Office Etiquette: Learning How Your Workplace Works

Career Advice, Employee Insights

Learning Office Etiquette

Whether you’re new to this particular office or new to the professional world in general, it sometimes takes a little while to get your footing in a new environment. Each workplace has its own culture, even within a company, so getting used to how things work in a new location or department is a natural part of joining a team. Here are some of the (mostly) unspoken rules to remember whether you’re getting settled in at a new job or a new location.

Dress the Part

When in doubt, it’s best to dress professionally until you are familiar with the dress code and how the general culture of the office interprets it. Especially when you first begin working with a new team, you should aim to create a positive first impression by looking sharp and well groomed. Avoid jeans, sneakers, and hoodies and opt for a button down, sweater, or blouse with slacks or a long skirt and dress shoes.

If the dress code allows you to dress more casually on certain days or all the time, then you can begin to loosen up and wear less formal clothing after your first few days. If you’re unsure of what’s appropriate, paying attention to what your manager and other leaders wear is usually a good way to gauge how formally to dress. It’s always best to dress too nicely rather than too casually and adjust going forward if it makes sense.

Be On Time

Part of making a good impression and showing respect is making sure you are on time. Make an effort to be on time not just to work, but make sure to be on time to meetings and events too. It’s rude to inconvenience others by being tardy to work, meetings, etc. and you don’t want that to become part of your reputation around the office. Being known for lateness does not reflect well on your time management skills or other abilities and could hurt your chances of being considered for important projects or promotions in the future.

Keep It Professional

It can be easy to slip into a habit of gossiping with coworkers, but it’s best to avoid that kind of talk and keep conversations at work professional. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get to know people on a personal level or share what’s going on in your life at all but be careful not to overshare or to get too deeply into other people’s business. You will want to build up a reputation for being professional and courteous, so be careful what sort of talk you engage in. You can still make friends and get to know your coworkers, but it’s important to keep things positive and professional while you’re at work. If the conversation is veering into troublesome territory, it’s perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself to get back to work or redirect to more neutral topics.

Be Mindful of Phone Calls

If you need to take a sensitive or personal phone call during work, it’s a good idea to close your door if you have an office, step into a private meeting room, or head outside to keep things confidential and avoid distracting others. It’s simply good manners and will show that you are mindful of others around you by respecting personal boundaries. Even when taking calls at your desk, be conscious of how loudly you speak and avoid using speakerphone, so you don’t disturb your neighbors.

Pay Attention to How Others Communicate

Different workplaces and even different departments sometimes have certain ways of communicating that are preferred over others. Does everyone use Slack or Teams for most communication? Does your boss prefer emails or in-person chats instead of phone calls? Are there different expectations for how quickly you should respond to different types of messages? These are things to consider as you learn your workplace culture. Typically, people expect prompt responses to instant messages on programs like Slack or Teams and less urgent replies to emails or phone calls unless stated in the message. Many coworkers will prefer to chat in person when possible, however, so pay attention to how people communicate so you can respond in kind.

Be Present

When you’re speaking with someone, whether on a video call or in person, set your phone aside and be present for the conversation. This is even more important in meetings with a large group to see your actions. In these situations, it’s common for people to fidget with their phones or be checking things while listening, but if you really want to build a reputation as a conscientious, focused person who is serious about their work, then put the phone away and be present. Focusing one hundred percent of your attention on the meeting at hand or the person speaking to you will demonstrate that you respect them and are truly listening to what they have to say.

Don’t Be Too Humble

This one can be tricky for some people who are not used to putting themselves out there much, but it’s important to learn how people in your workplace culture talk about their own achievements. If you want to be next in line for that big project or you’re eyeing a promotion in the future, you need to make sure the right people are aware of what you can do. Keep a list of your accomplishments to use as a reference and be ready to slip the right ones into conversations when it’s appropriate. Reminding someone of that time you did a great job on XYZ project is not bragging if you do it tastefully.

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