What I Wish I Knew Before Working in an Office

woman in business casual clothes working at a computer in her home office

As offices continue to open back up, managers are asking employees to return to the office, often offering incentives to entice employees back to their desks. If you’re preparing to jump into the workforce, there’s a good chance you’ll be spending at least part of your time back in an office environment. So, if you’re working in an office setting for the first time, what can you expect? What might surprise you as you get used to this new work environment?

From how to interact with coworkers to what to wear, there’s plenty to find out before you start working in an office.

We spoke with office workers across industries and roles to give you the insider knowledge on what you can expect working in an office setting. What is working in an office like? Keep reading to find out.

Before working in an office, I wish I knew…

1. The perks of working in an office

Offices are more than just a place to sit on a computer, and there’s a reason so many companies keep using them, even in today’s remote era.

“By being in my office, I am able to access all the data, supplies and technology that I need to perform my job,” says Rhett Stubbendeck, CEO of LeverageRx. With all the resources easily available, working in an office can be an extremely efficient experience.

Beyond offering resources and productivity, offices can be an environment full of camaraderie. Stubbendeck explains that chatting with coworkers on break and getting involved with the community in the office can really liven up your professional life. You can make connections outside of your immediate team, keep up with unofficial office news and generally build the social bonds that can help you get through a rough stretch at work.

2. To find work-life balance

When starting any new job or career, it’s easy to throw yourself completely into your work to impress your new boss. While getting off to a strong start is always a good idea, it’s still important to temper yourself somewhat and find a balance. Devoting all your time and energy to the office is an easy way to burn out fast.

To maintain your energy for the new job, Klara Dumancic, marketing specialist at Investors Club, explains the importance of finding strategies to balance your professional life with your personal life. “It will be challenging to be successful in either your personal or professional life if you do not strike a healthy balance between the two,” she says.

She recommends figuring out what works for you to maintain balance. For some, this may mean keeping hard boundaries with work hours and vacation time, and for others, it may look like simply not overloading on overtime.

How this balancing act plays out in your professional life will depend heavily on the role you’re working in as well as your employer’s overall culture. Fields like accounting are well-known for having a stressful busy season where work-life balance will likely fall out of whack for a stretch to meet critical deadlines. Take some time to ask a trusted peer about expectations and—if you can—try to suss out some of this information during your interview process.

3. To take breaks

Working a desk job can mean a sedentary day. Whether you’ve worked retail, are taking care of your family or are simply used to being on your feet all day, an office job can be a significant change.

“I would definitely tell my younger self to take more breaks and make sure to get outside at least once a day,” says Kimberley Tyler-Smith, vice president of strategy and growth at Resume Worded. “It’s easy to get stuck at your desk all day long with no air or sunlight, so make sure you take some time to go outside—even if it’s just for five minutes—every day.”

Find ways to work activity into your daily life. Whether it’s taking a brief walk on your lunch break or joining a gym, having a routine that involves movement is essential. It’s not just a health benefit, either. These little bits of time to decompress and step away from what you’re currently working on can do wonders. Often, those elusive “Ah ha!” moments tend to come during the times when you’re not actively thinking about a problem.

4. To socialize and speak up

As noted earlier, socializing is one of the tremendous benefits of working in an office. Not only can you make new connections or friends but socializing and speaking up are great ways to keep up with office news and cultivate an atmosphere where you thrive.

Having a pulse on office sentiments, upcoming projects and company changes are all small—yet crucial—things that you can do just by being friendly with colleagues or striking up a conversation in the break room.

Additionally, befriending a trusted coworker—as Renee Minchin, founder and CFO of 2account, recommends—can create a friendly work environment. She explains this shouldn’t be someone to gossip with but instead “someone you can trust, someone that will have your back and simply someone you can joke around with.”

Beyond casual conversations, Alex Mastin, CEO and founder of Home Grounds®, explains that it’s important to make your voice heard in the office, whether by asking questions in meetings or sharing new ideas with managers. New office workers often have a fresh perspective and can offer creative solutions.

5. How to navigate office politics

“Working in an office is a lot like living with roommates,” says Tyler-Smith. They can be your newest friends or a nearly constant source of drama.

Each office will have its own set of social politics based on the office culture, norms and quirks. Familiarizing yourself with all these in your office will prepare you for the dynamics at work, according to Dumancic.

Even simply not gossiping and being considerate of your colleagues, like not leaving dishes in the office sink, can go a long way to reducing drama, as Minchin and Tyler-Smith recommend.

Still, the social dynamics of a workplace can sometimes feel stacked against you as a new employee, even if it’s not really your fault. Dumancic explains that you shouldn’t take this personally. At the end of the day, don’t get too bogged down with office politics. As Dumancic says, “Just be yourself and keep doing what makes you happy!”

Remember, you don’t have to be everybody’s best friend, but it will certainly help to put some effort into learning about the social dynamics in the office and what you can do to build goodwill and stay above the fray.

6. It’s okay to ask for help

While it’s tempting to try to be the employee who always gets everything done perfectly without any questions, asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

“[A]sking for help is normal and expected, especially in the beginning,” says Minchin. “So don’t spend five hours trying to figure it out. Ask your coworkers.”

Your coworkers are probably happy to help you, according to Tyler-Smith. Getting some assistance can take five minutes, a way more productive use of time and energy than troubleshooting for hours.

And asking questions about seemingly odd issues is okay, too. “[E]ven though you might think it’s silly to ask questions that are not task-related, it’s not!” says Minchin. “Confused about the kitchen setup or how the coffee machine works? Ask away.”

7. How to dress and act

Making that fantastic first impression on your manager and coworkers is the perfect way to launch your new job. But every office has its own set of expectations and norms, so knowing exactly what to expect on that first day is tricky.

“[Y]ou always want to start your job off dressing and acting very professionally,” says Chris Stevenson, CEO of VirtualRealityRental.co. It’s better to be a little overdressed than underdressed, and once you figure out the office standards, you can adjust accordingly. If you recall how others were dressed when you interviewed for the position, aim for similar attire.

Additionally, on the clothing front, Minchin recommends keeping an emergency outfit at the office. This way, if there’s a catastrophic coffee spill or a surprise visit from an important client, you have an easy option for a wardrobe pivot.

Beyond how you dress, having a polished presentation can take you a long way in your career. Little things like being on time, taking notes in meetings and putting away your cell phone show your professionalism, according to Minchin.

8. To make your desk your own

Feeling like an office or cubicle desk will be a too-corporate environment? Chances are, you can actually customize your desk space and make your workspace comfortable for yourself.

“For people considering working in an office, it’s important to look for little ways to optimize your space,” says Anthony Martin, founder and CEO of Choice Mutual®. “By optimization, I mean whatever little details you can add to help you to feel comfortable, motivated and secure at your desk.”

Adding photos of your family, a fun desk toy or a colorful mouse pad can bring some personality into your workspace. And many offices may offer standing desks or let you bring in an exercise ball or special chair to make your desk more comfortable.

Martin does add the caveat that you still want to be considerate to your coworkers with what you change.

Ready for the professional world?

Now you know what to expect working in an office for the first time. If a job surrounded by a team of coworkers and with your own desk sounds amazing, then working in an office could be your next great career move.

With so many different types of office jobs out there, your future is looking bright. As you take the next steps in your career, a business management degree can give you the skill set to land a wide variety of office jobs. What kinds of office jobs can you land with this degree? Read our article “What Can You Do with a Business Management Degree? Understanding Your Options” to see what career paths could be in your future.

Home Grounds is a registered trademark of Tailend Media Pty Ltd.

Choice Mutual is a registered trademark of Choice Mutual Corporation.

About the author

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a senior content manager who writes student-focused articles for Rasmussen University. She holds an MFA in poetry and worked as an English Professor before diving into the world of online content. 

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