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The new work etiquette: If you can’t spot the jerk, it might be you

2 weeks ago 28

There is a nonzero chance something you do is driving your co-workers nuts.

Maybe it’s a meeting invite with no context, or the way you hold back on important office chitchat. Perhaps it’s how you pound on your keyboard like you’re tenderizing a flank steak.

Knowing and following modern workplace technology etiquette can help you build stronger professional relationships — or at least lead to fewer enemies.

Whether you’re in a cubicle or on your sofa, consider doing a few things differently during meetings, in messages and with all of your other tech tools.


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“People get into the habit of working from home and then they go into the office … and there’s different rules and preferences,” said Kendra Losee, who co-authored “Digital Etiquette for Dummies.”

Here are six things you and your colleagues (feel free to send this to them) should keep in mind at work.

Help Desk reporter Danielle Abril shares 3 tech habits that you can embrace or avoid if you don't want to be a jerk at work. (Video: Monica Rodman/The Washington Post)

Gossip more, but the right way

Gossip gets a bad rap, but it’s a useful tool for navigating the modern workplace. It can spread helpful information, help teams build rapport, and sometimes steer people clear of awkward or dangerous situations. But you need to do it ethically and in the right apps.

Use gossip and private conversations to share your salaries with co-workers and find out if you are being underpaid. Use it to vent about issues you’re having — you may find other people are dealing with the same problems and decide to take action. If your company is in turmoil, gossip is a way to keep up on the latest drama and figure out if you should be worried about your position.

Avoid talking about people’s private lives behind their backs, don’t engage in personal attacks, and know when to keep a secret.

Do not use a work communication app like Teams or Slack — anything you type in there can end up in the hands of HR or even a legal team if there’s a lawsuit. Use apps like Signal, WhatsApp or the encrypted end-to-end messaging tool of your choice. Remember, no private chitchat is ever entirely safe — gossipers, after all, love to pass on gossip.

Don’t be a meeting tyrant

Scheduling meetings improperly is surprisingly fraught and a good way to alienate people.

Never send a meeting invitation without context or schedule a meeting when someone is not available. Sending invitations without details could give some people unnecessary anxiety, especially if you’re their manager.

“Say, ‘Here’s what I’m covering and why it’s important,’” said Mollie West Duffy, co-author of “No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotion at Work.” “It’s totally reasonable for the person to decline” if you don’t provide context.

Create an agenda beforehand and include it in the invitation or send a separate message, said Losee. If you can’t come up with an agenda or purpose, you may not need that meeting at all. Regularly scheduling meetings with no clear point could give your colleagues the impression that none of your meetings are important.

Before you invite people, think about the value of each attendee’s time, said Liz Fosslien, Duffy’s co-author. “Would you be willing to throw two laptops out the window to have them there?”

Respect blocks of time people have set aside to focus on work or avoid meetings, Fosslien said. Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar allow you to see whether someone has a scheduling conflict.

“You want people to be excited to come to your meeting,” she said. “Not annoyed before they step in the door or turn on Zoom.”

Shhh, your keyboard (and voice) are too loud

Your voice is louder and carries farther than you think. Take your meetings or make phone calls in private areas, when they’re available. If you are taking a meeting in a public place, remember to mute. There’s no point in irritating both your in-person and remote colleagues.

The same rules apply to playing your favorite tunes or watching TikToks in the office. Go somewhere private or wear headphones.

Hungry during a Zoom? Try not to eat during meetings, but if you have to, turn off your camera and mic, Losee said. If you’re in a conference room with table mics, take your crinkly sandwich wrapper as far away as possible.

“There’s still an element of professionalism and respect that needs to be there, even in casual environments,” Losee said.

Your voice, videos and chewing aren’t the only annoying sounds you might make. The clickity clackity sound of your keyboard can also ring through the office if you pound your keys. Opt for a quiet keyboard when possible and type with a light touch. (My Help Desk colleague Chris Velazco recommends this quiet Logitech keyboard.)

Share information in the right places

Ask people how they like to receive information. Some people still, shockingly, prefer email. Some like Slack or Teams, while others want that face to face, whether it’s in person or via video chat. Wherever you’re responding to or communicating with your colleagues, make sure it’s one they check, Duffy said.

In the case of Slack and Teams, if you don’t reply to someone’s message in a thread and instead respond in the larger channel, it could get lost in other discussions. Tag or directly message colleagues to ensure they see your messages, Losee said. Avoid excessive chatter or jokes in these channels, too, as they lead to real work being lost in the noise.

The quicker and clearer you can communicate and operate with your team, the less likely you’re going to have to waste time on cleaning up confusion.

“Just remember, this could end up being a meeting,” Losee said. “No one wants that.”

Stop multitasking: You’re terrible at it

Unless you’re taking notes during a meeting, don’t get distracted by your laptop or smartphone, experts say.

In person, you can bring your laptop to jot down highlights, to pull up relevant information for the meeting or to project a presentation to a larger screen. Otherwise, it’s best to keep devices shut to reduce the temptation to respond to a message or get distracted, Losee said.

In virtual meetings, try to reduce the background distractions on your computer, Fosslien said. That might mean minimizing other windows and muting your Teams or Slack. People can tell when you’re not engaged and doing other tasks instead of paying attention. And for people who wear glasses, beware your eyewear may reflect what you’re actually looking at, Fosslien added.

Figure out people’s pet peeves

To avoid unintentionally irritating your colleagues, work with your team to determine their preferences. Do people enjoy a little background music in the break room or kitchen? Do they want to use text messages, Slack or email? Are they fans of casual conversations or does it distract them from their work?

“We often jump into, ‘Let’s just start a project,’” Duffy said. “But what comes up later is differences in how we want to communicate or work together.”

Have the conversation about norms early and often. That could mean juggling pet peeves when it comes to digital communication and tools.

At the end of the day, just be considerate of the person you’re working with. They don’t need to be your best friend, and you should at least find each other tolerable from 9 to 5.

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