Office Etiquette: 10 Simple Office Rules to Help Keep the Peace

For some, today’s popular open concept office environments can inspire creative collaboration between colleagues while for others it can be their working nightmare.

You can hear, smell, and see everything the person near you is eating, drinking, or saying. Sounds and smells travel across the space, even to those sitting on the other side of the office, so whether you’re popping popcorn or heating up last nights curry take-out, it’s important to consider those around you.

People generally fall into two personality categories, introvert or extrovert. If you’re the type of person who excels best in a quiet work space, open concept offices can be a huge challenge to adapt to. Learning to employ ear buds can add blissful silence to your day and reduce distractions. Having enthusiastic colleagues adds to a positive environment but while you’re on the phone talking numbers with a client boisterous cheering and hi-fiving can leave a bad impression and possibly kill the sale.

Office cultures vary widely from place to place but whether you’re working for a millennial startup or you work for a Fortune 500 company, there are some simple best practices to follow that will ensure you inspire creativity – not conflict! – at the office.


Don’t: Pilfer someone else’s lunch or leave the kitchen a mess. If it’s not yours, hands off! Once you’re done with your dishes put them in the dishwasher or wash them by hand and put them away.

Do: If you bring your own lunch clearly mark it with your name. Your colleagues will be less tempted to take what’s not theirs.


Don’t: File or paint your nails or use nail polish remover at your desk. That is a powerfully strong odour and seriously annoying.

Do: Leave your personal grooming where it should be – at home!


Don’t: Come to work looking like you’re heading to the club. If it’s something you’d wear to a nightclub it doesn’t belong in a workplace.

Do: Dress for success. Even if you have a casual culture at work, dress fashionably and tastefully.


Don’t: Chat on your phone about last nights date while your colleague sits there crunching numbers. It’s distracting at best and, really, they don’t want to know that much about you!

Do: Respect your co-workers and step out of the office to take or make personal phone calls.


Don’t: Wear heavily scented perfumes, colognes, deodorants or body lotions. Heavy scents can make even large open spaces seem smaller and, worse, you might send your co-workers home with a migraine.

Do: Use only lightly scented or unscented products and reapply in the bathroom, if needed;  never at your desk or around others.


Don’t: Engage in gossip or speak poorly about a co-worker with other co-workers. It’s mean and will likely come full circle. What goes around comes around!

Do: Treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself. That’s the kind of full circle treatment you want to come around your way again.


Don’t: Become romantically involved with a co-worker. While passions can ignite when creative collaboration is at work, it is ill advised to act on those desires. If you do become involved leave the PDA (Public Displays of Affection) outside the office.

Do: Invite your co-workers out for a friendly lunch. Being sociable with your colleagues can form lasting, and appropriate, relationships that will help you work better together.


Don’t: Reply-all on every email. Nobody likes being disrupted by emails all day long so unless it truly involves everyone on the team only send the email to the person or people it directly concerns.

Do: Pick up the phone and call if the matter is urgent. The last thing you need is someone becoming a roadblock in your work day just because they missed your email.


Don’t: Clutter up your desk with piles of paper, personal photos, or personal belongings. Try to file any loose papers or recycle them.

Do: One or two photos of your loved ones is okay along with a few items to personalize and tastefully decorate your workspace, such as unscented plants or silk flowers.


Don’t: If your language would make your grandmother blush don’t use it around the office. You can get your emphasis across without resorting to cursing. In written communication avoid using all caps in emails no matter what point you’re trying to make.

Do: Keep the verbal and written language brief and grammatically correct. This will keep you looking and sounding at your professional best.

Whether you’re the head honcho or a worker bee following these simple rules of office etiquette will help eliminate some gossip around the watercooler and keep it a positive working environment that everyone will enjoy being a part of.

Try adopting a “glass is half full” attitude about the office space you work in. You accepted the job after all, so try to make the best out of it and be kind to your co-workers. If you find yourself feeling negative about where you work try making a list of all the positive elements related to working there. Keep it handy so you can refer to it often.

If the company supplies comfortable spaces for you to take periodic breaks, make use of them. It will help you get out of your immediate workstation and into a better frame of mind.

Nobody wants to inadvertently offend or distract their colleagues so it’s important that companies establish clear standards for employees to navigate their way around shared open concept work environments. Setting those standards in place, and reviewing them with each new employee, will help everyone in the company be on the same page and create a more harmonious work environment.