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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Terranova

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 loves to follow a good modern manners influencer on TikTok, I applaud any efforts to establish consideration norms in society, organizational or otherwise.

A recent survey of more than 1500 companies found that 60% are planning to offer office etiquette classes to employees by the end of 2024, with more than half making employee participation mandatory. The collective atrophy of social skills inspired by the pandemic, as well as the entry of younger generations into the workforce who know nothing but remote work, have created a need for organizations to support employees adjusting to in-person workplace expectations.

While the pandemic created an opportunity for seasoned workplace warriors to shake off memories of microwaved scrod, high-decibel speakerphone talkers and snarky reminders to clean out the office fridge, it also contributed toward a collective loss of soft relationship skills we need to thrive in an office environment. We’ve lost our ability to chit-chat, read the room and give someone our undivided attention. We have forgotten about the awesome potential of unplanned conversations and the ease of asking a quick question without an appointment.

At the same time, younger generations have spent their formative professional years learning and working remotely. They have not built workplace survival skills of drinking bad coffee from a vending machine, mouthing the words to “happy birthday” so it looks like you are singing and avoiding that one colleague who talks your ear off at happy hour. As digital natives, they have been called upon to participate in less face-to-face human interaction than any other generation in history and we kick-started their careers in global isolation. To put it lightly, this generation is not set up for success when it comes to navigating a smooth transition back to in-person work.

Whether struggling with a loss of office social skills or missing 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 curriculum to appropriate workplace attire and responsible common area usage, I think we must go a level deeper to consider the factors that truly matter when it comes to creating a successful in-person working environment.

Get Curious, Not Judgmental

Like the rest of you, I have not come to grips with the fact that the ray of pandemic sunshine that was Ted Lasso is over. Of all the nuggets of life wisdom that show imparted, none are as powerful as the reminder from Walt Whitman to get curious instead of 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 we are better people when we are curious instead of judgmental, and develop the discipline to ask more questions 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 lure of multitasking that working from home facilitated. From throwing in loads of laundry and homeschooling between meetings to the new normal of simultaneous zooming, emailing, texting and instant messaging, we have hyper-cultivated 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 anomaly when someone does offer us undivided attention that our thoughts immediately assume the stakes are high when someone is willing to listen without distraction. We should harness the power of undivided attention more often at work and recognize its valuable contribution to any working relationship.

Respect Working Hours

Rarely do I encounter a topic as professionally polarizing as the debate over what constitutes respect for working hours. On one side we have the people who think 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 we have those who despise unnecessary communication beyond working hours because it feels like an imposition on personal time away from work. Hopefully those who believe they can communicate at any hour AND receive a response are a dying breed in modern workplace culture. At the end of the day, unnecessary communication outside of established working hours is falling out of favor with the manners-minded members of the workforce. We should look for 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, and avoid texting when a scheduled email will do instead.

Make Time to Chit-Chat

It was not until we lived a few years without workplace banter that we realized how much we missed it. Not only are some of the best adult friendships cultivated through informal moments at work, but it is such 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 maintenance and scheduled meetings to drive our interactions with colleagues that we have lost the opportunities for levity, friendship and breaks that can make a workday more balanced. Let’s collectively agree to bring some social balance back to work when we return to the office and make time for the informal dialog that makes work-life more fulfilling.

Handle Friction Face-to-Face

At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur to younger generations, I’m going to say that in-person work is infinitely less conflict-laden when we collectively agree to pick up the phone or address issues face-to-face. It is too easy to misunderstand, misinterpret and falsely assume when difficult conversations are had through written means. Technology helps us to communicate in so many ways, yet we must all recognize that non-verbal cues are absent, inflection is missing and softening language is commonly omitted when communicating in writing. Cultivate the skill of addressing potential issues with a conversation instead of an all-caps email, and yield the relationship rewards that come with the respect of a face-to-face conversation.

At the end of the day, companies have an opportunity to think beyond etiquette rules and consider the soft skills training that fosters success in a new working world. While we may not save ourselves from the inevitable annoyances of working in close proximity to one another, we can seize this opportunity to think about how the rules have changed and agree on the acts of consideration that matter most.

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