Corporate offices have come a long way from the days of strict dress codes, awkward parties with bad cake and cubicles as far as the eye can see. We’ve shed these relics along with our fax machines and CD-ROMs, trading cookie-cutter professionalism for corporate cultures that foster individuality, freedom and creativity.
From open workspaces and relaxed dress codes to flexible schedules and impromptu meetings, today’s offices allow employees to work as they please. Some of the world’s biggest companies Apple, Google and Facebook among them prove that it doesn’t matter if million-dollar ideas happen at your desk, in a hammock or over a ping pong game with your HR director.
But even in these relaxed environments, etiquette is still important. You might be able to wear flip-flops, but that doesn’t mean you should put your smelly feet on your co-worker’s desk. Most offices still have implicit social and professional codes, and unfortunately, these unwritten rules leave many applicants and new hires confused about how to act.
As the CEO of a progressive company, I know the ins and outs of today’s relaxed office environment. And while I can’t help your company’s Vavi team win its next game, I can give you a few tips to embrace workplace freedom without making a misstep. Here are five ways to stand out at a job interview and fit in once you’re hired at a company with a lax corporate culture.
- Respecting the office rules
Know thy company. If you’re hunting for a job, get to know the company well before your interview. Learn its origin story, research its business model and understand its culture. Being prepared with relevant questions will show your interviewer that you know what you’re talking about. Don’t let up once you have the job. Stay tuned into company news and industry trends, and prepare fresh ideas for every meeting even if no one asks you to.
Learn about different departments so you can collaborate with other employees, and always be on the lookout for new opportunities. Your co-workers will appreciate you for being a team player, and your boss will respect you for staying informed.
- Be authentic. Today’s workplaces demand individuality. After I interview someone for a job at my company, I ask myself if I’d want to have a beer with the person. If the person seemed rigid or fake, the answer will probably be “no.”
Answer your interviewer’s questions candidly but respectfully, and don’t be afraid to show a sense of humor. Similarly, be real with your co-workers and boss after you’re hired. When I ask employees for their opinions, I want to hear what they think not what they think I want to hear.
A word of caution: An authentic jerk is still a jerk. Don’t let authenticity be an excuse to forget your manners. My company has adopted a zero-tolerance policy for jerks because we’ve learned that our team and our business thrive when everyone has a positive attitude.
- Strike a balance. A relaxed dress code isn’t an invitation to show up for an interview wearing your college throwback gear. Polish your resume and social media profiles especially yourLinkedIn page, which often serves as an employer’s first impression and dress to impress, even if the CEO is in a T-shirt.
A lot of etiquette rules in today’s offices are implicit. Once you’re hired, take cues from coworkers about how to act and dress. And remember that some courtesies are universal: Make eye contact when you shake hands, check your emails for typos, remember to attach files to your emails when promised, say “please” and “thank you,” don’t interrupt, ask thoughtful questions to build friendships and add personal touches such as handwritten notes.
- Embrace change. Adaptability is essential in a progressive work environment. From impromptu meetings to pickup basketball brainstorming sessions, you should be able to go with the flow. Always carry a notebook because you never know when inspiration will strike, and don’t limit yourself by clinging to your job title or responsibilities.
Instead, prove you’re adaptable by letting your supervisor know that you’d like to develop cross-functional skills and contribute whenever and wherever needed. Let curiosity and intuition guide you to new opportunities within the company, and trust that company leadership will help you reach your goals.
- Work hard. A relaxed culture isn’t a lazy culture. To the contrary, your boss hasn’t given you freedom from work just the freedom to work however you’re most productive.In fact, with more autonomy and less oversight, you’ll be expected to be even more responsible. And if you’re being irresponsible, your boss will figure it out pretty quickly.
Great work is always mandatory, deadlines always exist, and your team always depends you. So make sure you do great work and have fun while doing it. When that happens, everyone wins.
I’m thrilled to see mazes of gray cubicles replaced with relaxed, open offices. Freedom and individuality drive creativity, and creativity increases productivity and boosts the bottom line. A relaxed workplace will allow you to thrive and help your company do the same; new social norms might be hard to navigate at first, but once you understand company etiquette and expectations, you’ll flourish and become a valuable member of the team.
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