Work changed, but that doesn’t mean employees can forget workplace etiquette.
More employees are on-site again. Some might be inclined to bring their work-from-home habits and etiquette back to the office.
But sweatpants and flip-flops aren’t exactly business casual. And turning off the camera to hide a bad hair day isn’t an option now.
Aside from appearance etiquette, some employees might have forgotten the shared-space, human-interaction and collegiality expectations for the workplace.
Plus, the workplace continues to evolve. Companies and employees are still building their new norms.
So employees might need etiquette reminders on how to act, work and play in the office – even if it seems like rules should go without saying. And some etiquette rules will be new – results of how COVID-19 changed our workplaces and lives.
Here are seven etiquette tips for today’s workplace. You might share this post with your managers or entire teams, or perhaps, turn it into a handy guideline to post in the office now.
Recognize personal space
Before COVID, it was important to honor colleagues’ personal space. People generally kept an arm’s length from each other when talking. Employees didn’t just walk into each others’ office space. People shook hands, high-fived and even hugged.
The pandemic changed some people’s view of personal space. Now, the preferred etiquette in some workplaces might be to keep 3 feet apart when chatting. In meetings, you might still distance chairs 6 feet apart. And you might want to discourage employees from taking or borrowing each others’ supplies.
Or consider a color-coded wristband system that some companies adopted: Employees wear what’s appropriate for them. Red means, “I’d like to keep our distance.” Yellow means, “I want to talk, but keep some distance.” Green means, “I’m open to handshakes, hugs and conversation.”
Now’s probably a good time to remind employees about your dress code. Even if yours has always been business casual or even more relaxed, many people spent the last 18 months working in leggings, shorts or slippers. They might not recall – or want to remember – what was workplace appropriate.
Review your workplace dress expectations. Or create new guidelines based on the new norms in your company.
To help employees fully understand what’s expected, share what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. For instance, “Please wear shoes with solid or rubber bottoms, preferably with a closed toe. Please avoid flip flops.”
Be health conscious
When you’re talking about workplace etiquette, you’ll want to address sickness. People are more concerned about their health and well-being since the pandemic.
So employees might need some direction on what to do about physical health and work. COVID-19 made people more aware of how contagious viruses are.
Now, employees who suffer a sniffle or other cold symptoms, and who might have come into work prior to the pandemic, should probably stay home. Workplaces can be breeding grounds for germs, and good etiquette is to avoid making others sick.
Some employees might still be a little skittish about interacting with others. But that doesn’t give anyone the right to be rude or avoid interaction when business calls for it.
Remind employees of your professional and collegiality expectations. For instance, you’ll want to address subjects such as how to share information, the appropriate time and place to respond to requests, proper meeting behavior and conflict resolution.
You’ll want to remind employees about societal etiquette in the workplace, too. There can be expectations for how to act as a fellow human who shares space with others.
For instance, it’s still important to clean up after yourself in the break room (maybe more important than ever). If necessary, hang signs, reminding employees to wash their dishes, wipe tables after use, make a fresh pot of coffee when they take the last cup and clear the refrigerator of their belongings.
Same goes for workspaces: Remind employees for the need to clean their areas at the end of the day, especially if they’re sharing desks or stations in a hybrid work model. Remove food and drink containers, extraneous notes and paper, and anything that’s personal.
Some things haven’t changed. Certain subjects still aren’t good fodder for workplace discussions. While you might not want to ban conversations, remind employees it’s still unprofessional to discuss religion, money, sex and politics at work (and at the dinner table, as the adage goes).
Add to that – as much as you can – the coronavirus. We know it’s difficult to avoid the subject all together. But opinions about origin, vaccinations, statistics, etc., are often rooted in politics, and that’s a conversation better fitted for outside work.
Less a topic, more a bad habit, gossip should be on the list of things to avoid in the workplace: Don’t talk negatively about other people, backstab or undermine. Don’t share sorted stories about their personal lives. It’s unprofessional.
Remember how to socialize
While we’re on the topic of conversations, it’s probably a good idea to remember how to professionally socialize again.
Many people may grab drinks with co-workers for the first time in a long time. Whether it’s a company-sponsored event or not, employees still want to balance office and social etiquette.
You might want to organize a social, on-site lunch before people add alcohol to the mix, experts suggest.
Even if your company doesn’t sponsor or endorse any kind of socializing, you’ll want to stay ahead of issues. So, with employees back on-site, it’s probably a good time to re-share any rules you have on inappropriate language, touching, behavior and/or harassment. You might even do re-fresher training on these subjects and get employees to sign off on the policies.