The word "etiquette" gets a bad rap. For one thing, it sounds stodgy and pretentious. And rules that are socially or morally prescribed seem intrusive to our sense of individuality and freedom.

But the concept of etiquette is still essential, especially now—and particularly in business. New communication platforms, like Facebook and Linked In, have blurred the lines of appropriateness and we're all left wondering how to navigate unchartered social territory.

At Crane & Co., we have been advising people on etiquette for two centuries. We have even published books on the subject—covering social occasions, wedding etiquette and more.

Boil it down and etiquette is really all about making people feel good. It's not about rules or telling people what to do, or not to do, it's about ensuring some basic social comforts.

So here are a few business etiquette rules that matter now—whatever you want to call them.

1. Send a Thank You Note

I work at a paper company that manufactures stationery and I'm shocked at how infrequently people send thank you notes after interviewing with me. If you're not sending a follow-up thank you note to Crane, you're not sending it anywhere.

But the art of the thank you note should never die. If you have a job interview, or if you're visiting clients or meeting new business partners—especially if you want the job, or the contract or deal—take the time to write a note. You'll differentiate yourself by doing so and it will reflect well on your company too.

2. Know the Names

It's just as important to know your peers or employees as it is to develop relationships with clients, vendors or management. Reach out to people in your company, regardless of their roles, and acknowledge what they do.

My great-grandfather ran a large manufacturing plant. He would take his daughter (my grandmother) through the plant; she recalled that he knew everyone's name—his deputy, his workers, and the man who took out the trash.

We spend too much of our time these days looking up – impressing senior management. But it's worth stepping back and acknowledging and getting to know all of the integral people who work hard to make your business run.

3. Observe the 'Elevator Rule'

When meeting with clients or potential business partners off-site, don't discuss your impressions of the meeting with your colleagues until the elevator has reached the bottom floor and you're walking out of the building. That's true even if you're the only ones in the elevator.

Call it superstitious or call it polite—but either way, don't risk damaging your reputation by rehashing the conversation as soon as you walk away.

4. Focus on the Face, Not the Screen

It's hard not to be distracted these days. We have a plethora of devices to keep us occupied; emails and phone calls come through at all hours; and we all think we have to multitask to feel efficient and productive.

But that's not true: When you're in a meeting or listening to someone speak, turn off the phone. Don't check your email. Pay attention and be present.

When I worked in news, everyone was attached to a BlackBerry, constantly checking the influx of alerts. But my executive producer rarely used hers—and for this reason, she stood out. She was present and was never distracted in editorial meetings or discussions with the staff. And it didn't make her any less of a success.

5. Don't Judge

We all have our vices—and we all have room for improvement. One of the most important parts of modern-day etiquette is not to criticize others.

You may disagree with how another person handles a specific situation, but rise above and recognize that everyone is trying their best. It's not your duty to judge others based on what you feel is right. You are only responsible for yourself.

We live in a world where both people and businesses are concerned about brand awareness. Individuals want to stand out and be liked and accepted by their peers--both socially and professionally.

The digital landscape has made it even more difficult to know whether or not you're crossing a line, but I think it's simple. Etiquette is positive. It's a way of being—not a set of rules or dos and don'ts.

So before you create that hashtag, post on someone's Facebook page or text someone mid-meeting, remember the fundamentals: Will this make someone feel good?

And remember the elemental act of putting pen to paper and writing a note. You'll make a lasting impression that a shout-out on Twitter or a Facebook wall mention can't even touch.


Video Transcript

00:12 Christine Lagorio: So Mark we have been working on this world's coolest office package for two years now I think it's time to sit back and reflect. What actually is a cool office?

00:22 Marc Kushner: A cool office. Well you know I work, I'm an architect, I work in an office, and I run an archaizer, and I think fundamentally a cool office is one that functions really well as an office. And then I think the potential for working with an architect, working with a designer and making it really cool is to kind of pump that up. And find the opportunities to make it a special place; a place that makes people work better together, that makes people excited to come to work. I think that's what really makes it cool.

00:51 Lagorio: That's great. We all work in offices but a lot of startups and small companies don't necessarily have the budget for an architect or even a designer to consult. What are some little things they can do to keep the space in mind and make the space that they have available to them work well for them?

01:09 Kushner: Yeah I think... I think there are opportunities in the everyday kind of office experience. So we all need conference rooms, usually need a conference room, and a conference room comes with things like a table, and lights. And these can be really generic obvious solutions or you can take the time and challenge yourself and maybe your staff and actually turn it into a kind of experience to think about how that can become something else. So we saw some tables that were made out of old cast iron bath tubs right with a slab of glass on top which was a cute way to kind of up the ante on what a conference table could be. But then even the way that lighting is hung that it doesn't have to be a geometric patterns that you can actually start express moments within the room that are maybe more important and find those little ways in to question the status quo of design.

02:05 Lagorio: Right. And you're talking about some of the entries that we just saw because we were just judging this year's entries. What are some of themes that emerged from this year's entries, anything that you saw different from last year that may be indicative of where office design is going?

02:20 Kushner: We saw... Well, first of all they were all fantastic, and it was really excellent to see the breath of entries. We saw some interesting things. We saw, a lot of brands were bringing in the products that they make into the actual office design. So like Wilson who makes tennis products have entire walls made of tennis ball material, kind of unraveled tennis balls, so that the actual you know stuff that people are selling everyday on the phone and working with and designing shows up in the, in the everyday office experience, which I think is really, I think that's really successful. Adidas also did something really cool where, a lot of sports companies make obviously are... Well, they make really cool stuff. But Adidas did this really neat thing where they took inspiration from kind of in the locker room and the idea of how you store things in a office. So instead of it being traditional file cabinets there are sort of lockers for everyone that have a roll up capabilities and can be moved all over the office. So I think, you know bringing in the stuff that motivates the company in the first place into the design is a great cue.

03:30 Lagorio: That's great. Was there... I guess was there anything else that you loved about this year's entries? Anything else that really stood out or anything that you think is kind of showing a changing pace in or face of office design?

03:44 Kushner: Yeah we saw, we saw a lot of use of, I'll just say the natural in the most general way. But I think it's obviously part of a general trend worldwide, and what's nice is that what's been happening in Europe is now moving to the United States. The realization that natural lighting is not just a good ecologically move but it's also you know a happy factor. And people are, are more productive and have a better experience when there closer to a window. So bringing nature in, sometimes it's not efficient or effective to move everyone in the office to the window, but finding ways to bring nature into the office, as far as you know cutting holes in buildings or approximating nature; we saw some artificial landscapes which were pretty, pretty fun. And I think that's a really nice trend that's going on in the office space.

04:34 Lagorio: That's great. Thanks so much Mark.

04:36 Kushner: Thank you and thanks to Inc.