Professional etiquette has evolved and now includes personal device behavior too. Over the last couple of decades, the walled offices of old have given way to a cubicle world, and with those walls coming down, new etiquette has cropped up. Professional etiquette today isn’t just about playing nicely with others and being polite. It’s about getting along and not being intrusive in the office.
Lunchroom and Meal Etiquette
Chatting in the kitchen is fine, but don’t hold others up if they want access to the toaster or microwave. Do meal prep out of the way so others can use the appliances until you're ready. Don’t leave dishes around because no one on your team wants to mother you. When heating up food, be aware that many smells are considered offensive when microwaved, like anything including fish, and no one wants that lingering in the air.
If you’re eating at your desk, it’s not OK to slurp your noodles or chomp loudly. Crunching nuts or any other noisy food can be distracting to others who might be trying to deal with a complicated task.
Personal Space Etiquette
Just because your desk is your personal space doesn’t mean you can treat it like your living room. Things like clipping your nails or painting them are bothersome to others. Kicking off your shoes (especially your socks) in an open work area is overly casual.
Etiquette for Communication
- Speak quietly. Others need to focus.
- Don’t hit “reply all” unless everyone actually needs to read the email. Everyone suffers from email overload today.
- “Thanks” is an easy sign-off and is hard to read with tone. If you’re really thankful, take a moment to say, “I appreciate your help, Pete. Thanks!”
- Oversharing is inappropriate even if it’s commonplace.
- On social media, don’t gripe about co-workers, work or bosses. You’d be shocked how easily it can get back to them, and it may even be against your workplace HR policies.
Sounds and Devices
If you have an office with a door, you can relax about sounds and volume if you simply shut the door. For those who work in shared spaces and cubicles, be considerate and keep devices on silent – from ringers to keystrokes to system sounds.
Personal calls are called "personal" for a reason. It’s inappropriate to take personal calls at work unless it is for urgent reasons. If you must, step into a private room or step outside so you don’t disrupt others.
With computer use, turn the system sounds off and listen to music or videos through headphones. If you see other workers wearing headphones, don’t disturb them, as headphones are the new “do not disturb.”
Miscellaneous Professional Etiquette Tips
- Always be punctual for work, for meetings and upon returning from breaks.
- If you have to be late, give as much notice as you can, especially for conference calls and external meetings. There's nothing worse than pushing through a bad morning just to show up for a conference call that's cancelled at the last minute.
- Be aware that many workplaces are now scent free because some people are annoyed by scents, and others are actually physically affected by them. Consider going scent free or at least use a very light hand on any scents you apply.
- Be friendly but watch for cues that others are busy or not feeling chatty. Remember to be nice to the new folks and check in to see how they’re faring.
- Before speaking, think. It’s easy to say what you think, but it’s not necessarily wise to do so. Ensure you’re commenting wisely.
- Don’t interrupt. It’s disrespectful. For those who are introverts, being interrupted is the surest way to lose their train of thought, and you might miss out on some valuable input if that happens.
- Ask before you borrow anything. Always.
- Never move or remove anything on a colleague's desk without permission.
Steffani Cameron is a professional writer who has written for the Washington Post, Culture, Yahoo!, Canadian Traveller, and many other platforms. Some writing projects have included ghost-writing for CEOs and doing strategy white papers. She frequently writes for corporate clients representing Fortune 500 brands on subjects that include marketing, business, and social media trends.