and productivity in the workplace. Above all, it’s always a good idea to be courteous and respectful of others. 

Does office etiquette apply for remote work?

With more work taking place outside of a traditional office setting these days, it’s important to address the role that workplace etiquette plays in remote work
Although working remotely offers the opportunity to put some physical distance between yourself and your coworkers, the basic rules of office etiquette still apply. Sure, your toddler interrupting a Zoom call is forgivable, but not wearing pants and letting curse words fly are still non-starters.