Miles Young
Miles Young 4 November 2013

6 Social Graces for the 21st Century Office

This article lays out some of the best office etiquette advice for the modern workplace.

Cubicle Life

Over the course of the last decade, office layouts have become increasingly open. With cubicles replacing enclosed offices so often, communicating may seem like a free for all, but there are certain etiquette guidelines to be aware of. 


Knock Before entering

Even if your co-worker or supervisor doesn’t have a door separating their workspace from yours, it’s customary to knock before entering. Furthermore, it’s best to call or send an email before going that far. This demonstrates that you respect their personal space, and their work.


A quick phone call or email asking for a few minutes of their time is customary.  It gives them a chance to wrap up what they’re doing, so they can give you their full attention. Also, if you ask for a few minutes, stick to a few minutes. Everyone has a schedule they need to stick to, so be mindful of that.


Loud Talkers Beware

Everyone can hear you. It’s important to keep your voice down during telephone conversations. No matter whether you’re talking with clients, co-workers, or you grandma, everyone around you will be able to hear your conversation. Along with other background noises, excessive phone conversations can be bothersome and distracting to your peers. 

Furthermore, any personal phone calls should be taken away from the workspace. Why not step into the break room for a few minutes to take that call? You’ll likely want a coffee refill anyway.


Respect the Space

Even though you each have your own cubicle, you’re still essentially sharing space. Namely, airspace. Refrain from eating your lunch or any odorous snacks at your desk, as they can be extremely distracting to your neighbours. No one wants to smell your tuna sandwich.

Any meetings longer than five minutes should be done away from your cubicle. If you’ll need to discuss the details of a project or contract, respect your co-worker’s concentration and schedule a meeting in an area away from the general workspace. Holding meetings in a conference room is better for brainstorming and strategizing anyway. You won’t be worried about keeping your volume down, and you can be more open with your ideas.


Email Exchanges

We live in the age of the emoticon. Every office is different, and some may have more professional communication standards than others, but generally speaking, "text speak" is not a good idea. Today, more and more companies are utilizing BYOD services to accommodate the best cell phones for business. This means you’ll likely be using your own personal device throughout the workday as well. Sending an ill-considered email on the go from your own device could make for an easy slip-up.


Also, being able to use your own device to access work files and programs opens up a whole new set of etiquette standards. Check with your supervisor and co-workers to see what is expected, so you can function within the parameters of company policies.

As far as timing goes, if you get a weekend e-mail from your boss, it’s okay to take your time replying. You shouldn’t ignore their correspondence, but it’s acceptable to put value on your personal time as well.


The Elevator Ride

We’ve all encountered them on an elevator ride some time or another: The overly talkative, the awkwardly silent, and the on-the-go breakfast eater. These are some of the worst offenders of office etiquette around, and they strike before you even enter the office. Before you begin your next daily elevator ride to the sixth floor, remember these tips.

It’s customary to greet each other with a polite "good morning" or "hello," or even some small talk if it feels right. But unless you have a strong personal connection with your elevator buddy, draw the line there. Though it’s considered rude to talk each other’s ears off in the elevator, making the trek to the office with ear buds in sends the message that you’re closed off and don’t want to be bothered. Find a balance between being approachable, but not overbearing in the elevator.


While you’ll probably find these tips helpful, it’s important to remember that office etiquette is often dictated by the higher-ups. When in doubt, use your best judgment and remember  your manners, and you’ll get along just fine.

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