Let’s face it. We all lost at least some of our office savvy during the pandemic.
We were working in yoga pants, slippers, pajamas. We took the occasional — or daily — nap. We had nonstop access to the fridge and could turn off our cameras when we were eating (sometimes loudly).
Now that most of us are back in the office at least part of the week, we’re realizing that some of our deskmates plum forgot how to act in public.
Shouted cubicle conversations. Swearing. The absence of eye contact. Awkward small talk.
The lack of common courtesies leave colleagues cringing or dashing to private rooms or donning earplugs to find respite. Others are leaving passive-aggressive notes to address pet peeves such as attire that’s way too casual, dirty dishes piled in the office sink or food manners gone awry.
While most of us offered grace as we all returned, that time is over, said Juliet Mitchell, founder of the Life Etiquette Institute in St. Paul.
To help us all to avoid becoming that person, we turned to career counselors, professors and etiquette pros to get some tips on office etiquette.
With the pandemic gone, so is our cloak of privacy and isolation. So remember that a little eye contact, a quick hallway greeting or even a handshake go a long way toward re-establishing polite rapport.
“But remember. If you are going to acknowledge one person, you have to acknowledge everyone. Be conscious and aware to include people who may not be in your inner circle,” Mitchell said.
Martha Hoffman, a senior development officer at the Minnesota Historical Society, said the pandemic hit her workplace hard. There were employee departures, furloughs, and then a quick hiring boom.
“Suddenly I found I really didn’t know who everybody was in the elevator,” Hoffman said. “So one of the things we all started doing was putting our faces on our emails so that we could know [who was who at work]. We really had to dig in and made an effort to reacquaint ourselves with people again.”
Nan Gesche, who teaches communication studies at the University of Minnesota, said it’s not just the pandemic that thwarted people’s ability to relate to each other at work and talk face to face.
“My students almost never interact face to face,” Gesche said. “They come into class. They sit down, and they’re all on their phones. … And when I do talk to them, they don’t always look you face to face.”
She has heard from employers that the behavior continues in the workplace, so she now addresses it directly in her classes.
Respond promptly to texts and emails
The nonaction continues when it comes to texts and emails, Gesche said. Her students have no idea they can create animosity by not responding to notes from their boss.
Even if you just respond “Got it,” that’s OK, she and others said.
She recently took a long bike ride with a group of accountants from across the country. They talked about recent hires and how they didn’t understand email etiquette — or even that they needed to show up to work at a specific time.
The Gen Z accountants incorrectly assumed they just needed to put in their hours, not know office rules, she said.
Hybrid meetings still have rules
Human resources managers we spoke to advised returning employees to turn off cellphones and defer to the person speaking during meetings. For Zoom and Teams meetings, turn on your camera so participants can see that you are engaged. Mute your sound until needed.
And try not to eat during calls unless it’s clearly a lunchtime zoom gathering.
As far as reinforcing inclusive cultures, we’re coming up on religious holidays such as Ramadan when co-workers could be fasting.
“You want to be respectful,” said Liz Hruska, a career counselor at the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies.
Gesche, who conducts communications workshops for various chambers of commerce, coaches managers and business owners to take a deep breath during meetings. Make a point to listen during meetings, not just talk.