Even if a company you’re applying to seems “back to normal” — five days a week in the office, in-person interviews, and maybe even traditional business attire — business etiquette has fundamentally changed since 2020. There’s no “business as usual” when a pandemic has changed how the world approaches work. We have different attitudes about how we work, communicate with our colleagues, and think about work’s place in our lives.
So, what are the rules for navigating this new world of work? What is the business etiquette we need to follow in this era? Consider this your go-to guide.
What Is Business Etiquette?
Business etiquette is the rules that govern the workplace — a code of ethics that outlines the correct work social conventions and expectations.
“Etiquette is like a game,” Lisa Mirza Grotts, certified etiquette expert, says. “If you know the rules, anyone can play. Good manners don’t cost a dime, but bad ones can be very costly.”
Why Is Business Etiquette Important?
Proper business etiquette is essential in two ways: first, it makes you appear professional and second, it contributes to a respectful workplace.
When you have proper business etiquette, your coworkers, boss, clients, and customers — everyone you interact with in the workplace — will see you as professional. Here, we’re using “professional” to mean a dedicated, engaged, reliable, and respectful person in the workplace.
It goes both ways. Business etiquette isn’t just about making you look good but also about you helping make your workplace better. The rules of business etiquette make the workplace an organized, collaborative, and respectful place to be.
Business Etiquette Rules
So, what business etiquette rules do you need to follow in 2023 and beyond? We’ve got you covered:
1. Always opt for the more “professional” look.
It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. When in doubt, opt for more traditional business attire rather than business casual. While you don’t need to go right for a suit, if you’re between a t-shirt and a sweater, go for the sweater.
>>MORE: What Does Business Casual Really Mean in 2023?
2. It’s okay to sus out the vibe from the company’s social media.
Unsure how professional the office is? It’s okay to do a little stalking. Look at company photos on their website, LinkedIn, and other recruitment materials to understand what people at that company wear when they go to work.
3. Always wear pants (or something on the bottom).
This should go without saying, but the Zoom video fails with people wearing just underwear or something non-professional on the bottom went viral for a reason. Even if your Zoom screen only captures your shoulders, you should dress as if someone will see your entire outfit.
>>MORE: Zoom Interview Attire: What (and What Not) to Wear
Interacting With Coworkers
4. Make an effort to get to know people.
Gen Z is less likely to make friends at work than any other generation. That’s not because they’re less friendly than other generations, but rather a product of a more virtual working world. We all know it’s easier to make friends with someone we sit next to 40 hours a week than with someone we see once a week for a half-hour meeting.
Whether you’re working remotely, in person, or hybrid, make an effort to get to know the people you work with. You don’t need to be buddy-buddy with your coworkers — you don’t even need to be friends. But showing a genuine interest in the people you work with can help you collaborate better, show empathy, and create a workplace with mutual respect.
Getting to know the people you work with will undoubtedly take more conscious effort if you’re working remotely. Yet being active in Slack or other communication channels, setting up semi-regular syncs or coffee chats, or even just offering to help someone on a project can start to strengthen those bonds.
5. Show (at the very, very least) basic respect.
In 2023, no one wants to have to tell people they need to respect others. Putting people down and being disrespectful of their background is completely unacceptable.
“Avoid making assumptions or generalizations about others, and be mindful of your language and behavior to ensure that you’re creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone,” says Mark Zides, chief commercial officer of ELB Learning, a learning and development and talent management firm.
>>MORE: How Can You Tell if an Employer Values Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace?
6. Listen — like, really listen.
“It’s just too easy to be reloading our next verbal volley — waiting to talk — instead of thoughtfully absorbing what another is trying to say,” says Bill Catlette, executive coach and partner at Contented Cow Partners, a leadership development firm. “You may think they don’t notice that you’ve tuned them out, and you’re probably wrong. Your acting skills aren’t that good. Besides making a much better impression, you just might learn something.”
While you should speak up when you have an idea to share, it’s important to listen to your colleagues’ ideas, too.
“I’ve seen a lot of careers ended because people were in the habit of talking too much, talking down to people, or rudely interrupting, but never because they listened too much,” Catlette says.
7. Watch your gossip.
Sometimes, sharing information about work can be a good thing. For example, talking about salaries can lead to pay equity, or sharing a method you use to send emails can make your coworker’s life easier. But speaking against someone’s personality doesn’t reflect well on you or the person you’re talking to.
Especially watch where you’re talking about private work matters. Things you say in a Slack message can be used against you.
8. Respect that everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to in-person meetings.
We may not be in 2020, but that doesn’t mean the pandemic’s over. Offer accessible and virtual gathering options, and don’t ask your coworker why they’re wearing a mask. That’s very much their choice.
9. Remember, you’re still at work.
At the end of the day, your coworkers are your coworkers, not your best friends. So consider always keeping a level of privacy and professionalism when you’re interacting with them.
10. If you’re going to do something else during a meeting, at least try to be discreet.
Unfortunately, multitasking during virtual meetings is commonplace. If you’re going to multitask — which we’re not recommending — know that it’s likely more apparent than you think. When you look down for a while, your eyes start to move back and forth, or your screen suddenly lights up because you’ve opened a new window, your colleagues likely know you’re not paying attention. If you have to answer a message or look something up, try to be discreet out of politeness.
11. Show up on time.
Promptness will forever be the golden standard of business etiquette. So if you’re going to be late, let your coworkers know.
12. Test your tech.
There’s nothing more annoying than hopping on an important call and being unable to hear someone or having no one hear you. Tech problems happen, but our patience for tolerating them has run thin three years into virtual working. If something’s not working, quickly work to correct it without making a fuss.
13. Know how to do basic tech capabilities.
No one expects you to be a tech wizard (well, maybe if you’re Gen Z, but still). Know the bare minimum of tech capabilities, especially if you often work remotely. You should be able to schedule and start a meeting. You should know how to screen share. You should even know how to change your background and use breakout rooms. It’s a quick Google if you don’t.
14. Respect other people’s schedules.
When scheduling a meeting, look at everyone’s schedule (if you can access it) and respect their time zones. When in doubt, give them options and ask what’s best for them.
15. Mute yourself.
Unless you’re talking, of course.
16. Check in about cameras.
You should always have your camera on for virtual and Zoom interviews unless you’ve been told otherwise. For large meetings, especially ones where someone is presenting, it’s not always the norm to have your camera on. You can check with coworkers before you hop on the meeting to see what the expectations are.
Crush the interview
17. Always accommodate the virtual person.
If you’re working in person and collaborating with people at home, always put the virtual people first. Ensure they can hear and see everyone in the room and that you know if they’re trying to talk.
If you’re having conversations after the meeting that they can’t hear (because the call has ended), you’ll need to loop them in or schedule another meeting to follow up. Otherwise, it’s not fair to them.
18. Respond promptly.
You don’t need to stop everything you’re doing to respond to a message or email — unless it’s urgent — but respond promptly. In general, messages on platforms like Slack or Teams should warrant faster responses; people tend to use email for lengthier updates that require prompt but not immediate responses.
Remote work means that the people we work with can’t always see the work we’re doing. So communicate what you’re working on and your wins!
>>MORE: Top Communication Skills for the Workplace
20. Ask for help when you need it …
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Mirza Grotts says. “Clarity is key to managing expectations.”
Asking for help is a crucial way to get the information you need to do your job well and to ensure your understanding matches your boss’ or coworkers’ expectations.
21. … but make sure you’ve done your homework first.
It can be frustrating when a coworker pings you with questions they can easily find the answer to. Before asking for help, do your due diligence to see if there’s any documentation of what you’re looking for. For example, if you have a question about a work process, check your team’s shared folder first to see if there’s a document where the process is written down. Then, if you can’t find anything, you should ask!
22. Own up when you make a mistake.
If you’ve missed a message, misreported something, or just done something to cause someone else’s life to be a little more challenging, own up to it quickly. You don’t need to have a long-winded explanation. A simple, “I’m sorry, I missed this. I’ve done X to fix it” works.
23. Schedule that email instead of sending it at 2 a.m.
The best way to prove you’re a dedicated worker is by bringing results, not working at crazy hours when everyone is sleeping. Schedule that email for regular working hours — and even better, if you work with a colleague in a different time zone, schedule it for their working hours.
24. Set boundaries.
One work lesson the pandemic has taught us is that burnout looks good on no one.
“Prioritize work-life balance,” Zides says. “Make sure that the work that you are responsible for gets completed, while you find the open periods of your day to give yourself a break to stay motivated and open-minded.”
25. Adapt when there’s more change.
These may be the new rules of work, but the workplace is still changing, and you’ll likely have to deal with leadership changes, changes to how you work, or changes to where you work.
“The pandemic has caused significant disruption and changes in the workplace, so it’s important to stay informed about any new policies, guidelines, or protocols that may affect your work,” Zides says. “Additionally, it’s important to be adaptable and willing to adjust to new circumstances, whether that means learning new skills or adapting to new work arrangements. This can help you stay productive and successful even in uncertain or rapidly changing times.”
Business Etiquette: The Bottom Line
Navigating a workplace when you don’t know the “rules” can be intimidating and stressful. However, knowing the proper business etiquette can help make your jump into the world of work a little easier — and help you look professional and create a respectful workplace at the same time.
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