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The Top 4 Differences Between Business Culture and Etiquette on the East and West Coast

I started my career on the east coast on Capitol Hill. It doesn’t get much more formal, stuffy and old school as working on the House or Senate side of Congress in DC. I learned a lot about social norms in the workplace, and how I wanted to build my own brand as a professional. Since living in Florida and then moving to Utah, I’ve seen that there are a lot of things that each coast could learn from each other about professional etiquette in the workplace.

I’ve teamed up with my friend from DC, Devon Wellington, who is the Director of the Northern Virginia Chapters for the National League of Junior Cotillions. Devon is clearly an expert on all things etiquette, and I’m thrilled that she is offering some tips on how to blend the best of the east and west coast approach to business etiquette today! And make sure to give her a follow on Instagram. 

1) Responsiveness and professional communication 

Britt: In general, the east coast is much more buttoned up and the west coast is more casual. The east coast is MUCH better at responding quickly and being more professional in written correspondence. I will never forget realizing that my colleagues in Utah wouldn’t respond to everything I sent over in an email during the workday after I had been at my new job for a few days. It was a tough adjustment, but the toughest was actually how casual the tone people take in writing. I think this is an area the west coast could adapt to a more professional way of doing things.

Devon: Yes! In terms of correspondence, always err on the side of professional, especially when emailing with someone more senior than you. I think sometimes people don’t respond because they are in the middle of working on whatever it is you’re emailing them about. I’d always prefer to get a response that indicates that they are working on it than not receive a response at all. And from a purely legal standpoint, your emails are owned by the company you work for – plain and simple.That means there is precedent for people to see your emails, and see what you’ve written; even people your emails aren’t intended for. Please keep this in mind when thinking about your tone in emails and who you may be talking about. Never complain about a coworker or boss via email. It’s just smart business practice.

2) Timeliness 

Britt: I hate to say it, but this is another area that the east has the west coast beat! People are generally more on time to meetings and respectful of their coworker’s time.

Devon: Timeliness is HUGE in terms of good business etiquette, for both the person who’s leading the meeting and the people attending. If you’re leading the meeting send out the meeting information with enough advance notice and then stick to it. It can be hard for people to show up willingly and ready to participate when you’ve made them change their schedule several times.

Timeliness also include starting the meeting on time as well. If you’re attending, when you show up late what you’re basically saying is, “I don’t respect you enough to be here on time — what I’m doing is more important.” And sometimes, what you’re doing IS more important than attending some meeting, but please try your best to be respectful of the work someone else is doing. Supporting others helps to build trust. The right people will notice that you’re on time. If you HAVE to be late, send an email with a short explanation as to why and when they can expect you there.

2) Professional dress 

Britt: On this one I’m a bit torn. I really love that on the western half of the US, more companies are focused on individuality. I love that in Silicon Valley, the status symbol of a suit and tie has been disregarded completely by icons like Mark Zuckerberg. However, I think there is a fine line between casual and sloppy, and I’ve seen a lot of sloppiness in my workplaces in Utah. I often miss how focused and sharp I felt wearing a suit on the Hill. My advice here is to make sure that you are matching the level of dress of your boss.

Devon: Agreed, when in doubt match your boss. I believe that how you dress can have a big impact on how your perform. And yes, especially in tech, dress is much more casual, but that doesn’t mean you have to look like you don’t care. No one is above caring about how they look at work — regardless of how smart they are or invaluable they are to the company. You can wear jeans and a hoodie if that’s your company culture, but don’t wear unwashed jeans and a hoodie with holes in it. And be sure to dress a step up when you have client meetings or if someone special is coming into the office.

3) Work/Life balance 

Britt: This is where the west coast has the east coast beat 100%. Because of the more casual nature of the culture in general, people are more focused on their life outside of work than on the east coast. Your career is just as important, but in general more people see their family and free time as very valuable, while on the east coast it seems to sometimes take a backseat to the career path.

Devon: Work/life balance often seems to be non-existent on the east coast and I think that can actually be detrimental in the long run, not only in terms of mental and physical health of the employee, but also the overall health and success of the company. If you find yourself working for a company that doesn’t support work/life balance, I suggest setting boundaries early and then sticking to them. Of course be respectful in your correspondence, but its okay to set the expectation from the beginning that you won’t be checking your email or answering work calls after 7pm, for example. However, if you continually break your own rule you’ll find others won’t respect the boundary you’ve set.

4) Dealing with personal issues in the workplace

Britt: I think the casual nature of the western half of the United States can make the lines blur much easier between professional and personal. This can cause some etiquette problems when people don’t know what is appropriate to discuss at work. However, I have felt like my employers care a lot more about me as an individual than I ever did on the east coast.

Devon: I think having camaraderie in the workplace can both increase and decrease productivity, but generally I think having good rapport with your colleagues only helps with teamwork and problem solving. The key is knowing when it gets too personal, and like you said it’s a line that’s easily blurred, especially when a work relationship becomes a personal relationship outside of work. By all means, be friends with your coworkers, go to happy hour, bring cupcakes on their birthday — attend their wedding even, but if that relationship keeps you from making an unbiased decision in the workplace (or getting into arguments in the workplace) it’s time to re-evaluate.

No matter where you work, business etiquette is becoming a dying art, and something that we all should become more aware of. Thanks again to Devon Wellington from Etiquette and Class for joining me on Livlyhood today!

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