Here’s the office mask etiquette you need to know before returning to the work

A potential return to the office will come with a mask.

While timelines for when workers can return to the physical office remain unknown in parts of the US, what is known is how workers will be required to wear masks in the office during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

With safety measures such as social distancing continuing, life in the office won’t really resemble how worked looked just months ago before the virus shuttered businesses in March. However, it’s become more clear how offices will reopen and what will be needed in order to ensure safety as the world waits for a vaccine.

Masks will be the top requirement for entering a workplace. Not only do they protect you and others around you, but it’s been proven that it’s one of the most effective ways to curb the spread of COVID-19. But workers should be wary of what they are going to be wearing across their faces when office life returns to ‘normal’, and consider whether it’s going to be workplace appropriate.

Think about it: How do workers incorporate a face mask into business casual? Is it as simple as throwing on a blue surgical mask and walking into a meeting with higher-ups or a potential client? Eh. Can I wear a mask with my favorite team’s logo plastered all over it? Maybe on Fridays, but not always. How about the floral print one? Not every day.

It depends on where you work and the standards of office attire. While some companies could adopt work-from-home dress codes in order to keep employees comfortable, it’s important to think about picking your mask with the same mindset as picking out a tie, Will Rose, Hargen.AI’s Chief Communications Officer, tells Ladders.

Hargen.AI is a remote interviewing and recruiting platform where Rose said he’s spoken with several HR departments who’ve expressed changes in company workbooks to reflect the current pandemic.

“A lot of that seems to coordinate with how casual the workplace is,” Rose said. “In an office setting where you’re not in front of customers that have a mostly casual or business casual dress code, it appears employers are a little more relaxed on what kind of mask you can wear in terms of if there’s a logo or graphic or pattern. It seems like employers are generally fine with employees showing some type of personality.”

Like a tie, Rose said a mask can show personality but only in certain settings. On days where workers can dress down, a fun mask that shows some interests could work but generally, workers should look toward something a bit less colorful.

Rose advised wearing a dark or single color mask for more serious settings like a meeting with management or leadership. Something black or models that are often seen on by news personalities and others on TV are safe bets.

What masks to avoid

Your coworkers probably didn’t forget how much you love the New York Jets but if you want to wear a mask with your favorite sports team, be mindful of when and where it is acceptable. Even unique patterns or certain fabrics fall under this umbrella too.

“If you are wearing something distinct looking that people are going to remember, it might be a good idea to have different ones so it doesn’t look like you’re reusing the same mask,” Rose said. “The point of the mask is cleanliness and making sure you’re taking everyone’s safety seriously. You don’t want to give off the appearance that you’re not really taking it seriously and wearing the same mask every day.”

Other face coverings like bandanas should be avoided too.

“Bandanas are not as effective as a more traditional mask that a lot of companies are producing that you can buy at the store,” said Rose. “Even if it doesn’t go against a company guideline, I’d really want to give the perception to coworkers that you’re a good office citizen and you’re taking everyone’s safety seriously and project that by wearing a quality mask that looks like a real mask. It’s important to let your coworkers know you’re taking this seriously.”

If you’re en employee looking to make a statement with your mask to reflect the current moment, check with your HR department to make sure you’re allowed to.

“That burden comes down to the employers at the end of the day to make sure they are communicating what the rules are,” Rose said.

Should masks be provided by employers?

It could be a good idea for employers to consider providing workers with masks that are branded with the company’s logo. Like water bottles and free swag often handed out in the office, a company mask ensures everyone has the same model that meets safety requirements in the office.

“Most companies spend a lot of money on [swag],” Rose said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if companies provide it to customers.”

Rose said masks could be used as a way to get a brand exposure, especially at smaller conferences or job fairs.