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The Top 6 Workplace Etiquette Rules Everyone Should Follow

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Irma Hunkeler – Head of Operations at Re:signal. Her opinions are her own.

Having etiquette rules at your workplace is essential if you want to foster a professional and civilized environment for anyone who interacts with your company.

Business etiquette is a set of standards on how to conduct yourself around colleagues, potential business partners and clients. Essentially, it boils down to treating others with respect, being mindful of everyone present and being polite in general.

Etiquette can either be upheld in person or more increasingly, online via email or even video conferencing. Adhering to a strong set of etiquette rules will ensure that your company maintains a strong reputation externally and it also minimizes the possibility of conflict internally. Here are the top workplace etiquette rules that everyone should follow:

1. Introductions and greetings

When you first meet someone professionally, you should always stand and shake their hand with a smile, maintaining eye contact. People who don’t make eye contact can be viewed as rude, dishonest or unconfident, which are definitely traits you don’t want to be attributed to you.

Many awkward situations arise in the workplace when names are forgotten, so always make sure to give your first and last name when first introducing yourself, especially if you have a common first name. If you aren’t quite sure how to pronounce someone else’s name, the best thing to do is to ask them from the outset if you’re saying it correctly, otherwise, this could cause offence further down the line.

When there are a number of people in the same room that haven’t been introduced yet, it’s important you introduce them as quickly as possible, otherwise, they’ll be feeling rather uncomfortable shuffling their feet, a feeling which gets exponentially worse and more difficult to address the longer you wait.

To make the work environment a more friendly place, you should always greet anyone that you pass by, even if its with a smile or a nod, as this builds rapport and facilitates communication. Complimenting your coworkers (on their work rather than their appearance) or simply engaging in friendly conversation are two great ways to break the ice and keep the atmosphere cordial.

2. Dress code

Although it’s often said that you should never judge a book by its cover, the sad reality is that this happens regardless, especially in the workplace. Your clothing and how you appear to others is actually an integral form of nonverbal communication that people use to assess your professionalism.

Even if many companies are more relaxed with dress codes than they used to be, you should still make the effort to come into work smartly dressed, as it reflects well on the company when their employees are looking sharp. Even if the dress code is ‘casual’, ensure your clothes are clean and well maintained and aren’t emblazoned with any logos or messaging that might cause offence.

Being smartly dressed is also well known to boost productivity and motivate others around you.

Sometimes it may be slightly unclear what the dress code is for certain business events or meetings, so you may have to do your due diligence, so speak to colleagues or have a look at the company/event blog to see how your counterparts tend to dress.

As a general rule, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. If you’re meeting and greeting a tie and jacket can always be removed for a more casual look. If you’re unsure of what dress code would be suitable, the safest bet would be to opt for classic business dress with colors such as black, blue, grey or white.

3. Put down your phone

While it’s true that a lot of productivity can be achieved via smartphones these days, the amount of time spent on phones needs to be regulated, as excessive phone use can definitely come across as rude or disrespectful.

During meetings, phones should all be kept on silent and out of sight at all times, as you should be fully engaged in the conversation. Similarly, browsing through your phone or even checking it is often received badly when interacting with customers, so the best thing to do is wait until you are on a break.

4. Online etiquette

A huge proportion of work now is done online, and more than 28% of the average worker’s week is spent on email. You must always maintain high standards of professionalism when you communicate with people online, perhaps more so than in person, because the only perception they have of you is through email.

This means that you must proof read every single email for spelling or grammatical errors before you send it, as once you put anything out there, you can’t take it back. Just one small mistake is enough to lead to huge mistrust on the receiving end, so having a meticulous eye to detail is very important.

Remember to always include a clear and accurate subject for every email you send out. People receive lots of messages every day and no one wants to second guess what yours is about. If you’re cc’d on an email and it pertains to a group of people, you need to respond to everyone else included, otherwise you can facilitate a breakdown in communication or cause confusion.

Make sure that you take into consideration who you’re actually addressing in your emails by using the appropriate titles, and once you have become more acquainted, you can then start addressing them on a first-name basis.

5. Be respectful

Sharing a workplace with others means that it’s inevitable you’ll engage in conversation and most people enjoy the company of their coworkers. However, you need to be mindful of what kind of topics you talk about at work, and you definitely do not want to bring up personal or relationship issues as this can create a very awkward atmosphere.

Try to talk about light and positive subjects, such as where you plan on going on holiday or what you did on the weekend, as long as it’s not too controversial! You should also never talk about politics or religion, as these two topics are deeply divisive and could potentially cause tension if your views clash.

When engaging in conversation with others in the office, it’s sometimes easy to forget that you’re in a professional setting and that other people are working, so keep your volume as low as possible to prevent disturbances.

If you’re sharing a workspace with others, you shouldn’t allow clutter and mess to build up as this can cause distractions and annoy your fellow coworkers. In a similar way to how you present yourself, your desk should be clean and organized, otherwise, your colleagues or clients might draw negative conclusions about your efficiency and attention to detail.  

6. Table manners

Business often extends into meal times, which is why table manners are indispensable if you don’t want to leave a bad impression. Firstly, if you have invited anyone for lunch or dinner, then you should cover the bill.

There are many rules to be aware of when dining with fellow professionals, but some of the fundamentals include; never talking with your mouth full and keeping your phone out of sight at all times. If someone else has invited you for the dinner, try to order something similar to what they have and don’t go for the most expensive meal on the menu!

Dining etiquette can vary greatly from country to country, so if you’re on an overseas trip, you need to be aware of the cultural norms there. For example, in the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries, it’s customary to eat with the right hand, usually with no utensils at all, while in Japan, slurping noodles and soups are actually considered a form of appreciation to the chef!

Having a full grasp of business etiquette will help you and your company stand out among competitors. It may make the difference that secures your next successful sale or negotiation.

If your business goes overseas often, then you’ll also have to take into account how etiquette varies from country to country, and even if you get it wrong at times, the fact that you showed you’re making an effort to be polite and respectful won’t go unnoticed.

Irma Hunkeler

Irma's experience includes working for clients in different industries such as travel, retail, recruitment, technology and charitable institutions. Extensive networking and meeting professionals across different industries, allow her to collaborate with industry experts for her writing.

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