Office Etiquette: What It Is And How To Improve

By Chris Kolmar
Jul. 25, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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When you work with others in a shared office space, you must focus on the keyword “share.” Like living with roommates, you and your coworkers will have certain standards that must be respected. The office needs to be a place where work gets done, and values, professionalism, and performance determine the office etiquette.

Key Takeaways:

  • In addition to simply being best practice, good office etiquette is a soft skill that employers look for in their employees.

  • Specific office etiquette may be outlined in your employee handbook or code of conduct, but there are also some unofficial rules of etiquette that everyone is expected to follow.

  • A good approach to office etiquette is to always be respectful of your coworkers, including respecting their time and space.

office etiquette

What Is Office Etiquette and Why Is It Important?

Office etiquette is the standard of behavior expected by all those who share an office space. Every office is different, so etiquette can vary between companies. However, many general practices are common.

Good etiquette is based on respect and professionalism. That means everyone respects each other’s time and space while you focus on the company’s goals. This is important because, without good etiquette, conflict can arise that harms the office’s productivity.

Imagine an office that is a free-for-all. If every employee were allowed to behave the way they saw fit, personalities would clash very quickly. It is bound to happen because everyone has different work styles and living habits. Therefore guidelines are needed to keep everyone on the same page.

Some office etiquette may be posted in your employee handbook as certain Codes of Conduct or else announced via PSAs. However, many other etiquette norms are unspoken and enforced by a general understanding of all the employees. So brush up on your office etiquette. Violating them may result in serious reprimands from your supervisors and isolation from your peers.

You might take etiquette for granted, but it’s good to brush up on these skills. Take a look at the following list and consider how you measure up.

21 Office Etiquette Tips

  1. Be Respectful. 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.

  2. Be Open To New Ideas. People are uncomfortable with change, but that should not get in the way of productivity. New ideas can help improve a company. Still, if a new idea makes you uncomfortable, try to be objective and see it from another’s perspective.

  3. Be Mindful Of Personal Space. 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.

  4. Be Mindful Of Your Sounds. Sounds can be very distracting, so wear headphones if you listen to music or a podcast. If you must take a personal call, take it outside. If you must take a business call, it will depend on the office’s culture; however, a good courtesy would be to take it somewhere private if possible.

  5. Be Mindful Of Your Smells. Listen, no one wants to be mean and tell you that you smell. However, if you do, it’s going to cause issues. Practice good hygiene. Also, be mindful of what you eat and drink, as they can give off distracting smells.

  6. Do Not Eat At Your Desk. There are many reasons why it is good not to eat at your desk. It helps keep your desk clean. It prevents distracting others and establishes your workspace as a space to do work. Find an appropriate place, such as a break room, to take your meals.

  7. Keep Your Space Clean. 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.

  8. Help Keep Common Areas Clean. This is shared living 101. 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.

  9. Respect The Privacy Of Others. Your coworkers may not want to share the inner workings of their lives. When in conversation, be mindful of the kind of questions you ask. It’s okay to be curious, and sharing information about each helps build social bonds, but it is your coworker who decides where and when to share about themselves.

  10. Don’t Share Too Much Personal Information. Similarly, it’s okay to want to share about yourself, but don’t go overboard. What you share may not be appropriate. If you want to talk about your personal life with a coworker, do it outside the office. Besides, that becomes a great way to grab a drink and chat.

  11. Don’t Gossip. Although most gossip is generally harmless and without bad intention, it can quickly lead to a toxic work culture. Remember, you want to keep things professional, so if the conversation enters the realm of gossip, redirect it back to topics that suit the workspace.

  12. Dress To Office Standards. Every office will have a dress code to adhere to. Within those standards, dress professionally. Keep your clothes clean and in good condition. Most offices operate under business casual attire, and there are plenty of resources to help you prepare your wardrobe.

  13. Speak In A Mature Manner. It won’t do you any good in most offices if you talk too casually or with profanity. You never know who may be listening, so immature language could cost you clients or even your job. Be mature; it can also help you with conflict resolution among coworkers.

  14. Be Punctual. It sends a bad message if you arrive late for work and meetings. Tardiness can be interpreted as disrespectful, especially when there is other people’s time to consider. Write out a schedule and keep to it. Use reminders on your phone if you need help with time management. Remember it’s better to be early than on time.

  15. Resolve Conflict In A Professional Manner. Conflict is unavoidable in the workplace, but its negative effects should be mitigated as much as possible. The best way is to resolve issues as soon as they come up. If you have a problem, be professional in how you communicate it – speak directly and with respect. If you have a serious issue, seek help from your supervisor.

  16. Avoid Being On Your Phone, Personal Email, and Other Distractions. It’s a pretty bad look to be on your phone when your boss comes by. Social media and other online distractions should be put away and only used sparingly throughout the day. If you find yourself on a personal phone call, make sure to take it outside the workplace.

  17. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help, But Don’t Take Advantage Either. When you work with others, there’s no reason to go it alone. If you find yourself stuck or overwhelmed with projects, reach out, and ask for help. However, don’t be someone who always passes their responsibilities to someone else. Own up to what you need to get done.

  18. Offer Help When Appropriate. For the same reasons, don’t be afraid to assist your coworkers. Always ask before you help. Some people may be offended by unsolicited advice or actions. Also, be careful about how often you offer help because you don’t want to be taken advantage of.

  19. Follow Up. 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.

  20. Be Healthy. If you are sick, stay at home. An office can be easily affected by contagious diseases and lose a lot of productivity. Also, being healthy, with a reasonable diet and exercise, can help with your moods and energy levels. Remember, mental health is just as important as physical health, and both can impact your coworkers.

  21. Be Friendly, Or At Least Cordial. Even if you do not like another coworker, consider your relationship from a professional perspective. At the bare minimum, you should be able to work together. Keep a positive mindset and get the job done. With a little respect and goodwill, even those you may not like can become tolerable.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. Try out these tips at work. You may find your mood and your relationships improve. What’s more, your supervisor will notice such professional behavior and can help you down the line when it comes to promotions and job references.

Office etiquette is the basis for a functional, healthy environment. Do your part and keep your standards in order. These are soft skills that are needed in most professions. Due to this, office etiquette can always be improved upon. So stay vigilant and sharp about your professional behavior.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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