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Office Etiquette for Office Newbies

Starting work in a new office is both exciting and terrifying. You likely feel like the new kid on the block, no matter how many working years you have under your belt. To make a good impression, you have to be more than good at your job. You also have to follow some basic guidelines of office etiquette.

What is office etiquette and why is it important? Etiquette demonstrates respect for others and yourself. It helps people to like you and feel comfortable around you – which, in an office environment, makes it sooooo much easier to work together and get things done.

Manners are etiquette in action. We can give you some guidelines, but remember: at the end of the day, all these guidelines boil down to being considerate and treating others with respect.

In this Article:


After a few years of working from home, your people skills might be a little rusty. Remember – the office is not your home, and your colleagues are (probably) not your family. Be friendly, but maintain a level of professional reserve.

  • Do respect downtime. You might be tempted to show initiative by calling, emailing, or texting colleagues after hours. Don’t. It interrupts their time off – and they might not be as enthusiastic about working on a Saturday as you are. Save work communications for working hours, and definitely don’t contact coworkers about work matters when they’re on vacation or out sick.
  • Don’t be crude. You don’t have to hide your personality. But crude habits like swearing or making off-color jokes have no place in a professional environment.
  • Do manage your stress. Showing your emotional side at work is more accepted today than in the past, but there are limits. No one wants to work with a person who throws temper tantrums. Practice being patient and calm in stressful situations. Don’t scream at people, slam doors, or throw things. If you feel like you’re about to blow, step back. Take a walk or go outside and breathe deeply until you get control of yourself.
  • Don’t overshare. It’s one thing to be friendly with your coworkers. But friendly conversation crosses a line when it turns to venting about your relationship or explaining what you learned at your last doctor visit. Pay attention to how people react to your stories. Do they respond by telling you something similarly revealing? Or do they change the subject? If they change the subject or seem distant, they might not be comfortable with your level of sharing.
  • Do speak respectfully. Avoid being sarcastic or condescending. Remember, office etiquette is about being considerate of how others feel; just because you don’t mean to offend doesn’t mean your sarcasm isn’t hurtful. It’s OK to disagree; the important thing is how you do it.
  • Do use social media appropriately. Don’t spend working hours on your personal social media accounts. Save your tweeting and scrolling for breaks. And remember: if coworkers follow your accounts, even a post you make on your own time could be all over the office tomorrow.
  • Do respect others’ space. Always knock before entering a cubicle or office, even if the door is open. In an open layout, just because your desk touches a coworker’s does not mean you have fair use of their stapler. Nor does it mean you can store your stuff on the corner of their desk.
  • Do make chit-chat. Small talk serves a purpose. Those little conversations about the weather or what you did with your weekend build social connections. These relationships are essential to working together and getting things done.


Email, text, and messaging platforms like Slack play a bigger role in office communication than ever, thanks to remote teams and asynchronous communication. The challenge is that you can’t rely on your voice or facial expressions to help get your message across with these digital forms of communication. Following some basic etiquette guidelines can help prevent misunderstandings.

  • Don’t “reply all” unless you need to “reply all.” If your teammate asks a question and the whole team needs the answer, “reply all” is appropriate. If the district manager congratulates everyone in your division on hitting sales targets, no one needs to be buried under an avalanche of “Good job!” replies.
  • Do reply to messages. Respond to every email, text, or phone message to acknowledge it was received. If you don’t have the answer the person was looking for, reply to say you don’t know but you’re working on it, or suggest another resource. Never leave a message sender hanging. That said, you don’t need to reply right away unless it’s specified in your job description. You have a right to log off at the end of the day. Respond to messages received after hours on the next working day.
  • Do identify yourself the first time you text someone. Don’t assume someone has your number saved in their phone.
  • Do keep messages clear and concise. Don’t dive into obscure levels of detail in your messages. Stick to the information the recipient needs. If there’s a lot of information that needs discussion, suggest a meeting to talk it through.
  • Don’t use text language in emails. Emails should include a greeting and a signoff. Use complete sentences, leave out the emojis, and forgo text abbreviations like “LMK.”
  • Do use good judgment. Never send a message you wouldn’t want to be forwarded. Remember that communications sent through email accounts or phones provided by the company belong to the business, not to you. If you need to talk about a sensitive subject, do it in person, not in writing.
  • Do make sure your email is complete. Before you hit send, do a quick sweep to make sure it’s addressed to the right people, the subject line is clear, and any attachments are actually attached.


Love them or hate them, for most of the workforce meetings are inevitable. In hybrid offices, they’re a valuable chance to get in-office and work-from-home people on the same page. Behave in a way that makes meeting organizers glad they invited you.

  • Do come to meetings prepared. Before heading to the meeting, take a few minutes to get familiar with the topic. Review the agenda and any preliminary information like emails, attachments, or links to be discussed. Bring a pad and a pen to jot down important notes and action items.
  • Do lead purposeful meetings. Good office etiquette respects people’s time. Don’t call a meeting unless you need to talk about the subject as a group. When you schedule a meeting, prepare an agenda and send it along with the meeting invitation. The agenda should include the goal of the meeting and the topics you plan to cover.
  • Don’t get sidetracked. Stick to the agenda. If other things come up that need discussion, make a note to come back to them at the end or schedule a separate meeting.
  • Do give presenters your full attention. Don’t chat quietly with the person next to you, check your phone, or reply to emails while someone is speaking. Even in virtual meetings, people can tell if you’re distracted or trying to multitask. It’s rude, and you might miss an important detail.
  • Don’t be late. Arrive on time or a few minutes early to every meeting, including virtual meetings and conference calls. If you can’t avoid being late, apologize when you arrive, but don’t waste more of the group’s time with a lengthy excuse or explanation.
  • Do ask questions. If you don’t understand something, you can’t fully participate in problem-solving or developing new ideas. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. There’s a good chance someone else in the room is confused, too.
  • Do choose the right environment. Hold meetings in a meeting room, not standing in the middle of the office or huddled around someone’s desk. Not only will it be easier for the people in the meeting to hear each other, but it will also be less distracting to the coworkers who don’t need to be in the meeting.


Virtual meetings feel a lot more casual than meetings around a conference table. You might be sitting at home, wearing fuzzy slippers while your cat sleeps on your lap. Nonetheless, you still need to show up ready for work and follow some basic office etiquette rules.

  • Do dress appropriately. Work-from-home dress codes might be more relaxed, but there are still standards. Show up for the call clean and neatly groomed. Be aware of the message your clothes send. Before the meeting, change your ripped band T-shirt for a neat polo shirt or your sweatshirt with the faded beer logo for a solid-color top.
  • Do consider your background. Remember, you’re offering people a glimpse into your home. They don’t need to see your unmade bed or a pile of dirty dishes by the sink behind you. If you use a virtual background, choose a blur filter or a solid color. Patterned backgrounds are distracting, and can make you look fuzzy when you move.
  • Do create privacy. Close the door. Tell children, family members, and housemates you can’t be disturbed while you’re on the call. Secure pets in another room or give them something to keep them quiet and busy.
  • Don’t be late. Ideally, log in several minutes before the meeting, allowing time to test for technical issues like your lighting, speakers, or microphone. If you are late, apologize, but there’s no need to explain unless asked.
  • Do make sure your computer is up to date. It’s a good idea to restart your computer an hour or so before a virtual meeting. That will allow any updates to software or drivers to install, preventing technical glitches during the meeting.
  • Do mute your microphone when you’re not speaking. Background noises you can’t control, like traffic outside your window, are distracting.
  • Do make virtual eye contact. Look at the screen while others are talking. When you talk, however, look directly at your camera. It can help to put a small toy or a pair of googly eyes by your camera to give you something to focus on.
  • Don’t multitask. Pay attention to what’s being said. Multitasking is not only rude; it might make you miss something important. If your phone is a distraction, put it in a drawer or move it across the room.
  • Silence notifications. If you have a chat app like Slack or Google Chat open, turn off the volume so the “ding” of a new message isn’t heard on the call.


Some etiquette rules don’t apply just to the office – they’re the way you should behave in all aspects of your life. We’re including them anyway because when your professional reputation is on the line, it’s vital you observe these basic courtesies.


  • Do keep the volume down. Your coworkers have a right to a peaceful work environment. Turn down the ringer on your phone or put it on vibrate. Mute the speakers on your computer so your colleagues don’t jump every time you scroll past an autoplay ad. If you listen to music or audio content while you work, use earbuds or headphones. Just because you think Nirvana makes the perfect backing track for spreadsheet work doesn’t mean your colleagues agree.
  • Don’t be smelly. Strong colognes and perfumes can trigger allergies and migraines. Remember, your fragrance smells stronger to other people than it smells to you. The same goes for scented candles, oils, or air fresheners. Unless you have a private office, leave your fragrances at home. Food odors are another office no-no. Don’t reheat strong-smelling foods like fish or garlic in a communal microwave. If your lunch has a powerful odor, eat it in private and spare your coworkers the smell of eggs or curry. And don’t toss your popcorn in the microwave and walk away – keep an eye on it! No one likes the smell of burnt popcorn.
  • Do clean up after yourself. Leave communal spaces like breakrooms and copier rooms as clean or cleaner than you found them. Wash and put away your dishes, throw away trash, and close cabinets and drawers. It’s no one’s job to clean up after you.
  • Do keep private conversations private. Sometimes you can’t help but take a personal call during work hours. Try to step away from your desk into a more private area to talk to your child’s teacher or walk your mom through logging into her Amazon account. If you’re lucky enough to be friends with colleagues outside of work, keep office conversations professional. You can catch up on each other’s personal news out of colleagues’ earshot.
  • Do avoid controversy. Coworkers don’t always have to like each other, but you do have to respect each other and be able to work together. Avoid discussing hot-button topics like politics and religion in a professional setting.


Preventing the spread of illness was always good etiquette. In the post-pandemic world, it’s also important to be sensitive to people’s boundaries.

  • Don’t come to work sick. It was never a good idea. Pre-COVID, people often tried to show their dedication by “powering through” an illness. Unfortunately, this impacts the quality of your work, keeps you sick longer, and risks spreading your germs to your coworkers. Companies have even been sued for not adequately protecting people from sick employees. In today’s world, bringing your germs to the office doesn’t look dedicated. It looks rude.
  • Do follow the rules. Respect your office’s guidelines regarding masks, social distancing, or any other health-related restrictions. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with the rules; the business expects its employees to follow a certain code of conduct.
  • Don’t automatically shake hands. Some people are still uncomfortable with hand-to-hand contact. If you offer your hand and someone declines, don’t be offended. Smile and offer a nod or elbow bump instead. If you’re uncomfortable shaking hands and someone offers a handshake, smile and say something like, “Sorry, I’m still cautious about handshakes even post-pandemic. How about a fist bump instead?”
  • Do mind your own business. As long as your colleagues are following the rules of the office, it’s none of your business whether they wear a mask or maintain a six-foot distance. Don’t challenge their choices. Asking personal questions like whether someone is vaccinated or high-risk is inappropriate. You don’t know their story and have no right to question them.


If you go to work each day with the intention of treating people with respect and consideration and avoiding behaviors that make people uncomfortable, you’ll build your personal brand as a professional who people enjoy working with.

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