It’s an exciting time: a large number of companies have seen how employees thrive in a flexible work model. However, work norms have changed. Employees have gotten used to new routines, from prepping lunch during calls to taking walking meetings to wearing sweatpants during work. As workers head back to the office on a larger scale, they’ll be wondering which new habits can carry over — and which should stay at home.
As an employer, you have one major goal on your mind: making the transition between working from the office and home as seamless and effective as possible. You need to be accommodating to team members in a way that supports your collective company culture. Defining work etiquette as you welcome employees back to the office can help you create and maintain a positive environment that helps employees thrive.
First thing’s first: what is work etiquette?
Etiquette is typically defined as a set of customs or norms observed in a particular setting or by a particular group. Work etiquette is a set of collaborative norms observed in a specific workplace. It can range from physical guidelines — for instance, grooming, attire, and mask-wearing — to behavioral guidelines — such as appropriate greetings and meeting conduct.
While work etiquette differs by office and by culture, we’ve compiled some general information on how to craft your own etiquette policy and make the return to the office as successful as possible.
Welcome back to work: norms for flexible work models
In March 2021, the Society for Human Resource Management warned of a turnover “tsunami.” They pointed to studies indicating that 50% of employees intended to look for a new job — and recent data has justified this extreme prediction. Your workplace was likely impacted to a degree, whether positively or negatively, and your employees have had to adapt through it all.
Simply put: the new normal has been filled with changes. Establishing clear workplace norms can create a sense of normalcy, minimize conflict, and help employees feel comfortable and supported as you move forward with a flexible work model.
Many people are also facing mental health challenges that will make implementing hybrid work models more challenging. A recent Indeed survey showed that 67% of respondents believe that burnout has gotten worse in recent years. While being among colleagues can be a welcome change, employees may struggle to relate to others again.
The hybrid work will likely disrupt the routines employees have in place and require them to navigate interactions they haven’t had in over a year. Establishing clear guidelines to be followed in the office will help address employee concerns and make implementing a flexible work model that much smoother.
Supporting employees during the transition into a flexible work model
As your team transitions between the office and home, it’s incredibly important for employees to maintain a sense of professionalism. It’s also important to acknowledge the events of the past years and the impact they may have had on them. With that in mind, here are some easy-to-implement etiquette ideas to help ease employees into a flexible work model.
1. Communicate clearly and often
The best thing leadership can do during this time is communicate. Encourage them to ask thoughtful questions, offer up their ideas, and spark dialogue with one another. Employees should never assume how their colleagues feel about something, but rather should be prepared to have open discussions.
2. Set expectations for Zoom and in the office
If your business, like many companies, has a portion of staff working on a hybrid schedule where they split time between the office and home, you’ll need to define guidelines for each. Let employees know what type of participation is expected in each setting: do remote team members need to keep their video cameras on? Do presentations need to happen in-person? Do masks need to be worn in the conference room?
3. Emphasize timeliness
While remote work may have allowed for flexibility, it’s important for your in-office employees to be present and on time for meetings (otherwise, they might as well be logging on from home).
4. Encourage collaboration
One of the biggest benefits of having people in-office is the ability to collaborate and bounce ideas off of one another. Encourage your employees to take advantage of this opportunity and work together to accomplish projects.
5. Establish contact and social distancing standards
Handshakes used to be the standard greeting, but now, everyone has a different level of comfort with being near one another or coming in physical contact. Decide on a suggested greeting — whether that’s a handshake, elbow bump, or wave. If your building has an elevator or other close quarters areas, you can request that employees follow social distancing guidelines and lay down decals six feet apart as a friendly reminder
6. Promote empathy
You never know what someone’s going through. Employees may be more stressed than usual, so it’s important to remind them to be empathetic to and understanding of the needs of others.
7. Don’t share food or drinks
Your team might be excited to bring in treats or take part in an office meal, but remind them that the safest option right now is simply not sharing. Instead, consider letting employees eat together with DoorDash for Work Employee Meals, which lets you order individually packaged meals for a crowd in one cart.
8. Pay attention to details
Employees might have gotten used to multitasking more than usual while working from home, but you should remind them that it’s still important to focus — and sweat the small stuff. Remind your team to pay attention to colleagues’ names, meeting times, deadlines, and other details to make a positive impression.
9. Be conscious of others in the workplace
Many workers have gotten used to being alone for the entire day, so they may have fallen out of the habit of taking calls quietly or sharing their workspace. Remind your employees to keep their coworkers in mind, be respectful of differing schedules, wear headphones, and help out others as needed.
10. Think positive
Negativity can wreak havoc in the workplace. Help your employees reframe negative thoughts by looking on the positive side. This type of approach can help cultivate a solution-oriented mindset, where your team is more apt to see each challenge as a learning opportunity — and propose creative solutions.
11. Decide on a "happy medium" dress code
The type of clothing that’s appropriate for your office may have changed. For instance: if half of your workforce is remote, is there a need for your in-office team members to be in suits and ties? Conversely, if you have in-person external meetings, are sweatpants like the ones they wore at home okay? Some companies are choosing to resume their prior dress code, like wealth-management firm Arch Global Advisors, which told the Wall Street Journal that its business attire dress code helped maintain company culture during the return to office.
12. Normalize check-ins
Keep the lines of communication open. Ensure your employees are feeling good about the changes going on in your workplace, and listen to any suggestions they may have for improvement. With skyrocketing anxiety levels pertaining to both work and life, your employees may also benefit from mindfulness training, a cognitive strategy that’s been shown to improve overall wellbeing.
13. Respect work-life balance
With a return to work, it’s more important than ever to encourage work-life balance — and in fact, the separation between home and the office can even help employees find a better balance. During the pandemic, 46.5% of work from home employees reported rarely or never taking a full hour lunch break. Encourage your employees to take time for lunch with a DashPass for Work membership that puts fresh, nutritious food at their fingertips — with free delivery and reduced fees on eligible orders. Think before asking a team member to stay late or firing off after-hours emails. Ensure management is setting a good precedent by observing working hours and minimizing any unnecessary fire drills.
14. Provide accessibility accommodations
If you have employees who cannot physically return to the office every day due to either a personal disability or family concern, design a process that enables them to apply for an accommodation or exception (some states even have a legal process for disability or caretaking leave). Keep these team members connected through remote activities, meetings, and an at-home Expensed Meals program.
Set up success: things to keep in mind
In order for your new guidelines to be effective, you need your team to be on board. Remember: your employees are happiest when they can be their true selves at work. The rules you implement should ultimately help employees perform their jobs better, without the added stress of wondering how to act in the office.
Here are some work etiquette ideas to ensure your team feels supported.
Encourage ideas and expressions
Try to stick to general business etiquette, but don’t overreach into personal expression or freedoms. In a Deloitte survey, 25% of respondents identified an environment where they can be their authentic selves as a driver of belonging at work. At the end of the day, your workplace needs a variety of perspectives to thrive, so your guidelines should still encourage everyone to speak up and share their ideas.
A diverse workforce needs diverse guidelines. Keep inclusivity in mind when setting standards, and ensure your work etiquette guidelines don’t eliminate any voices or discriminate against any identities.
Establish degrees of importance
Decide if these are rules that must be followed or suggestions employees can choose to follow — and make your stance clear so there’s no confusion.
Keep it light
The goal is to not force people to do things that make them uncomfortable, but rather to take the stress out of trying to figure out what’s acceptable in the office.
From idea to action: implementing workplace etiquette
Your team wants to feel heard
The first step in implementing workplace etiquette is to be transparent about what you want to accomplish. You’ll also want to get employee buy-in on the guidelines you’re formulating. Remind your team that you want to help them succeed during this time, and that you need their full participation in order to make it work. It’s a good idea to present information in an open forum so everyone can weigh in with their thoughts.
Make it a two-way conversation
Consider offering free food during a meeting on this subject, using DoorDash for Work both at home and in the office. A safer alternative to corporate catering, Employee Meals ensures you receive food individually packaged and labeled, while Expensed Meals lets you set a budget for remote employees, so they can enjoy food while conferencing into a meeting.
Don’t change everything at once
Chances are, many of your new policies are built on policies you had in place before. But if you’re introducing any significant changes, you may need to roll them out in stages so your team doesn’t get overwhelmed.
As employees get more comfortable with new office routines and the landscape continues to evolve, you may need to reevaluate some of the standards you’ve set. Regularly gauge feedback on how your team is feeling so you know when you need to make changes.
Focus on support
Consider reevaluating your benefits package to reflect the new landscape. How can you make team members’ lives easier as they become part of a hybrid work model? Offer benefits that reduce stress and help your team stay productive and happy. According to a 2020 DoorDash study, 82% of employees report they’d feel more satisfied at work if their company offered free food delivery cards. Other ideas include commuter benefits and monthly flex time or remote time to help employees prioritize mental health.
Transitioning between working from the office and home is a huge adjustment — and accomplishment. Be sure to thank your employees for adapting to a new set of rules, whether it’s a team-wide celebration or a DoorDash for Work Gift Card ‘just because.’
For many, hybrid work is a positive sign and a way to move forward. With an emphasis on work etiquette and a strong company culture, your team will be set up for success in the new normal.
If you’re hungry for more tips on supporting your team through the coming months, download our guide, The Future of the Office to improve your company culture and employee satisfaction in the new era of work.