Business etiquette is being rewritten. In an age when offices have given way to smaller desks at home, when electronic devices keep us in constant communication, and when the boundaries between our professional and personal lives are dissolving, we need the rules of etiquette more than ever.
Blame the pandemic or the constant vigil of washing our hands several times a day everybody seems to be getting on everybody else’s nerves. We’re all fumbling with a wider cultural confusion that has left the workplace riddled with etiquette faux pas. Indeed, social mores are changing so quickly, and home and office becoming so intertwined that even the most mannerly are probably confused.
A new set of rules
Etiquette is no longer limited to the confines of considering should a female manager stand to shake hands with a younger male associate? When attempting to maintain a professional identity in a virtual business space, etiquette defines one’s behaviour in dealing with the petty annoyances of the modern workplace with grace. Every situation seems to be new like what do you do when a colleague forgets to turn off his video during a zoom call as he gets up to stretch his legs or causes a sartorially immoral act of wearing his bermudas under his shirt tie and jacket? When people bellow into their cell phones? When your boss fails to respond to your e-mail? When a prospective employer doesn’t acknowledge receiving your résumé? The rules of work are changing.
It’s still about common sense
Does that mean that the basics of good manners are changing too? Emphatically not! In fact, business etiquette is still inspired by the common sense of being considerate, respectful, and honest with others whether it is to maintain a social distance or drastically reduce our haptics while interacting with masked people. Meeting etiquette has changed as we do business over virtual settings. Bosses and the HR heads are trying their best to learn how to announce a layoff in the most humane tone. Though when it comes to the best behaviour of reacting to being laid-off, the etiquette experts might differ. Even though we can all agree that flexibility is a part of the foundation of surviving in today’s uncertain world, there’s no real instruction manual for how to do so. Since we each have a different set of life circumstances, preferences, and needs, let us allow etiquette to lay out the rules of sensible living for each of us.
It can save us from the quotidian nuisances of a virtual life. Most important, it allows us to redraw the boundaries that define civility (even through a screen!) and ensure our own sanity. So, an erstwhile social sin of checking the e-mail while riding in an elevator, might be allowable in the current times of technically charged presence, as long as we remember to maintain personal dignity and to show respect for others by logging in for a Zoom meeting at least 15 minutes before schedule and please be on mute as much as one can to maintain a pleasant demeanour without invading others’ privacy; to be both attentive and discreet; and to combine honesty and tact.
—Chaudhary is a Chandigarh-based image and style consultant