Maintaining professional office etiquette at work is important for creating a respectful and productive working environment. While every workplace has its own unique culture, there are some overarching guidelines that apply broadly and can help steer employee conduct in a positive direction.
In this article, we’ll explore 10 fundamental rules of office etiquette. We’ll also look at why etiquette matters, how managers can champion policies, and some common scenarios where etiquette comes into play.
With a thoughtful approach, proper workplace etiquette can become second nature over time.
Here are 10 rules for office etiquette:
- Arrive on time and be well-prepared for meetings.
- Maintain low noise levels; take calls privately.
- Avoid behaviours that distract others.
- Respect coworkers’ space and belongings.
- Adhere to personal hygiene and appropriate dress codes.
- Communicate professionally; avoid inappropriate content.
- Keep company and employee information confidential.
- Show courtesy, patience, and inclusiveness.
- Uphold professional conduct on and offline.
- Lead by example, addressing issues constructively.
1. Be Punctual and Prepared
Showing up on time for meetings, appointments and daily work demonstrates respect for others’ time. Tardiness can disrupt schedules, delay progress and show disregard for colleagues and clients waiting on you. Instead, make punctuality a habit.
If an unavoidable delay occurs, promptly notify anyone impacted and apologise for the late arrival. Explain the circumstances but don’t make excuses. If needed, ask to reschedule or adjust the timing of an event.
For meetings you are hosting, send a clear agenda in advance with any pre-reads or requirements so attendees can prepare properly. Before the meeting, test any tech you are using and set up the room or virtual interface. Introduce all participants and clarify the purpose at the start.
2. Keep Noise Levels Courteous
With open office floor plans, noise easily carries and affects those around you. Loud phone calls, video viewing, music and even overzealous typing can break others’ concentration. Instead, be mindful of volume in all you do.
For calls, step into huddle rooms or hallways instead of remaining at your desk. Inform others if you plan a lengthier call to allow them to adjust. For music, invest in over-ear headphones or keep volume discreet. Remember to mute personal device sounds to avoid disruptive dings and rings.
When using shared machines like printers or microwaves, operate them gently and respectfully to minimise noise. Be aware of equipment that clicks, whirs or has natural operational sounds and use those judiciously around others. For in-person chats, keep voices at a moderate level to avoid distracting neighbours.
3. Limit Disruptive Behaviours
Beyond noise, avoid other distracting behaviours that can impact those working around you. Socialising or snacking noisily, tapping on surfaces, crackling wrappers, watching videos aloud – these personal activities infringe on others’ focus when done publicly at workstations.
Save non-work conversations for breaks in huddle rooms or cafes. Personal calls should be taken discreetly away from desks or off earpieces. Set phone calls to vibrate-only modes. Minimise disruptive snacks and unwrap quietly. Overall, remain aware of colleagues in your immediate vicinity and behave in a way that isn’t distracting to others.
4. Respect Workspace and Property
Just as you expect privacy and respect for your own workstation, avoid encroaching on others’ personal or professional space. Do not assume it is right to borrow office supplies, use equipment or access files without express permission. Even accessing someone’s desk area without approval can feel intrusive.
In shared spaces like conference rooms, kitchen areas or supply rooms, be mindful not to disrupt the standard order either. Avoid spreading your items around these common rooms or leaving spills, rubbish or space in disarray. If you need to adjust furnishings or setup, restore the layout when finished. Never take or consume others’ personal items like food without consent and promptly return borrowed items in original condition after use.
5. Practise Good Personal Hygiene/Grooming
While it may seem obvious, maintaining hygiene and grooming is still important for any professional setting. Come to work fresh, clean and well-keeled in appearance. Keep hair trimmed and styled neatly. For men, shave regularly or keep facial hair groomed. Fingernails should be clipped short.
Apply deodorant and avoid strongly scented products like perfumes or colognes that can provoke allergies. Stick to light makeup that appears natural. While companies may have unofficial dress codes, use common sense in always looking presentable for clients and colleagues.
6. Use Professional Communication
In all workplace correspondence, maintain proper language, tone and organisation. Treat every email, message and conversation with careful respect. Avoid using overly casual wording or shorthand abbreviations and acronyms that may not translate universally or across cultures.
Write concisely yet clearly to minimise misinterpretation. Read over any important communications before sending them to double-check the tone sounds positive and professional. Reply reasonably promptly even if just a short “Thank you, received” message at first. This ensures the other party knows you got their note and will respond fully later. Sign off communications with a suitable closing like “Best regards” and your name.
7. Uphold Confidentiality
You will be entrusted with access to company information, employee details, client data and other privileged material at work. Handling such sensitive content is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Avoid the temptation to gossip or share private details you’ve learned on the job.
Follow all data privacy and document management protocols required by your employer. Do not access databases or files beyond what is required for your own role. If ever in doubt about sharing details, err on the side of caution and confidentiality or seek guidance from a manager. A breach of trust can carry lasting consequences.
8. Demonstrate Courtesy and Understanding
Simple kindness and empathy go a long way toward making any workplace feel inclusive and productive. Respect colleagues as fellow professionals and humans worthy of dignity. Avoid prejudging new hires or making assumptions about anyone. Take a collaborative “we’re all in this together” mindset.
Beyond basic politeness, show interest in coworkers as individuals. Learn their talents, personalities and work styles. Be patient with any communication difficulties and be ready to help explain ideas or provide resources. Avoid interrupting; listen fully. Offer constructive feedback, not personal criticism. Leave arrogance and condescension at the door.
9. Represent the Company Well
While at work, you become the face and voice associated with your employer in colleagues’ eyes. Clients may also interact with you and form impressions about the organisation based on those exchanges. Be a positive ambassador through your conduct, communication and interpersonal treatment of anyone you encounter in a work capacity.
Exercise diplomacy and care on social media as statements can be attributed to your role with the company. Never post content that could poorly represent your employer. Uphold legal and ethical standards on and off the job. Take pride in your important contributions, however big or small.
10. Lead by Example
For managers and executives, it is especially important to visibly model ideal etiquette. Your team notices the behaviours you demonstrate and will likely emulate them. Do not expect employees to uphold standards that you yourself disregard day to day. Rehearse and positively reinforce the conduct you aim to achieve company wide.
Promote peer accountability by empowering staff to politely remind one another of protocols. Foster a culture where speaking up about small issues early prevents major problems down the line. Keep an open door to discuss policies and welcome everyone’s input. Update standards periodically and provide etiquette refreshers as the company and workforce evolve.
Why Bother With Workplace Etiquette?
Etiquette ultimately enables teams to perform at their best by removing unnecessary friction from the workplace environment. When colleagues feel consistently respected and valued, they contribute meaningfully without distraction or resentment.
Standard courtesies make day-to-day interactions smoother so you can stay focused on tasks. Civility minimises conflicts and disagreements that hamper group progress. Overall, ethical professional conduct creates an inclusive setting where every employee can thrive to their fullest.
Common Scenarios for Applying Etiquette
While those 10 tips provide a broad etiquette foundation, executing courteous conduct day-to-day takes practice. Let’s explore some frequent workplace scenarios where the etiquette principles explained above come into play.
Email allows fast communication but also carries easier misinterpretation without vocal cues. Always reread messages before sending them to check if the tone sounds positive. Add a clear subject line. Open with a friendly salutation and sign your name. Reply reasonably promptly to not leave colleagues hanging. Use caution when replying to sensitive topics without consent. Follow security protocols for external recipients.
Meetings & Events
For meetings, set and share agendas in advance so attendees can prepare. Begin on time; tardiness disrespects others’ schedules. Allow each speaker their time to voice views. Listen fully without interruption. Take turns and avoid side chatter. Reach a consensus before moving topics. Afterwards, recap discussions and action items. Share notes to continue the conversation.
Communal areas like kitchens, conference rooms and lounges require extra courtesy. Never take or use others’ personal items without asking. Clean up any spills or messes you leave behind. Avoid overpowering foods. Refill shared supplies when running low. Schedule room reservations only when needed and release early if plans change.
Should conflicts or miscommunications arise, first seek to understand the other’s perspective. Express your views constructively without blame or exaggeration. Remain flexible to reach a resolution in the organisation’s best interest. If tensions continue, involve managers to mediate before things escalate further.
Remote team members require extra effort to avoid isolation and stay connected. Check-in regularly via video chats, not just email. Be understanding of demands like childcare disrupting their workflow. Yet also respect reasonable boundaries and availability. Include remote staff in team activities, announcements and social events to the fullest extent possible.
FAQs On Office Etiquette
What etiquette applies to office attire?
- Dress professionally per your company policy. Avoid revealing, overly casual, or sloppy clothing.
- Keep clothes clean, pressed, and in good repair.
- Ask your manager if you are unsure about whether an item meets the dress code.
- Dress for your day’s activities, including client meetings.
- Change clothes if you get excessively dirty or stained during the workday.
How can I avoid distracting coworkers at my desk?
- Set phones and notifications to silent or vibrate-only modes.
- Schedule eating times to avoid constant snacking.
- Contain messy projects in your personal workspace.
- Refrain from listening to music aloud without headphones.
- Be aware of odours from foods, perfumes, etc.
What etiquette should I follow in common office areas?
- Keep hallway and lobby noise levels low when passing through.
- Discard trash properly in receptacles, not on floors or furniture.
- Avoid blocking pathways and exits while socialising.
- Let passengers exit elevators before entering.
- Print only necessary pages; collect papers promptly.
How should I interact with clients or visitors in our workplace?
- Greet guests warmly. Offer assistance finding locations or staff.
- Look up from your work and smile at those approaching your desk.
- Keep voices low with clients within earshot to maintain privacy.
- Prioritise visitors over routine tasks to make them feel welcome.
- Walk clients out and thank them after meetings.
What etiquette tips apply to office potlucks and celebrations?
- Provide an ingredients list for any homemade dish you bring.
- Bring enough to share generously with others.
- Avoid overly messy or strong-smelling foods.
- Label any special dietary (vegan, gluten-free, etc.) items.
- Clean up and take any leftover food items back home with you.
Etiquette comes down to treating colleagues, clients and contacts respectfully across all interactions. While every workplace has its own social norms, civility and ethics should remain constants. Champion desired conduct through consistent modelling, coaching and open communication. Over time, professional etiquette becomes habitual.
With mutual understanding and positivity, your organisation can foster a culture where people support one another through challenges to thrive as a team. That makes attending etiquette worth the effort.