There’s no denying the paradigm shift in American corporate culture to more relaxed and unconventional office environments. Google and Facebook have been leading the way through their nap pods, bean bag lounges, and on-site skate parks. Though this easygoing attitude has undoubtedly improved morale, it’s important to remember that casual doesn't mean unprofessional, and according to Cindy K. Goodman, columnist for the Miami Herald, “In business, manners still matter.”
The way you interact with your colleagues and your clients should demonstrate that you have taken into consideration how your individual behavior affects the company as well as the feelings of others. Exhibiting poor decorum can cost you a customer or even your career.
Since the business world has evolved and responded to dramatic transitions in the non-business world, there have been a few recent developments that have had a big impact on business etiquette. Execs can use the summary below as a valuable refresher and also as good talking points during the next company meeting.
Work Hours & Office Attire
As more and more companies opt for an informal work atmosphere, traditional standards—such as dress code requirements and fixed schedules—are falling by the wayside. This shift to a stronger emphasis on comfort and convenience over formality is great, but be careful of becoming too comfortable.
It may be a platitude, but that doesn’t make it untrue: It is always better to be overdressed than underdressed.
Sure, you may encounter a little teasing if you show up on your first day in slacks and a tie while everyone else is rocking T-shirts, but few things in your professional life will be more embarrassing than being the only one in jeans and sneakers in an office full of colleagues wearing suits.
Also, if you’re in a client-facing role and you have an in-person meeting to attend, make sure your attire is at least on the level of your client’s company’s expectations. Not every company has adopted a lax dress code policy, and you should respect that. And if you really can’t manage a full day without flip-flops, you can always change once you get back to your office.
And a flexible schedule shouldn’t mean you work less; ensure your projects are always delivered as promised, no matter what hours you decide to keep.
Open floor plans have become increasingly popular over the past few years. They’ve been touted as a way to encourage collaboration and promote a more interactive workplace, unhindered by the typical cubicle walls and closed office doors.
That being said, before starting a conversation, think about the topic of discussion and the personality of your coworker(s). For example, if you’re reviewing sensitive information or your colleague is the more introverted type, use a conference room.
Be aware of what your work associate is doing when you approach their desk. If they’re clearly in the middle of something, ask them if you can schedule a time to chat; don’t just start talking. And always approach from the front—no one likes a sneak attack.
Smartphones and laptops have had a significant impact on the way businesses operate. The ability to communicate with clients and colleagues from nearly anywhere at any time has facilitated the power to quickly reach resolutions and close deals. Indeed, mobile devices can enhance productivity. However, this ease of access has also lead to an increase in the use of mobile devices at inappropriate times.
We’ll start with the most extreme example: Don’t take calls in the bathroom. It may sound obvious, but this happens entirely too often. Even if the person with whom you’re speaking doesn’t hear the telltale sounds (toilets flushing, etc.), the echo of your voice off the tile walls is a dead giveaway.
The issue here is twofold: 1) you’re not giving your full attention to the discussion, and 2) it’s just plain gross. Your day might be scheduled down to the minute with meetings and projects, but there really is no excuse for forcing someone to pretend they don’t know you’re answering nature’s call while talking to them.
Secondly, put the phone down while you’re working. Multitasking is often praised as a useful skill, but hundreds of scholarly articles argue that attempting to focus on multiple projects simultaneously results in decreased productivity and an increase in errors.
So while you may feel as if you’re being especially efficient by answering emails during a conference call, the reality is that you’re likely creating more work for yourself since you’re not truly concentrating on either task. Close your laptop, turn off your phone and listen. Finally, make sure you’re using the most proper medium for correspondence. Text messages are fine for minor FYIs—like letting your boss know you’re stuck in traffic, for example. However, important (and especially bad) news warrants a phone call, or at the very least a detailed email.
While technology and innovation certainly have affected workplace dynamics, there is one guideline that will always be of the utmost importance: Be on time.
No matter your role at a company—from an intern to the CEO—you should always arrive on time (read: early) to meetings. Of course, there will be occasions where high-priority tasks pop up unexpectedly, but there is no excuse for habitual tardiness.
Set reminders so you can finish up projects or conversations prior to the meeting, and be in the conference room at least five minutes before an event is scheduled to begin. Everyone’s time is valuable. Not only does tardiness reflect poorly on you, but it also reflects poorly on your company as a whole and indicates a lack of respect.
If you accidentally commit any of aforementioned faux pas, don’t fret; everyone makes mistakes! Simply acknowledge your error, apologize and move on.
Editor's Note: This post was previously published on Inc.com and has been republished here with permission.