Opinion | Corporate and Afraid: An office survival guide

By Allison Dantinne, Senior Staff Columnist

Entering the “adult world” of a 9-to-5 office job combines the dread of being around real adults while not fully grasping #adulting, with all the thrills of sitting in a spinny chair that you’re not allowed to spin in for 8 hours a day. Fear not, this Office Survival Guide will help you assimilate to office culture faster than you can type “please advise” at the end of an email to a coworker.

  1. The Look

If you’re working at an office internship, your employer will likely expect business casual dress, which as a description is about as specific as gesturing at the meat case when the “Sandwich Artist” at Subway asks what kind of hoagie you want. However, once you get the hang of it, you’ll find yourself with a set wardrobe, kind of like a cartoon character.

For men, you’re going to want some nice slacks in dark neutral colors — navy blue, dark gray, black or brown. Pair those slacks with a dress shirt of a neutral or light pop of color and a tie that doesn’t clash with your pants and shirt. Finish the look with a pair of dressier leather shoes, a leather belt and a blazer or sport coat. Pro-tip: you don’t have to wear the coat all day. Just drape it over the back of your chair, roll up your sleeves and get to cranking out those spreadsheets.

For women, start with a skirt or dressy pants. Skirts should be more conservative in length, about two inches above the knee. Pair your bottom with a blouse or button-down shirt that doesn’t clash. You can play around with a fun print on your blouse, but read the room first — if no one else in the office is wearing a bright color or a print, you shouldn’t either. Your shoes should be a closed-toe heel or a closed-toe flat. Finish the look with a blazer or a cardigan, and you’ll be ready to allocate those expenses.

  1. Being on time

Within the first week or so of your job/internship, your boss will tell you the office’s typical hours and how many hours you should work. Unless your boss gives you specific hours, you can choose your hours, as long as you will be at work around the same time as your co-workers.

When you set your hours, you have to follow them. It doesn’t matter if Chad at the cubicle across from you walks in 15 minutes late every day with his iced latte and leaves for hours at a time.

If you’re going to be late because you need to drive your sister and her baking soda volcano to her Pompeii reenactment club meeting, just tell your boss in advance. If your car catches fire on the side of the highway and revolutionaries are congregating around it like Mad Max, call your boss and say you’ll be late. But remember: you’re young. You have something to prove. The least you can do is try to show up when you say you will.

  1. The people

Office people are different than college people, which means that some things they do will confuse you and vise versa. Here are some tips and tricks to help you handle the culture shock.

First, when you walk into the office in the morning, say good morning to people. Say good morning to your co-workers when you get to your desk. You would not believe how overwhelmingly polite they’ll think you are with only one phrase.

Second, you all can talk occasionally, as long as it doesn’t dominate the work day. If you’re shy or want to keep your private life private, just talk about weekend plans. As long as it’s appropriate and light, your office mates will appreciate the conversation. No one wants to sit at a cubicle for eight hours in complete silence.

Lastly, one of the perks of working in an office is that sometimes there will be free food. When Marissa brings in the donuts, you can go grab one, which is awesome. When you lift the lid to the donut box, only to find that all the donuts are cut in half and the jelly is oozing out of a mutilated sugared jelly donut, stop and think before feeling offended by this donut cutting. Maybe Marissa does Weight Watchers with the rest of HR, and wants to show that if she’s on the diet, so is the whole office. Maybe she wants to maximize the number of people who can benefit from a free treat. Either way, take a half and be grateful.

  1. Emails

Writing an email can be scary, especially when you don’t really know the person on the other end, but there are a few ways to make it a smoother experience.

Please do not hit reply all on mass emails. The rest of us on the email probably don’t care about your response. And if it was an accident, we’re going to think it’s funny and chuckle at our desks for a good 15 seconds about it.

Some people interpret ending an email with “thank you” as rude. I don’t know why. I could not fathom how thanking someone could be rude. But sometimes it is. Instead, consider ending your email with “best” or just a “-” and your name.

Once you think you’ve created a good email structure for asking a co-worker for something, updating your boss on the status or a project or even responding to a question from an outside agency, copy that email and paste it into a new email, then save it as a draft. You can reference that draft or use it as a template the next time you need to send a similar email. Trust me, it’ll save you time and eliminate unnecessary stress later on.

  1. Cell Phones

You can’t check your cell phone at work. It doesn’t matter if your co-workers do. In most offices, you can use it to listen to trap music or True Crime podcasts while working, as long as your work doesn’t require you to talk to people often. If you get an important text from a friend or family member or a call you need to take, you can step out into the hallway and take it.

The main thing to think about is that your boss likely looks at you as a young person, whose work habits are different from theirs. Those differences are manifested through cell phone usage. Try to not prove them right.

Allison Dantinne primarily writes satire and humor for The Pitt News. Write to Allison at [email protected]