What does etiquette even mean these days?
The dictionary tells us thus – the customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group.
But the rules of etiquette are changing, especially in the digital world we now inhabit.
Google ‘workplace etiquette’ and you’ll get the usual guff about being polite, dressing appropriately, being punctual, avoiding gossip and all that jazz but that’s a given.
So what are the real rules of etiquette inside and outside of work?
The Tea Round
The humble cup of tea (or coffee). A staple of British life and without a steady supply of hot beverages throughout the day, few of us could function at optimum effectiveness. Deny someone their fix of caffeinated nectar and you deny them their productivity fuel, but you’re thirsty and you work in a team so what should you do?
You make a round of course, but what are the rules?
We’re not talking about tea for 600 people on the Goldman Sachs trading floor, just a brew for the people close to you but the etiquette is as important as it is when meeting new clients. It forges friendships, repairs relationships and binds teams together better than any trust fall on a corporate away day in Swindon.
The rules are simple. Commit them to memory and you will be forever liked, but ignore them at your peril and you will soon wonder why you’re never invited to Friday drinks in the pub…
1. Remember the order. Black with two, milky with one, six teabags and seven sugars… write it down if you must. There’s nothing worse than not getting what you asked for.
2. If the kettle is boiling and there’s a neat row of clean cups lined up, don’t queue-jump the kettle. That’s seriously bad form. You’ll just have to wait.
3. Don’t put a wet teaspoon back into the sugar pot. Just don’t. Also, don’t stir a brew with a fork, pen or anything else. Use a spoon. If you’ve got to wash one up, do it. You’re not an animal.
4. People treat their mugs like their children. They are extremely territorial so only use pool cups, not the one that says ‘World’s Best Mum’ on the side.
5. Don’t be a hero and try to carry more than two mugs at a time. Return trips are an unfortunate by-product of a tea round.
6. Don’t hand over a mug that’s dripping at the base. You run the risk of dumping it all over a keyboard or worse, a lap. Be neat.
Travelling By Train
As we said, the rules of etiquette are changing. We live in a round-the-clock world and business can now be conducted, thanks to myriad devices, from wherever you happen to find yourself, even on the train going home…
A few months ago we were coming back from a meeting in London on the train from Kings Cross to our offices in Elstree & Borehamwood and not surprisingly we were stuck for a bit. A few seats away from us was a guy who shall remain nameless. In the 40 minutes we were sat there he must have made 10 calls, each one starting with ‘Hi, it’s ___________ and I’m on the train, I’m a producer at the BBC and I’m calling about ______________________.
He raised his voice when telling his victims what he did and where he worked and then looked around for validation from other travellers as if working for the BBC was some sort of medal round his neck. After the 10th call, Billy Big Trousers was approached by two builders who had just finished a hard day’s graft and they went into his face and said, ‘Oi mate, who is it you work for again…’ and then in a frankly petrifying whisper followed with ‘keep your voice down, pal, I don’t give a [beep] where you work.’
The moral of the story is that if you need to conduct business on a crowded train, do so quietly, move into the no man’s land between carriages or arrange for a more convenient time to do your bidding.
Since we’re on the subject of trains, here’s a few more no-no’s (and OK, we’ve all been guilty at one time or another but think about what you’re doing in future…) –
Make Up – A divisive issue for sure and there’s a difference between a quick touch-up and putting on a full face. The upside of putting on make-up on the train is that everyone watching is secretly hoping for a comedy lipstick slide across the cheek when the train jolts.
By the way, this also goes for all forms of personal grooming, like the guy who clips his nails and empties the detritus on the floor or the girl who took up three seats painting her toes.
Eating – Sometimes a late-night junk food binge after a skinful is just the ticket but generally-speaking smelly, greasy food or ‘loud’ food like crisps with the obligatory finger-lick is pretty unpleasant for your fellow travellers. Especially if it’s a Double Sausage & Egg McMuffin and three hash browns at 6.30am on the Watford Junction to Euston with 140,000 other people vying for the same millimetre of space.
Music – Here’s a tip: music need not be played at ‘Queen at Live Aid’ volumes. No-one wants to hear your garbage, regardless of what garbage you listen to. Invest in a set of noise-cancelling headphones if you really must listen at Spinal Tap-levels and whatever you do, NEVER play anything through the phone’s speakers.
But Wait, There’s More…
In a straw poll in the office, the triumphant tea round and the terribly annoying train talkers ranked pretty highly as pet peeves, but here’s a quick ready reckoner of the other annoyances that grind gears. Again, they are simple to follow but can end up being priceless in your pursuit of office acceptance, especially if you’re the newbie…
Don’t Use Speakerphone In An Open Office – You’ll sound like the annoying melt on the train you just read about.
Don’t Overshare – These are your work colleagues, not your friends and most certainly not your therapist and with the best will in the world, no-one cares about your over-active bowel or your wife’s lack of interest.
Don’t Stand So Close To Me – When you’re talking to a colleague, you don’t have to be 4cm away, you don’t have to put your hands on anyone’s shoulders when you’re looking at a screen together and you absolutely don’t need to tickle anyone ‘for a laugh.’
Don’t Gossip – alright, this one is easier said than done. What has she done with her hair? What does he think he looks like with that tight shirt and burger-belly? If you can’t point immediately to the office loudmouth, it just might be you…
The nightmare scenario is pressing ‘reply all’ when you only meant to bitch to Andy in Marketing…
Don’t Mess-Spread – your domain is entirely up to you but when your crap starts seeping across to the next desk, you need to ask yourself just why you’ve got old football programmes, half-empty bottles of moisturiser, empty water bottles, weeks-old Maltesers and six coffee cups lying around because you can be sure the person whose desk it is will. Sort it out.
Don’t Be David Brent – are you the person that says ‘afternoon’ when someone rocks up seven minutes late? Do you sing in the office because you think you’ve got the voice of an angel only to realise it’s the noise of the devil? Do you sniff all day instead of blowing your nose like an adult? Do you bathe in deodorant, perfume or aftershave? Do you steal food from the fridge ‘for a laugh?’ Are you a suck-up or a grass?
A ‘yes’ to any of these and you’ll know why you never get asked to the pub…
Office etiquette. Please, do the right thing. It’s for your own good.
Contact us today on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7078 0789 and we’ll talk cloud security, communications platforms, cutting-edge IT solutions or whether it’s ever OK to microwave salmon and cauliflower in a small office….
Hint: No it isn’t.