25 Aug 2020

Back-to-office etiquette

With a new school year beginning in a couple of weeks, some businesses (Debrett's included) are also looking to start bringing staff back to the workplace.

But how can we adapt to the new office etiquette, at a time when social norms are ever-changing? As with all significant lifestyle changes, tact and a soft touch are crucial as we readapt to our pre-Covid habits of daily commutes, face-to-face meetings and workplace admin. With this in mind, here are some etiquette pointers to consider as we are reintroduced to office life:

Be sensitive:

While there will be many who can’t wait to leave their kitchen table and get their feet back under their old desks, there will also be some who haven’t left their children for 5 months, and others feeling more generally apprehensive. If you are a manager, try to be understanding and flexible; perhaps offer staggered work hours so that people can avoid busy transport times, or the option to work from home if necessary. Keep a keen eye out for social cues and silent signals, and set aside time to speak with team members individually to ensure that they are as comfortable as possible.

Keep your distance:

Although you're back at work, it’s far from business as usual. Social distancing guidelines remain in place, and not everyone will be ready to shake hands or share your pen. If you’re greeting someone, stick with an elbow tap or fist pump, and allow others plenty of space – don't loom over a colleague at their computer, or reach across your neighbour for a stapler. And if you’re in a scenario that makes you feel uncomfortable (someone rushing in to share your lift, for example), it's perfectly acceptable to say so.

Keep the Corona chat in check:

Pandemic-based humour, anecdotes and stories tend only to bring the topic to the forefront of everyone’s minds, and may cause additional anxiety. A quick debrief of the past couple of months (think post-Christmas) is fine, but there’s no need for it to form the basis of every conversation. Similarly, pointedly turning at the sound of a cough or sneeze, or shouting ‘corona!’ when someone clears their throat, isn’t funny or helpful.

Focus on the task in hand

For the first time since March you will be able to work with zero (non-work) distractions, so use this time to get ahead and stuck into tasks or projects that had perhaps been neglected. It won’t go unnoticed, and feeling productive will boost your morale and help to reduce any nervousness around returning to an office environment.

Maintain your work-life balance:

A recent survey conducted by Bloomberg Business found that the pandemic workday is on average 48 minutes longer than the regular workday. Whether individuals have been logging on earlier as they’re saving commuting time, or replying to emails while waiting for their toddler to go down, it is clear than in the absence of an office, official working start and finish times have been blurred. Now you’re back, use your office hours to work, and then (assuming your industry and workload allows), clock off properly when you leave and make the most of your free time.

Are you returning to your workplace next month? How are you feeling about it? Let us know in the comments below.


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