For most of us, we spend the majority of our waking moments at work, and whether you’re new to the office, the boss or a long-term employee, one of the key factors that contribute to your job satisfaction is how well you get along with your work mates.

The thing about work mates, otherwise known as colleagues, is that we spend a lot of time with them, and whilst this may be good for some, tragic for others, the fact is you don’t have a choice whether you like them or not – it’s all part of the job. But what is important is to have office etiquette, something that is not commonly pronounced unlike the terms in your contract, but regardless is just as important (for your sake) and should be exercised in the any workplace out of respect to others.

Office etiquette includes ground rules regarding personal space, meal times, meeting behavior and one of the biggest opportunities to offend, in the form of telephone manners. To help you build a healthier workplace for the general well-being of both you, your colleague and your boss, here are our rules on office etiquette.

With the introduction of mobile phones and cameras at the dining table, as the times have changed so have some ground rules, we give you our modern dining etiquette.

Personal Space

Working requires most of us at the office to operate under one roof for an extended amount of time per day, and in this shared communal space, there is one that is holy: your desk. While we can’t speak for all, most of us do have a desk at least, and this is our personal space – if everyone respects this rule via the right office etiquette, the office will be a happier place.

-Don’t take anything away from someone else’s table without their permission, no matter how trivial. To you it may just be a stapler; to your colleague, possibly a last relic from a long-gone paramour

-Same goes for their phone, don’t pick up your colleague’s phone unless you’ve been instructed to

-Fragrance of any sort is discouraged, everyone has different scent preferences

-Music, if allowed in the office space, should be listened to with earphones. Even after hours, unless you’re the only one in the office, music should not be heard by all


-Don’t assume the seat of your colleague or use their computer without their permission, it is not only rude but also an invasion of privacy

-Any food with pungent scents - instant noodles, char siu lunch boxes, fast food such as McDonalds - should be eaten in the pantry and not at the desk

-Don’t have a conversation with someone else at the office within arm’s reach of another colleague’s desk, or worse so, with your back turned to them. Other people’s desks are their workstations, not a water cooler designed to be gathered around for office gossip

Addressing thank you cards to the contents of gifts, we spell out the rules of gift-giving here.

-If the air-conditioning is shared, ask those who share it should you be inclined to change the temperature. Also, for the sake of the environment, air-conditioning should not be lower than 23 degrees Celsius

-Never interrupt someone when they’re on a phone call, or vice versa, if someone interrupts you, make it known that you are on the phone to signal your unavailability

- A few pictures of yourself, friends and family is fine. But keep in mind your desk should not host an entire collage of party pictures, that’s what Facebook is for

Meal Time

office etiquette meal

-Don’t leave dirty cutlery, plates or mugs in the sink, it’s not your personal kitchen

-Don’t move someone else’s food out of the refrigerator or to a different compartment in the refrigerator for your own convenience

-Don’t use another person’s cutlery

Here is a reminder of the basic table manners everyone should know.

Meeting Behaviour

-When attending a meeting, be punctual especially when you’re hosting it. Arriving late to something you’ve organised sends the message that your time is more precious than theirs

- Be prepared. Never turn up to a meeting without a pen and a notepad. If you do, do not interrupt other people by asking to borrow theirs

-While you may think that using your phone whether on email, text, BBM or Whatsapp for work reasons is a way of being efficient, this may be interpreted as rudeness to some. Take your cue from your boss or the host of the meeting

-Finger-tapping, pen-twirling or any form of fidgeting translates to restlessness and can be highly irritating


-Don’t interrupt someone when they are speaking, and if this is done by accident, pardon yourself and always allow the person who was originally speaking to continue

-Needless to say, don’t fall asleep or doze off, if you’re so tired so that your eyes can’t stay open, you should be in bed and not at work

- If a meeting is called over lunchtime, ask the host in advance if it is all right to bring in your lunch. Do not be the only person unwrapping a loud piece of foil from your sandwich.

- If you are the one who called the meeting, consider when to hold it. First thing Monday morning is not ideal as most people have to catch up on emails received over the weekend. On the other hand, don’t expect your colleague’s full attention if you organise a meeting at 6pm on a Friday evening

As instant phone messengers such as BBM has taken over the world, we spell out the proper phone etiquette to follow in a social setting.

Tags: Etiquette