The new rules of office etiquette

Many people simply don’t know how to behave in an office environment. In the middle of a conversation, they will whip out their smart phones to check their email. They’ll pinch people’s food from the fridge. Or they’ll take up your space by barging into your cubicle unannounced.

Clearly, there are many out there who are still trying to learn the rules of office behaviour. Earlier this year, I did a blog entry looking at office etiquette, covering issues like coffee slurpers, loud talkers and people who use their smart phones incessantly during conversations.

Clearly office environments and working conditions have changed radically over the last few years. Office etiquette has become more important with tighter space, more offices being shared and the lines between paid employees and contractors blurring. In this age of open plan offices, informal digital communications and fluid work roles, new rules are needed for office etiquette.

Forbes presents us with a set: knock before entering a cubicle, call or email before you arrive, don’t leave voice mail messages when you know the person isn’t there, if you’re the boss, don’t send emails over the weekend and if you get an email from your boss during the weekend, it’s okay if you take a day to reply, don’t wear your headphones in the elevator or hallway, don’t check your email when you are out in the lobby or in the lift, don’t touch your colleagues’ food in the fridge, dress one notch up from office casual and use humour to recover from the inevitable faux pas.

Telecommuters or people whose work takes them outside the office need to follow certain rules too. Make sure that your absence doesn't mean your co-workers end up fielding your phone calls all day, handling things you should have taken care of when you were in the office. Let your co-workers know your whereabouts so they can reach you at any given time and if you use a common area or share a desk with another co-worker with flexible hours, leave the area neat and orderly when you leave.

Some other tips here include not eating at your desk and being careful with those ringtones. Some more advice: don’t hold meetings in the hallway. It gets on the nerves of everyone at their desks working. Don’t write in text speak, leave terms like LOL and OMG for the phone, if you really have to. Watch those emails.  Misspellings and emoticons are not only annoying, they’re downright rude because they insult the intelligence and maturity of the person at the other end. And be careful of the speaker phone.  Some people not only use it for conference calls but also for one-on-one conversations, so that everyone in the office knows who they’re talking to and, by implication, how important they are.

Rambling on about every detail of your private life, leaving out dirty gym clothes and food, and bad bathroom habits are also ticked off as bad breaches of office etiquette. Another good piece of advice: don’t keep checking your smart phone during meetings. Also, at some places, you really have to clean up after yourself. There’s nothing that annoys some people more than the mess you have left. One last point: it’s really important to respect virtual walls and not intrude into people’s space.

What about office parties? Writing in the Huffington Post etiquette expert Lisa Grotts suggests the bleeding obvious: dress in a presentable manner, don't turn up too late, don't be a wallflower and make an effort to talk to people and, of course, don't drink too much.

Such are the rules for modern office etiquette. Any to add? What’s your workplace like? How much bad behaviour have you seen? What happened?