What does office etiquette look like in the post-pandemic era? Here are six tips to support your team as they return to a shared workspace.
In the new era of “living with COVID,” many employees are heading back to the office. As they do, they’re discovering that the unwritten rules of office etiquette have evolved. Some workers will take this in stride, while others will need help adjusting to the new normal. Follow these six tips to foster a work environment and culture where everyone feels safe, respected and engaged.
1. establish your game plan
Office etiquette is a set of shared expectations around what is and isn’t acceptable in a professional setting. It’s about good manners and respect for other people’s values and work styles. Gathering your team together to discuss openly any post-pandemic adjustments to office etiquette can defuse tensions or uncertainties that might otherwise arise. Of course, not everyone with concerns will feel comfortable raising them in an open forum, so make it clear you’re also available for one-to-one chats.
2. be open about social distancing
Some people have forgotten about social distancing and may even joke about it. For others (particularly those who are unvaccinated or immunocompromised), it remains a priority. Encourage team members to talk openly about where they stand (pun intended) on the issue.
If someone who once shook hands now prefers a wave and a smile, you can model good etiquette by respecting their decision and treating it as normal.
3. remember: not all pandemic experiences were equal
For some, it was a time to master sourdough, take a much-needed sabbatical or pursue new qualifications online. Others found the pandemic stressful and isolating and would prefer to draw a line beneath it. Try to foster an atmosphere where the former group talks less about their pandemic-era wins and more about a shared future everyone has a stake in.
4. instruct sick workers to stay home
No ifs, no buts: anyone with more than the winter sniffles should stay home until they’ve ruled out COVID or influenza. Make it clear you won’t be impressed by anyone who arrives at the office running a fever or coughing loudly. Also, if someone is too sick to come to the office but well enough to work remotely, there’s no reason they should have to take sick leave or burn a day’s PTO.
5. respect private healthcare decisions
Honesty and transparency are crucial to good office etiquette, but so is privacy. If someone wants to continue wearing a mask in the workplace, that’s their business, and you can set a good example by treating them no differently than anyone else. Vaccination status is more contentious, but unless your organization has a vaccine mandate (around a third of private-sector employers still do), that’s also a personal healthcare decision. It’s better to trust your staff to show good judgment on these issues rather than implement a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Still, if you notice any employees persistently intruding on their coworkers’ privacy, step in quickly to defuse the situation.
6. don’t take yourself too seriously
Office etiquette suffers when managers needlessly substitute written policies for unspoken conventions. Relax. You’re leading a team of adults who will react the right way in most situations based on their common sense and experience. You may find that a single meeting (see tip 1) and an open-ended commitment to listening to employee concerns are the only actions necessary to support your team’s re-entry to office life.
For more insights into employee expectations in the post-pandemic era, download Randstad’s 2022 Workmonitor report.