Unspoken etiquette for software professionals
Each employer issues an Employee Handbook which talks about the Code of Conduct. This might help to gain an abstract vision of the professional standards and behavior expected from you. Most of us focus on where we want to be after X years, technologies, compensation goals.
So, developing soft skills takes a backseat.
I compiled the list of etiquettes based on the experiences and learnings from situations that I have encountered at various workplaces during my tenure. Unequivocally, this is not the ultimate list. Everyone will go through different experiences. You need to build your own set of etiquettes that makes you a better professional at work.
Specify brief agenda in the meeting invite. It sets the tone for the entire meeting.
- Prepare and participate
If you are an attendee, spend at least 15–20 minutes preparing for the meeting. If you are the host, make sure you have all the points written somewhere or on slides. I have seen few meetings with awkward silence and one-sided meetings.
- Be respectful
Value the time of the meeting host. Avoid peeking into your laptop, mobile phone.
- Avoid interrupting
Practice listening and wait for the host to finish.
- Avoid talking over each other or crosstalk
You might be in a situation where two or more people are talking at the same time. Be civil and let the other person speak first. There no brownie points for those who speak first. Be assertive.
- Minutes of meeting
If you are the host of the meeting, send MoM and clearly define the action items.
- Cancel/Decline ahead of time
You may be the crucial person needed for the meeting. Avoid declining it until the last minute.
- Respond, Respond
When you receive an invite, please respond with accept/decline or maybe.
Know your audience and accordingly articulate the presentation or discussion.
- Conference/Online meetings
Mute yourself if you are not talking or presenting to avoid disturbing others. Keep your video on during online meetings.
- Be on Time
Tardiness is rude. Be punctual. If you are running late for a meeting, send a note to the attendees.
Keep your emails brief and relevant to the subject.
- Grammar check
There are various browser plugins out there for checking grammar, spelling. I use Grammarly.
Don’t keep your colleague waiting on items that need your attention or inputs. If it is time-sensitive, respond immediately. Try to reply within a day or two of receiving the email.
- Intended recipients
We have email overload today. Too much email is a reality. Send emails only to required recipients. Avoid spamming.
- Read before sending
Quite a few emails mention, “Please find the attached document”. But there is no document attached [Now Gmail has the validation for this]. It is a good practice to read it thoroughly before sending it across.
If you are out of the office, set up an auto-reply in your email client.
- Handle email overload
If you are using Gmail, try creating filters, rules, labels, folders for various categories. It is productive to create buckets like “Training”, “Client Communication”, “HR Communication” etc.
Practice your introduction. An experienced individual can skip all the education details and focus on career learnings.
A fresher can mention all the relevant details about the technology, projects, education. I would not include family details in my technical interview.
- Use the STAR method
Provide thoughtful answers in an interview.
- Prepare for the interviews
If you are a candidate, reschedule the interview if you think you are not ready. If you are taking an interview, be prepared with the interview format and questions.
- Avoid negativity
Avoid complaining about your previous employer or work. It might reflect poorly on you.
- In-person interviews
Arrive at the venue before time. You never know if the traffic hits you, not able to find the building, security check-ins at the office.
- Online interviews
I cannot stress enough this,
Switch on your video. No one prefers to stare at the screen and talk into the void. Both candidate and interviewer should switch on the video. It captures non-verbal cues.
- Keep your phone off
There is a lot of time and effort that goes into the interview process. Be respectful and switch off your phone. Phone calls disturb the flow of an interview.
- Rephrase not Repeat
This applies to both interviewer and candidate. Rephrasing it and explaining it differently rather than just repeating, is much more effective.
- Ask for feedback
At the end of an interview, the candidate can ask for interview feedback. It might not be practice in all organizations to provide feedback, but it can help a candidate.
- Avoid grilling/hostile interviews
When interviewing a candidate, don’t be judgemental. Keep the process professional.
- Ask question
This applies to candidates applying for a position. Asking questions might imply your interest in the position and the organization.
Team Lunch/Dinner Etiquette
- Inform your host ahead of time
If you won’t be able to make it for the meal. Let the host or team know. Don’t just assume.
Never double-dip. Avoid sharing a spoon, fork or glass Wash your hand before and after the meal.
- Know the culture
If you are dining with people from different cultures
Avoid burping, picking, or blowing your nose. It is simply disgusting.
Don’t talk with your mouth full.
Avoid overeating, may it be Al-carte or all-you-can-eat restaurants. It can cause discomfort.
- Interact with Team
If you are an introvert, make an effort to engage your team. You can do so by thinking about few topics beforehand. Eg. sports, music, weekend, food.
- Kind of dining
Do your homework. The host was gracious and taught me the basics when I was struggling to use chopsticks at a business lunch. 😄
If you have never been to a fine dining restaurant before in your life, spend some time at the restaurant website and probably check out some etiquette tips to avoid fumbling.
Eg. in an Indian setting, eating with the left hand might seem offensive/rude to other people.
- Eat something little before your meal
Don’t show up hungry at a restaurant. There might be a travel time involved for you to reach the restaurant, it might take some time for you to be seated or getting your order served.
- Don’t order the most expensive item
It might be seen as rude to order an expensive item on the menu
- Thank your host
Show your gratitude towards the host for the invite and meal.
General Workplace etiquette
- Mind your own business
Stay away from nasty politics at the workplace. Save your time and embarrassment. Avoid participating in spreading rumors or eavesdropping on your colleague. It is unprofessional.
- Be mindful of your pitch and tone
It is unprofessional to lash out or vent at people. Stay calm. Walk away from your workstation for few minutes might help. Discussions might get heated up during some situations but be cordial to all.
Thank your colleague for any help that they have offered.
- Avoid butchering the names
Be sincere and ask if you are not sure how to pronounce them. Avoid using nicknames.
Do not share confidential documents on the internet. If you are not aware of it, please talk to your manager or seniors.
- Too much complaining
Avoid whining about it. Express your concern professionally. Bonus points if you suggest the solution to the problem.
- Too personal
It can get awkward if you over-share your personal life. Use it for small talks. But try not to overshare.
Clean your fingernails, wash and comb your hair. Wear clean and ironed outfits. Maintain dental hygiene.
Make sure you smell good. You might not realize it, but others will. Invest in deodorant and perfume (not too strong for the workplace).
You need to have your tailored version of the etiquettes list that helps you to create an impression and make your presence felt in your workplace.