We all know that how you conduct yourself in an office should be different than when you are at home or among friends and family, but the coronavirus pandemic has made things a bit more complicated. Gone are the days when chatting closely around the water cooler or high-fiving someone in the hallway is considered the norm — anyone working in an office now has to be mindful of social distancing and limiting contact to keep themselves and their co-workers safe.
If you’ll be returning to the office soon and are not sure what behaviors are OK and what habits are better left in pre-pandemic times, keep these new COVID-safe office etiquette rules in mind.
Last updated: Feb. 24, 2021
Avoid Shaking Hands
Rachel R. Wagner, a licensed corporate etiquette consultant, said that handshakes are now off-limits.
“In the interim, you can acknowledge the other person with a smile along with a slight up-and-down head nod and good eye contact,” she said. “If the handshake happens accidentally (and it will!), just keep hands away from the face until you can wash them. Thinking about using the elbow bump? Probably not a good idea; you never know if the person recently sneezed or coughed into their elbow.”
Wear a Face Mask
Wearing a face mask when you’ll be around other colleagues is one of the most courteous things you can do to protect yourself and others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing face coverings as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus via respiratory droplets.
Respect Elevator Guidelines
Even if you’re late to work, don’t squeeze yourself into an elevator if there are already a few people inside. You may make other riders uncomfortable if it gets too crowded to stay distanced.
“If building management posts signs with suggested social distancing capacity, such as two to three persons, respect their guidelines,” said Wagner. “When waiting to enter, stand to the side and allow a six-foot clearance for those exiting before you enter.”
Keep Your Distance From Others in the Breakroom — and Clean Up After Yourself
Be mindful of maintaining social distance when in office common areas.
“In the office breakroom, stay socially distanced from others when getting coffee or using the microwave,” Wagner said. “Use sanitizer wipes to disinfect controls on the coffee brewer, microwave, refrigerator and faucet handles after each use.”
Don't Sit Directly Across From Others at Lunch
“Employees will have to change their lunch break habits because eating requires taking masks off,” said Joe Wilson, senior career advisor at MintResume. “They can’t be at the table across from each other because it makes them more susceptible to catching the virus. It is of great importance to control the crowd in common areas, such as cafeterias.”
Bring Your Own Dishes and Mugs
Don’t rely on company-provided kitchen supplies when you return to the office.
“Companies will encourage employees to bring their own dishes and coffee mugs from home instead of using communal items to further ensure everyone stays healthy,” said Dana Case, director of operations at MyCorporation.com.
Don't 'Pop By' a Co-Worker's Office or Desk
Randomly stopping at a co-worker’s desk or office to chat used to be completely acceptable behavior, but now you should make an effort to limit face-to-face interactions.
“You don’t always need to meet with a person face-to-face,” said Kristen Leong, human resource generalist at M&O Marketing in Southfield, Michigan. “Instead, you can call their desk phone or use an internal instant messaging system.”
Don't Ask To Borrow a Pen
Borrowing a co-worker’s pen, stapler or phone was previously no big deal, but now that kind of ask can potentially make your colleague uncomfortable — and potentially spread disease. According to the CDC, employees should “avoid using other employees’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible.”
Don’t Come In If You’re Sick
Previously, you might have felt uncomfortable asking for a sick day, but now it’s imperative to take time off if you have any symptoms of the coronavirus.
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