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10 Important office etiquette rules every professional should follow

By Robyn Clare


Read Time: 5 Minutes

The office – a place where we spend most of our time, more than our own homes, so it comes as no surprise that most of us get a ‘wee’ bit too comfortable at our desks. After a while, the office begins to feel like our second home, and it’s not long before work colleagues start to become family. Even so, no matter how comfortable you are at work, you can’t forget about general office etiquette. You can’t march around the office with no regard to your colleagues’ feelings and how you are affecting their environment. As much as you feel like the office is your (second) home, it isn’t. Don’t worry, we have a set of rules to help keep you out of the “poor etiquette’ danger zone.

Office Etiquette Rules

1: Dial down the volume

Brand Candy work in an open plan layout. Those of you who have your own office can be more lenient when it comes to volume control, just close your door. For everyone working in an open-plan office space, you must be considerate of your noise level. Be mindful of colleagues talking to clients on the phone, as well as those with walk-ins and meetings. For example, it’s proper office etiquette when playing music to ask if the volume is acceptable. And don’t forget to turn down the tunes if the phone rings or someone needs to call a client. Lil Wayne dropping beats in the background doesn’t quite scream ‘professional’. The same goes for loud discussions and calls to friends outside the office about your holiday with the in-laws (not your favourite people). A big, loud bag of drama is distracting – take your conversation to a private space.

Rule 2: Respect personal space

Innocent physical interactions with colleagues and close clients are the hardest to control. You know the kind – those instances where you end up being a little too close, standing in someone else’s bubble, leaning on a work friend’s shoulder while discussing a project, and other affectionate moments. Don’t get us wrong, hugs are great – at the right time, right moment. But we must remember that every person is different, and that goes for certain situations in the work environment as well. Hugs and hi-fives for close colleagues, and a handshake with a smile for clients (and those who have hug phobias). Being reserved and considerate goes a long way in these situations.

Rule 3: Handle conflict correctly

Everyone, at some point in time, will disagree with a work colleague. In these situations, you need to handle the matter in the correct way. Office etiquette calls for taking the person aside, confronting them calmly and diplomatically, making sure you are not attacking them in front of everyone. The wrong approach to confrontation is to be passive-aggressive – eye rolls, petty comments, sarcasm, sighing with negative body language while the person you dislike voices their opinion, and the ever-popular cold shoulder. This kind of behaviour will only damage your reputation and bring negativity into the work environment.

office etiquette

Rule 4: Avoid office gossip

We all like the occasional juicy headline, but sometimes we need to choose to be the bigger person and say no to gossip. Stop it in its tracks. There are better ways to get closer to your colleagues in your office than spreading rumours or revealing sensitive details about Sally from accounting. Nope, you’ll only end up looking like the bad guy, damaging your reputation and the trust of your peers.

Rule 5: Office time is precious

Time is money. Always be on time and don’t steal it away from others. We already feel there aren’t enough hours in the day, why make it worse by wasting them? It won’t reflect well on you, in the long run, to be known as the one who’s always late. Always be respectful of your colleagues when they give you some of their precious time. When you ask for help, try to keep it to the necessary minimum. Interruptions are disruptive to everyone, even the interrupter.

office etiquette

Rule 6: Unnecessary hovering in the office

Hovering shouldn’t be used to hurry other people’s conversations so you can squeeze in your own. If you need to speak to a colleague or want to borrow some stationery, wait your turn. When they’ve finished their conversation, you can go back and start your discussion. Whatever you do, don’t stand on the outskirts tapping your foot – don’t be that guy. You’ll only come across as rude.

Rule 7: Support office events

Make a positive impression by attending office events. Taking the time to support and get to know the people you work with is a simple way to show you care. Attending these events also proves you’re a team player, someone to count on. After all, it’s hard to be successful and work fluidly with strangers. Spending time with your colleagues outside of normal work situations is the first step to strengthening your relationships within your team, leading to better collaboration.

Rule 8: Know your email etiquette

Great office etiquette should always reflect in your written messages. When sending emails to clients or colleagues, include a clear, direct subject line. In the body of your message, keep your emails short, sweet and to the point as much as possible. Don’t forget to check your spelling and grammar. Remember you are not writing an essay or trying to be the next great author. Just before you click send, make sure you have selected the right email address and have proofread your message thoroughly. When it comes to CC’ing people think twice before hitting send – does everyone on the list need to be copied in?

Rule 9: Don’t spread the flu

Are you sick? Chances are you are going to be less productive. Take advantage of your sick leave (within reason) and be respectful of your colleagues’ health. Keep your sickness quarantined until you are no longer contagious. In the long run, people will appreciate you for not passing whatever you have around the office.

office etiquette

Rule 10: Be mindful of commonly used spaces

We all have to share the office. The most important rule for commonly used spaces is: “if you make a mess, clean it up!”. This goes for the overall environment of the office. Don’t leave your dirty dishes in the sink – take responsibility for your own mess. Dustbin overflowing? Be considerate, don’t just add to the overflow. Instead, take out the rubbish and replace the bag. All sharing the kettle or filter coffee machine? Don’t be kak – be lekker. Fill up the water or make sure the filter coffee is ready for the next person. There’s nothing more disappointing than walking up to an empty kettle. 

Overall, be considerate and empathetic to your co-workers. Some gestures may seem small, but office etiquette goes a long way. Create a safe and productive work environment filled with team players and positive mindsets –  which will result in a pleasant office environment.