It’s an exciting time: after a year and a half sitting behind screens, many office workers are transitioning back to in-person work. But after being remote for so long, 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 the brain: making the transition back to the office 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 return to the office can help you create and maintain a positive environment that helps employees thrive

First things 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. 

Office norms: why we need them for a return to work

22.4 million jobs were lost in April and May of 2020, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that the economy recovered 14.7 million (or two-thirds of them) by May 2021. Your workplace was likely impacted to a degree, whether positively or negatively, and your employees have had to adapt through it all. For workers who joined your team remotely, the “return to the office” is really a full-scale introduction to your company culture and the different personalities that make up your workplace. 

Simply put: the past year has been filled with changes. Establishing clear office norms can create a sense of normalcy, minimize conflict, and help employees feel comfortable and supported as you move forward with reopening. 

Many people are also facing mental health challenges that will make the return to work more challenging. In June of 2020, 31% of adults reported having symptoms of depression or anxiety — nearly double the usual figure. While things are on the upswing, the thought of returning to the office may cause some employees to feel anxious again. Isolation has been shown to decrease overall psychological health and make people feel dissatisfied in many aspects of life — living situation, relationships, and job to name a few. While being among colleagues can be a welcome change, employees may struggle to relate to others again. 

The transition back will likely disrupt the new 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 the return to work that much smoother.

Supporting employees during the return to work transition

As you head back to the office, it’s incredibly important for employees to maintain a sense of professionalism, but it’s also important to acknowledge the events of the past year and the impact they may have had on your team. With that in mind, here are some easy-to-implement etiquette ideas to help ease employees back into office work. 

  • Communicate clearly and often. The best thing leadership can do during this time is communicate. After months of reading instant messages sans tonal cues, your team now has an opportunity to communicate in-person. 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. 
  • 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? Are there social distancing guidelines in the conference room?
  • 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). 
  • 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. 
  • 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
  • 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. 
  • 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 Group Orders, which lets you order individually packaged meals for a crowd in one cart. 
  • 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.  
  • 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. 
  • Take a stance on PPE. Identify a mask policy — for example, you may suggest that all unvaccinated employees wear masks while those who have been vaccinated do not. If there are no state or local guidelines you must follow, you can poll employees to see what they’re most comfortable with. 
  • 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.  
  • 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’ll be resuming 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. 
  • 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.  
  • 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 subscription 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. 
  • 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. 
  • Prioritize diversity. 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. 

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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 catering, Group Orders 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. 
  • Establish checkpoints. 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 return to work? Offer benefits that reduce stress and help your team stay productive and happy. According to a 2020 DoorDash study, 82% of employees would 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. 
  • Celebrate successes. Coming back to the office after a long time away 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, the return to work is a positive sign and a way to move forward from the events of 2020. With an emphasis on work etiquette and a strong company culture, your team will be set up for success in the new normal. 

Ready to enlist DoorDash’s help as you transition back to work? Explore our solutions for every type of office.

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Kristen Van Nest

Kristen Van Nest is an L.A.-based freelance B2B writer with bylines in Forbes, HuffPost, and VentureBeat to name a few. As a former Fulbright Scholar and Newsroom Columnist for the British Chamber of Commerce’s publication in China, she specializes in market trends and strategies businesses can use to grow. Her free time is spent ordering in dumplings and honeycomb ice cream and writing funny content to make people laugh.