I was twenty years old when I got my first office job. I worked as an intern for a marketing company and my co-workers were reaching the marriage and children milestones of their lives. I learned quite a bit during this internship, but my most significant lesson was that of office etiquette. There’s no online course or school lesson that can teach this. Unfortunately, it is simply learned through experience. Therefore, anybody who has started out working from the comforts of their own home may need a quick guide on some of the best office practises before they open back up.
About a week into my internship, I arrived back into the office after lunch to find what should have been a very basic email sitting in my inbox from Janet downstairs. It read:
There has been a package delivered downstairs for someone called Jane. Please let me know if this belongs to anyone by the end of the day or I will return it to the delivery man as I think he may have the wrong address.
I thought it strange that Janet chose me to be the detective to solve this package mystery but concluded that it must be part of my responsibilities as an intern. I cleared my throat, stood up, and announced to the office of thirty year olds that Janet has just received a package downstairs for someone called Jane. “Does it belong to anyone?” The office looked up at me in silence. Brows were furrowed. Someone, somewhere, muttered a no. I sat back down, wondering why my co-workers were so rude. It was then that I saw who the email was addressed to. Or should I say, what the email was addressed to, as it wasn’t addressed to any individual at all, but the entire office. An entire office filled with professionals who now thought that the intern, ten years their minor who started two days ago, took it upon herself to interrupt their work in order to get to the bottom of this package fiasco. Rule number one: always check who the email is addressed to.
Besides the email address, there are a few other email tricks you must acquire. These include learning to watch out for the fickle ‘reply all’ button and of course, acronyms. No matter what they say, acronyms are not common knowledge. If somebody emails you “w.o.w”, they are not praising you, they are referring to the term “week on week”. “OoO” is a more common one, yet to the untrained eye can look like your colleague had a hand spasm. It means the person you are emailing is out of office. In other words, they’re not going to reply to you. Lastly, what do you think of when you see the word “COB”? I also used to think of the side dish that gets sweetcorn stuck in your teeth for a few weeks. However, in your new office role, you must know that this means “Close of Business”.
Let’s now move to office chat. Put yourself in this situation. You’re making your morning coffee and haven’t quite woken up yet when a wild Helen from sales appears. She asks you how your weekend was, however, Helen doesn’t actually care about your weekend antics. This is a trick question. No matter how much you might want to unload about your wild Friday night or dramatic Saturday, you must respond with the following:
“Good! Nice and relaxing, didn’t get up to much. How was yours?”
And with that bland response, you have passed the office etiquette test. You can divulge about the actual ongoings of your weekend to more suitable co-workers later on. A Monday morning chat in the office kitchen is neither the time nor place. In fact, keep all kitchen-chat to a low, hushed tone before 1pm. You will never have work friends if you become known as the chirpy one in the mornings.
I presume that most of us are itching for a bit of social interaction at this point and are looking forward to leaving the work from home situation behind. However, this does not mean that you should discard the morning chat rule or eagerly reply to a message without scrutinising the recipients first. There’s also the matter of avoiding strongly scented foods such as onions and tuna, but that goes without saying. On your return, always keep in mind these three main points to thrive with office etiquette: vigilant replies, the existence of acronyms, and boring chit-chat.