Future of Work: Brush up on workplace etiquette upon return to the office, experts say

Future of Work:. Global News

Ontarians returning to a physical workspace amid a world now living with COVID-19 should look at brushing up on etiquette in addition to dropping the home office “mullet look.”

Shannon Laity, a closet cleanser and wardrobe stylist with Sidenote, says those ditching their home office soon might want do the same with their “very business-like top and comfy-cozy bottom” ahead of facing their co-workers after a couple of years of going casual.

“Rule of thumb is no matter what you’re doing for the day … staying home not seeing anybody or if you’re going to work, get dressed fully,” said Laity.

Read more: Future of Work — Many jobs could stick with ‘hybrid’ model in the future, experts say

“It plays a big, huge part on your psyche and makes you feel good.”

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As pandemic restrictions continue to lift and severe COVID-19 case numbers ease, companies will likely want workers back in the office for a few days if not five days a week.

Workplace etiquette has likely shifted somewhat due to the pandemic and is something a couple of experts say you should brush up on now with co-workers before the return.

Handshakes? Hugs? Are they still a thing?

“Well, I think it depends on the workplace and it depends on individual protocols and standards,” international civility expert Lewena Bayer says.

“Some workplaces are seeing handshakes and people sitting close together and everything that we would perceive as normal. So there’s no real firm answer on that.”

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Two years of Zoom calls and Microsoft Teams chats from makeshift home offices are not likely to go away, according to some experts, after employees discovered a windfall of savings and more ‘me time’ with commutes out of the picture.

Economist, author and director of the Center for Future Work Jim Stanford says the third of Canadians who shifted to a home office during the pandemic appear to have embraced that lifestyle and probably won’t be returning full-time.

But even with a partial return, social skills, interacting with people and working in groups will require a transition plan on the part of all staff and employers.

“I think they’ve got to tread carefully because if people feel resentful or scared about returning to work, how that’s going to affect morale, teamwork and productivity,” Stanford said

Read more: Future of Work — Demands from job seekers, employers exasperating tight labour market

“So I think we’ve got to do this carefully and gradually.”

The probability of battling through a noisy workspace with interruptions will test the comfort levels of many. Bayer says it’s a circumstance that should be relayed to a manager if it feels overwhelming.

Alternatively, she says it’s equally important to mind one’s manners and lose any “self-centred” behaviours picked up while in isolation from a group workplace.

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“We have to be mindful that if we’re back at work, that we’re accountable to a work team and to an employer and that there are some responsibilities we have to kick back into,” said Bayer.

Cursing is included in that self-check since the practice appears to have had an uptick in conference calls made during the pandemic, according to research platform Sentieo.

“We really do have to remind ourselves that there are social rules that apply for a reason,” Bayer said.

Meanwhile, employers are advised to not pressure returning staff with any task they’re not comfortable with and to provide safe and inclusive workplaces with mental health supports.

“We’re finding from our fieldwork that a lot of people are really struggling to balance work and life, although we talk about how it should be easier with people working from home a little bit more,” Bayer said.

“The idea that we’re back in a shared space, that social rules do still apply, there are some expectations … that we should be paying attention to people and focused on them instead of just on our Zoom screen.”

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