Understanding the Culture at Your New Workplace

Two people sit together talking while looking at a phone and a magazine

Want to be successful at your new job? Then take the time to study your workplace culture.

From email etiquette to office hierarchy to formatting a memo correctly, a new office typically means adapting to new customs, protocol, and language. 

And it’s said that the first 90 days shape how your coworkers perceive you. So if you want to make a strong impression, you’ll want to spend some time upfront to study and learn your office dynamics. 

While getting accustomed to office culture is certainly nerve wracking, the process can be made a lot easier with the right systems and tools

Here are some of the ways that you can navigate your workplace culture so you can start working with confidence and ease. 

Study and observe 

If it’s your first day in a new role, you’re going to be tempted to start contributing and providing your inputs right away. After all, this company hired you to do a good job, and you should prove that you’re smart and capable…right?

But if you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing, then you might want to slow down and “read the room.”  Even if you have a strong grasp of the work, you’ll still want to better understand the nuances of your workplace. 

So instead of diving right in and trying to prove yourself, use those first 90 days wisely. 

  • Observe how meetings are run
  • Pay attention to how your coworkers collaborate and communicate
  • In your first one-on-one meeting with your boss, actively listen to better understand their goals and concerns
  • Learn how to get noticed the right way

Learn the language

It doesn’t matter if it’s a Fortune 500 company or a scrappy start-up, every workplace has its own way of speaking. 

Take the time to learn the “language” at your company. This can include terms, jargon, phrases, and acronyms that your colleagues use regularly. 

Whenever you come across an unfamiliar term in an email or at a meeting, write it down and find out the meaning. At the end of the week, go over your list of new words and brush up on them. 

Understand the office hierarchy 

A big part of office culture is understanding office hierarchy. Office hierarchy will influence everything from how you should contribute to meetings to making a request to figuring out who to copy on an email.

Some offices have a rigid hierarchy where rank and title is strictly respected. Other offices may have a flat and open hierarchy where junior team members have just as much say as the CEO.

Your office hierarchy will also be determined by the type of industry you work in. Government jobs and corporations will traditionally adhere to a formal hierarchy whereas startups and small businesses may have a looser structure.

You might feel uneasy trying to figure out where you fit in on the chain of command. Am I allowed to email the boss directly? Do I go through their assistant?

One simple way to navigate this is to study how your peers traverse office hierarchy. Do they typically make requests to a deputy manager and then have the deputy report to the higher ups? Or do they communicate with senior-level people directly?

You’ll also want to make sure that you take the time to get to know people before you start engaging with them directly. Even if you work in a casual office environment, you probably don’t want to go right into the boss’s office and make a request on your first day. 

When it comes to understanding office hierarchy, it’s okay to hang back and follow the lead of your fellow team members and ask questions. You’ll soon understand how all the different dynamics work. 

Study how people communicate with each other 

In addition to familiarizing yourself with company lingo and hierarchy, you’ll also want to take the time to study how people communicate in your office, both online and off.

Are your colleagues straightforward and concise when they communicate? A typical email or text might look like this: “I need a project update by COB. Thanks.” 

Or is the communication style more formal and diplomatic? Maybe they’re more likely to send an email rather than messaging you via Slack. Example: “I would be grateful if you could provide an update by the end of the day. Thank you so much for your kind attention.”

It helps to know what communication style your office uses. If you cut to the chase in a formal office environment, you could come across as rude. Whereas diplomatic language in a laidback office could make you appear stuffy and verbose. Some managers prefer getting updates via email. Other managers would prefer you just stop by their office and tell them in person.

Observe how your colleagues communicate with each other so that you can start emulating best practices. You’ll also want to take note of the different channels of communication they use and when. For example, maybe your colleagues prefer using emails for reports and analysis, but use Slack for timely updates. Or maybe they avoid using messaging apps altogether and prefer face-to-face meetings. 

Understanding how information is shared will make your office life so much easier. 

Gather the right evidence 

Maybe you have some new ideas for a product launch or you want to take the reins at the next client meeting. How do you make a request to your boss and get a positive response? 

Make sure you gather the right evidence

The next time you’re at a team meeting, pay attention to how other team members successfully make their requests. How do they support their “ask?” 

For example, maybe a colleague proposes that the company should start selling more of Product X and backs up their ask with facts and figures. “I noticed that the demand for X increased by 20 percent in the last month.” 

By taking note of what works and what doesn’t, you can start assembling the right evidence to make your request a successful one. 

In the first few months of your new job, you might make some mistakes along the way, and that’s okay. What matters is how you bounce back and apply your new lessons going forward. Before you know it, you’ll be the one showing new team members the ropes. 

Written by JiJi Lee

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