Business Etiquette Guide: How To Be Polite in the Workplace

A light blue conference table with white chairs in a blue and white room.

Business culture varies between companies and countries, but business etiquette is important no matter where you are. Informed by common courtesy and basic professionalism, business etiquette encompasses how you read a room and run a meeting. It can be subtle yet critical to building a successful team. 

Learn the basic rules for proper etiquette across all business settings, from in-person workspaces and virtual meeting courtesies to the unspoken rules of email and phone calls.

What is business etiquette?

Business etiquette is a term for the manners and behavior expected from professionals, serving as a general guide for various professional settings. It covers basic expectations like punctuality and extends to more intricate instances like showing empathy toward colleagues. Practicing good etiquette facilitates navigation of the business world.

Why does business etiquette matter?

Business etiquette is more than a set of expectations; it creates a blueprint for clear and effective communication, project management, and problem-solving. Sharing these norms across teams can lead to a more harmonious work environment. Better communication means fewer misunderstandings and more productivity. 

Business etiquette can also help boost morale. Mutual respect makes colleagues feel valued, and adhering to the same expectations can garner a sense of unity, and a positive company culture. 

In-person business etiquette

Want to leave a positive impression on your coworkers? Here’s what to keep in mind when practicing business etiquette in person:

Body language

Tune into your body language: it reflects your investment in any given conversation or meeting and can greatly impact trust. A firm handshake, good posture, and steady eye contact convey confidence and respect. 


Showing up on time isn’t just critical for productivity, it’s a basic courtesy. Whether it’s an external meeting working with clients or a weekly stand-up with your team, being punctual means you respect everyone’s time and schedules—including your own.

Shared spaces

Much of business etiquette boils down to harmonious coexistence. Practice good hygiene, and contribute to cleanliness in shared areas. If your office has an open floor plan, reserve loud conversations or music for relaxed communal spaces like the break room. 

Digital business etiquette

  1. Email
  2. Phone
  3. Virtual meetings

Here’s a guide to the unspoken codes of conduct that rule digital spaces: 


Proper email etiquette includes:

Keep things brief

Keeping your professional emails succinct and to the point is not only a courtesy to your recipient, it’s more likely to garner a response. Stating a clear request and providing a call to action makes everyone’s lives easier. 

Respond within a few days

Ideally, if a teammate emails you, they have a good reason. It’s a good practice to get back to them in a timely fashion; try not to let more than a day or two lapse, depending on the contents.

Use a professional tone

Avoid using smiley faces, emojis, all caps, or too many exclamation points in a professional email.


Here’s how to stay considerate when incorporating phone calls into your business etiquette skills:

Schedule phone calls ahead of time

Calling unannounced might seem like the quickest solution in the moment, but it’s more polite to give your recipient time to prepare for the conversation. Schedule phone conversations ahead of time with an email offering a few different time slots and a summary of what you’re hoping to discuss. 

Respond to voicemails promptly

Like emails, voicemails generally feature an ask or need. Take the time you need to respond thoughtfully, but try to keep the turnaround short. 

Use a pleasant but professional tone

Conversations can be tricky to navigate without physical cues like facial expressions. Moderating your tone—by sitting instead of moving around so as not to sound out of breath—can help prevent miscommunication.

Virtual meetings

Here are a few basics for remote workers to keep in mind when navigating virtual meetings:

Be mindful of body language

Body language is often associated with in-person work interactions, but it’s increasingly a factor in remote work. Assure the host you’re paying attention by sitting up straight, looking at your screen, and engaging with the presentation.

Know the dress code

The dress code for remote workers may only apply from the waist up, but it’s essential to dress appropriately according to the corporate culture or the purpose of the meeting. For example, casual clothes might be appropriate for a small internal meeting, but business casual may be a better fit for external business meetings with clients.

Master the mute button

Background noise can be distracting. If you’re not speaking, mute yourself and refrain from interrupting. Most virtual meeting platforms have a “raise hand” function that lets the host know you have something to add.

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Business etiquette FAQ

What are the most important rules of business etiquette?

Basic business etiquette means showing up on time, refraining from oversharing personal details with colleagues, acknowledging your teammates when they enter a room, and respecting shared spaces by cleaning up after yourself.

Does business etiquette apply when I’m around colleagues outside of the office?

Yes, adhering to general business etiquette rules outside of work can be another way of practicing good manners. When you find yourself at a dinner table with your colleagues, for example, basic table manners and dining etiquette can help ensure everyone feels comfortable.

How can I display etiquette when working with colleagues of varying seniority levels?

Emotional intelligence skills—like regulating your reactions and tone even in stressful or frustrating situations—are key when working with colleagues of varying seniority levels. When in doubt, lead with politeness and kindness.