The office has a set of rules all its own, one that is rarely discussed in a classroom or covered in the Employee Handbook. You’ve mastered how to build a resume and cover letter. You’ve navigated the interview process to smashing success. You’ve accepted the offer, and now you’re revving up to start your first day on the job. And you’re more than a little nervous. It’s typical for those entering the workforce for the first time to feel uncertain about the subtle rules that guide office etiquette.
In today’s workplace, work is often team-based, with a shared workload and open floor plan. This means you’ll be sharing ideas, tasks and space with others. How do you share ideas, enter into a conversation, or ask for help and offer it without seeming pushy or rude? The tips below can help you navigate the unspoken rules of office etiquette.
- Be punctual
Punctuality is one of the best ways to make a good impression. Use Google Maps or a commuter routing app to gauge your estimated travel time a few days before your first day on the job. Then drive from your home to the office during rush hour to be sure of accuracy. Once your job begins, leave each morning in time to get to work slightly early to establish your reliability.
- Make contact
Your new supervisor will probably introduce you to many of the people you will be working with, probably too many to remember. After each new introduction, discreetly write down their names and titles, or enter them into your smartphone when you return to your workspace. Introduce yourself to people you see in break areas, during meetings with other departments, and those you see on the way in and out of work each day.
- Gauge the culture
During your first few days on the job, take note of the office culture. How formally do people dress, speak and behave? Gauge your own attire and behavior accordingly. If most of your coworkers wear khakis and dress shirts, then flip-flops and leggings are not going to command respect. If your office is more formal, building up your work wardrobe can be expensive. Be patient, build on what you have, purchasing appropriate attire piece by piece.
- Maintain order
Everyone has a different work style and some people can create brilliant work in a chaotic workspace. But at least at the beginning of your tenure try to create an organized system for keeping track of work materials, and maintain a neat and ordered workspace. This will create a good impression and ensure that your coworkers are not waiting on you to retrieve needed materials from amidst the clutter.
- Email carefully
The content and tone of your emails and other digital communication should be precise, cordial, and polished. Respond to work emails and texts promptly, while still taking the time to craft them carefully. Read over your drafts, checking that grammar, spelling, and syntax are correct before you hit send.
Never assume that any email, text, or digital expression you send using your work equipment or accounts are private. Write as if your supervisor can read every word, because she can. Work emails and texts can even be used in legal disputes, which means an errant word could hurt you, your employer, or both. All digital communication you send – from Facebook posts to Tweets – represents not just you but your entire company. There are no excuses for sloppy typos or offensive statements in work communication, no matter the format.
- Respect others’ space
Open floor plans present unique office etiquette challenges for today’s workers. With no door or walls to separate individual workspaces, it is more important than ever to respect your coworkers’ personal space. Modulate the volume and tone of your voice. Silence your personal phone and avoid making personal calls during business hours.
If you need to command someone’s attention, especially if they are engaged in an activity, tap on their cubicle wall or the edge of their desk just as you would knock on their office door if they had one. Begin your conversation by saying that you are sorry to interrupt them, and then politely state what you need to communicate.
- Maintain personal boundaries
Be friendly, ask about your colleagues’ interests and note their accomplishments, but at the same time, try to maintain some separation between your work and personal life. Don’t reveal too much about your personal life in the office and don’t gossip about your coworkers.
- Maintain a healthy workplace
Never come to work sick. If a coworker needs a deliverable on a day your are sick, and you are well enough to complete the task from home, do so – especially if you were supposed to complete the task by or before that date – but don’t spread illness to your colleagues and their families.
- Be thoughtful
Office etiquette includes meeting your deadlines and sharing credit with your colleagues. It may be your colleagues’ job to complete work you need to complete your own tasks, but you should thank them for their efforts anyway. During the first weeks and months of a new job it is especially important to demonstrate thoughtfulness for others. This will help you establish rapport and trust with your new colleagues and supervisors, allowing them to place their confidence in you and increase your responsibilities quickly.