Office Netiquette

If, like millions of graduates, you're leaving a university this year to enter the workforce, you'll likely be among those sticking a toe inside an office at some point. (Unless you're one of those neo, telecommuting avatars of anonymity who beams streams back to the team a brick-and-mortar building God-knows-where in exchange for wages, salary, benefits or the combo deal -- or my favorite, for nothing as an intern. But if you are, you get another column.)

What follows is a list of four introductory tips geared at today's emerging herd of office-goers. Or as I call it, "Congratulations! You've entered the professional world! Much different from the dorms. Much."

You don't have to do any of the things below. There, I said it. I don't want to believe that, though. So in lieu of expanding on your God-given right to free will, I give you instead this survival list of guidelines to office conduct in the hopes you might be inclined to acquiesce to this request to adhere to them.

Office-Conduct Guidelines for the Noob:

1. Just don't look!

This means don't peer into someone else's phone or computer. Resist the shiny screen! You might not like what you find, and the gadget-holder might not like what you find. But if the opposite's true, how much worse: You could snoop yourself into hearing an overly personal story, like how someone's hemorrhoids are acting feisty this week. Still worse is that moment when the other person sees you peeking and the phrases "invasion of privacy" and "distrust" enter his mind, while "curiosity" and "can't-resist-the-shininess; OMG-stop-looking!" enter yours. Just don't look. Cover your eyes if you have to.

2. Cue elevator music: "Hi. I'm Sarah."

For the love of the First Amendment, breach the silence in the elevator. Perhaps the greatest thing about living today, at least in the United States, is that we have the opportunity to fill the silence without fear of persecution. Ideally you won't say something in the elevator that conjures up considerations of persecution. (No "Nice ass.") But say something. If you don't know the person, even better because your line is built-in: "Hi, I'm NameHere. I do TaskHere on FloorHere. You?" You might even get a business card or, more valuable than that in some office jungles, a smile.

3. "Did you hear what Tiffany did?" No, you did not.

You did not hear anything about what Tiffany did. Nor do you have information about Tiffany doing something. If gossip ingrains itself so concretely in human nature that it got a nod in the Ten Commandments -- WHICH ARE REALLY OLD -- it's an age-old problem. This is great news for you, because the normalcy of gossip means you're human if you like to inquire about people or spread the word about happenings. But your office reputation, not to mention soul, thrives when you crush the desire to spread the word. Again, that phrase that underscores all these guidelines: Just do it. (But also again, you don't have to. There. I said it again. Still didn't feel right.)

4. You're very interesting to your friends. Did they get hired at all the cubicles next to you? No? Huh. Then maybe the people in their spots don't want to know all that.
Balancing how much personal information to give can be as hard as walking drunk on a tightrope. You want to connect, but when do you go too far? Consider this poor analogy: You'd probably take off your cardigan (or suit-jacket) on a record-breaking hot day even if what you wore beneath showed a bit too much skin. But would you take off the whole blouse (or shirt) too? Throw in the bra for good measure. Consider every fact you reveal about yourself another piece of clothes you take off. Sometimes you're in the clear taking it off. Just a scarf. Other times, consider this: How naked do you want to feel in front of coworkers?

This list doesn't claim to be comprehensive at all. I'm young too, so hit me: What office etiquette are we new kids missing?