Work Etiquette Classes: Are Employees Set Up for Success in a Decreasingly Remote World?
Some employers are requiring employees to complete workplace etiquette training before returning to the office for in-person work.
Are they setting up their employees for success or missing an opportunity to focus on what really matters?
As someone who enjoys following modern manners influencers on TikTok, I applaud any efforts to establish norms of consideration in society, both within organizations and elsewhere.
A recent survey conducted by ResumeBulider.com involving more than 1500 companies revealed that 60% of them are planning to offer office etiquette classes to employees by the end of 2024, with more than half making employee participation mandatory. The collective decline in social skills, exacerbated by the pandemic and the entrance of younger generations into the workforce who have experienced only remote work, have created a need for organizations to support employees in adapting to in-person workplace expectations.
While the pandemic created an opportunity for seasoned workplace veterans forget about microwaved lunches, loud speakerphone conversations, and snarky notes about cleanliness of common areas, it also contributed to a collective loss of soft relationship skills required to thrive in an office environment. We’ve lost the ability to engage in small talk, read the room, and give someone our undivided attention. We have forgotten about the value of impromptu conversations and the ease of asking a quick question without scheduling a meeting.
Simultaneously, younger generations have spent their formative professional years learning and working remotely. They haven't acquired the workplace survival skills of drinking bad coffee from a vending machine, lip-synching “Happy Birthday” during office celebrations and avoiding that colleague who talks endlessly at happy hour. As digital natives, they have been called upon to engage in less face-to-face human interaction than any other generation in history and their careers began in global isolation. To put it mildly, this generation is not well-prepared for a smooth transition back to the office.
Whether it's struggling with the loss of office social skills or not having the opportunity to develop them in the first place, companies are right to recognize that employees need support to navigate the interpersonal complexities that come along with a return to in-person work. Although it can be tempting to restrict the workplace etiquette training to appropriate workplace attire and responsible common area usage, I believe we must delve deeper to consider the factors that truly matter in creating a successful in-person working environment.
Get Curious, Not Judgmental
Like the rest of you, I have not come to terms with the fact that the ray of pandemic sunshine that was Ted Lasso has come to an end. Among the many nuggets of life wisdom that show imparted, none are as powerful as the reminder from Walt Whitman to get curious rather than judgmental. Instead of challenging ourselves to see the world from another perspective, we tend to impugn the character of those who engage in behaviors and decisions we don't understand. We should collectively remember that we are better people when we approach situations with curiosity instead of judgement. We should aspire to develop the discipline to ask more questions, and seek to understand before we make decisions about the character of those around us.
Undivided Attention is the New Social Currency
Unless you practice a Zen-like focus typically reserved for brain surgeons and Tibetan monks, you have likely succumbed to the allure of multitasking facilitated by working from home facilitated. From juggling household chores and homeschooling between meetings to the new normal of simultaneous zooming, emailing, texting and instant messaging, we honed the ability to multitask at the expense of undivided attention. We rarely offer colleagues the respect of undivided attention anymore. In fact, it is such an rarity that we assume high stakes when someone is willing to listen without distraction. We should harness the power of undivided attention more often and recognize its valuable contribution to any working relationship.
Respect Working Hours
Few topics are as professionally polarizing as the debate over what constitutes respect for working hours. On one side, there are those who believe they should be able to call, email, chat and text whenever works for them, as long as they do not expect a response outside of working hours. On the other hand, there those who detest unnecessary communication beyond working hours because it feels like an intrusion on personal time away from work. Hopefully, those who believe they can communicate at any hour AND receive a response are a dwindling minority in modern workplace culture. At the end of the day, unnecessary communication outside of established working hours is falling out of favor with manners-minded members of the workforce. We should find ways to eliminate avoidable strain on our professional relationships and do what we can to leverage the benefits of technology. Schedule your emails to send during working hours, keep meetings between 10 and 4 (avoiding Fridays, too!), and resist texting when a scheduled email will suffice.
Make Time to Chit-Chat
It was only after a few years of living without workplace banter that we realized how much we missed it. Some of the best adult friendships cultivated through informal moments at work, and it's an asset to efficiency to be able to pop over to someone’s desk and get a quick response to any question. We’ve become so dependent on workflow management and scheduled meetings that we have lost opportunities for levity, friendship, and breaks that make a workday feel more balanced. Let’s agree to bring some social balance back to work when we return to the office and make time for informal conversations that make work-life more fulfilling.
Handle Friction Face-to-Face
At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur to younger generations, I must emphasize that we reduce conflict when we opt for direct communication, either through a direct phone call or face-to-face conversation. Written exchanges often lead to misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and unwarranted assumptions. While technology offers numerous communicaiton channels, we must acknowledge that written conversations lack non-verbal cues, tone inflection, and the ability to soften language. It's essential to cultivate the skill of addressing potential issues with a conversation rather than resorting to all-caps emails. This approach leads to the rewarding development of relationships that thrive on the respect of face-to-face interactions.
In the grand scheme of things, companies have an opportunity to think beyond mere etiquette rules and delve into soft skills training that fosters success in a new working world. While we may completely eliminate the inevitable annoyances of working closely with others, we can seize this opportunity to consider how the rules have evolved and focus on the acts of consideration that matter most.