A gentleman’s guide to office etiquette

It's back to work for us all; but in a post-lockdown world still rife with lateral flows and spontaneous isolation, how should we act in the office?

There’s no beating around the corporate bush: summer is done and dusted for another year, and offices are welcoming employees back in their droves. It’s back to work and back to the office in one fell briefcase-carrying, suit-clad swoop: a milestone Gentleman’s Journal celebrated last week, at Chelsea’s The Cadogan Arms; but as far as office etiquette is concerned, no one seems to know which way is up.

Are we shaking hands, or is the elbow bump here to stay? Should we maintain a two-metre distance at all times out of mutual respect, or can we flock around the water cooler with pre-Covid abandon once again? Can we expect the post-work champagne to flow as freely as it once did, or will we be hurrying home on Friday, grim-faced and buttoned-up, because Mark from Advertising has just been ‘pinged’?

"Is the elbow bump here to stay?"

Office etiquette is certainly an area rife with potential hazards; and so we’ve put together a gentlemanly guide on how, exactly, you should be conducting yourself when you stride back into that buzzing, coffee-fuelled environment known more colloquially as ‘the office’.

It’s time for a new routine

In those bucolic pre-Covid days, your morning routine likely included a dash to the office kitchen to get your coffee brewing; or if your life isn’t ruled by a daily caffeine fix, you might have stopped for a chat at various colleagues’ desks, to catch up and check in. Perhaps you even occasionally went for breakfast with your favourite colleagues, bemoaning your workloads over espressos and avocado on toast before a day of sourcing clients and closing deals.

Well, we hate to break it: but those days are over. Trust us when we say that you really, really don’t want to be the guy who brings Covid into the office — so your first port of call now is to wash your hands thoroughly in the nearest office bathroom (especially if your commute involves public transport), followed by a brisk hand sanitisation. We’d recommend keeping your face mask on in the lift — it’s just polite, and we already know that the gentlemanly thing to do is wear a mask — or, even better, take the stairs.

Be courteous in the kitchen

One thing remains from the pre-Covid era, though: the workplace coffee. It still has its (vital) place; but the etiquette surrounding that morning brew is somewhat more detailed than it was in 2019. We’d advise having a mug that’s all your own — drinking out of other people’s mugs isn’t polite at the best of times, and it’s downright dangerous these days — and we’d also recommend hanging back if the kitchen’s looking pretty crowded.

We’d caution against spending hours over that luxury drip filter coffee machine, no matter how sublime the aroma — or how intense the taste — of the end result. You’re not the only one who needs their morning caffeine fix; so if you simply can’t bear anything but the finest beans, buy your coffee on the way in. (And we presumably don’t need to tell you to never, ever leave dirty crockery around the kitchen. Gentlemen don’t make a mess.)

Shake up your handshake


Thanks to the momentous roll-out of the vaccine, handshakes are gradually re-entering our societal vernacular. They’re not as ‘taboo’ as they were this time last year (when the very idea of gripping someone by their —often sweaty — palm filled most of us with a pernicious dread); but it’s important to remember that not everyone will be comfortable reverting straight back to old ways.

For this reason, it’s best to have a variety of greetings available to you whenever you’re interacting with colleagues, bosses or clients (we’ve got a few examples for you, if you’re running short). If they extend their hand without any hesitation, you can take that as the handshake green light; but only if you’re comfortable. Don’t feel any shame in saying you’d rather elbow or fist bump instead; do you want something as minor as a handshake to be the reason you’re holed up at home doing copious lateral flows? We didn’t think so — and be sure to extend the same courtesy to others, too.

Become the office social secretary

Let’s be honest: the office social scene is going to take a while to get back on its feet. Many have become comfortable working from home, and on any given day — Fridays, in particular — the office is likely to be at half capacity, with employees taking full advantage of the new flexible remote working system that many companies are offering.

But don’t despair: this is your chance to become everyone’s favourite colleague. Take on the role of office social secretary and, not only will you be credited with providing everyone with a much-needed chance to catch up and swap stories from the past year: they’ll also be thankful they didn’t have to do the admin themselves. The benefits just keep going on, really. You get to pick the venue (so you’ll never end up in that dodgy boozer that Tom from Sales is always dragging everyone to); and everyone will probably be so grateful that you’ll get your drinks bought for you all night.

Our advice: don’t take no for an answer. Give all those colleagues cosied up in their outer-suburb kitchen workspaces an invitation they can’t say no to; insist that everyone attend this office event, whether they’re working from home or not. You’ll finally feel like a holistic office again — and your colleagues won’t forget your good deed in a hurry.

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