Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Office Manners: Cubicle Etiquette

A few days ago a reader e-mailed me with a workplace etiquette question as she works in a cubicle and had to sit relatively close to another woman who does inappropriate things in the office. It reminded me of an article I originally wrote back in 2006 after witnessing a lot of inappropriate behavior while spending 6 years working in a cubicle while in corporate sales. The tips from my article are below.

I know this topic may not be one that everyone can relate to as you might work from home, an enclosed office or may not work at all but I thought I'd share this post as many employees are offended by their colleagues behavior and actions within the workplace.

{fanciest cubicle I've ever seen!}

How is it that when so many people have been exposed to working in close proximity to one another that we still have to contend with colleagues that are so loud, distracting, irritating, self-centered and out of control?!

1. Your Desk- Do place pictures of your family or significant other on your desk but limit it to no more than three. You are not in jail, you will likely see some of these people when you go home! A collage of photos on your desk not only makes you look like a daydreamer, but it can look cluttered which is inconsiderate. Keep it simple and everyone will be happy. It goes without saying, no offensive photos of or anything that would  make other colleagues feel uncomfortable such as vulgar pictures or calendars. Not only is it rude, but you’ll likely have your HR department speaking to you very soon.

2. Speaker Phones- It is never okay during office hours to use your speaker phone. This is loud, distracting and just plain rude. Unless your cubicle has a door and a roof, I don’t recommend this. Use a headset if you like to be hands-free from the phone while on a conference call or taking notes on a call. This not only is quiet but it is great for keeping noise out of your ears while your are not on the phone and simply just typing or working on a presentation etc.

3. Getting personal during work hours-Do not make personal phone calls to family and friends that involve arguing, raising your voice or offering personal details, if you have to make a call keep it brief. Instead, take your cell phone outside of the office, or sit in your car during your lunch break. This is an office, not your living room. You'll not only look like a fool, but you could embarrass yourself and others with this behavior. If you’re really lucky you might even have rumors spread around the office about you.

4. Strictly Business- Refrain from sending jokes or other 'junk' email at work to your friends or cubicle neighbors. Colleagues are at work to make money and get their job done, not read endless jokes. Never mind being irritating, if your email gets in the wrong hands you will be perceived as a lazy worker and depending on the content of the email, could even be fired.

5. Knock before Entering-Never barge into a colleague’s cubicle. Treat their personal space as if it was an office with a door. You would need to knock to come in whether the door was opened or closed so a cubicle should be no different. Knock on the desk or gently let the person know you are there. If they are on the phone, it is a no-brainer, don’t interrupt! I can't count the times that people used to come by my desk and try to talk to me while I was on the phone with a client. Treat everyone’s space with respect even though you all share the same greater office space.

6. Noise-As a basic rule, keep your voice down. If you are on the phone, great, but remember so is everyone else. Especially if you are just chatting on your lunch hour with a colleague be cognizant of the fact that other people are still working and their schedule may be different than yours. Shouting across the office is never acceptable. Avoid playing music at your desk during working hours. This should seem like an obvious point but I’m surprised at how many people do it. With all the music we can download from online services and our own CD’s and of course the radio, many still like to feel as if they are in the comfort of their own home. If you have to listen to music, use a headset! Remember just because you enjoy what you are listening to doesn’t mean the people around you do. So, loud or not-use your ear phones.

 Depending on your job role you might be given a cell phone, remember to keep the ringer on low or use the vibrate function. A common complaint in the offices I have worked in is that so-and-so’s phone rings so loud and is distracting. It is always best to use the vibrate setting.

7. Barefoot & Working-Again, you need to remember you are not in your own home. Taking off your shoes and roaming the office in your socks, or worse- barefoot is unacceptable office behavior. Not only does it look unprofessional but it can often scare your cube-mates off with a potentially offensive scent. And if you’ve ever thought about it-keep your pink fuzzy slippers at home where they belong!

8. Sights, Sounds and Scents- No belching, passing wind, nose picking, nail clipping or teeth flossing at your desk please or anywhere in your office for that matter. Believe it or not, people actually do this! I once went over to a colleagues’ desk and was completely disgusted to find him flossing his teeth! Sadly the washroom was about 6 feet away and he didn’t see what the problem was. I also encountered a colleague who sat next to me and was caught picking his nose while his friend on the other side caught him and watched for 5 minutes until she burst out laughing. This may sound funny but it is not office etiquette. Nobody wants to be exposed to this outside of the office so why should they be subject to it in the workplace. The bathroom is the best place to go to take care of all personal care issues. 

While we're on the subject, it is best to leave air fresheners, perfumes and other scented items at home. With the growing number of individuals who suffer from allergies, a spritz of your perfume could send someone into a sneezing fit.

This is by no means a complete list of office etiquette tips, but I look forward to sharing more posts about workplace etiquette and classy fashion for the office also.

What is the craziest thing you've encountered in your office environment?

*images (1)(2)


  1. very good advise...the nail clipping is really annoying and the worst part is my co worker who does it at her desk also eats at her desk....:(

  2. Great advice!!!
    I love those cubicles :)

  3. The usual thing that annoyed me at our office before was that my food was always "disappearing" in the fridge. Even if I already wrote my name on the container and all, it just plain disappeared. But it was put to end just suddenly.

    Respect for personal space applies in the office environment. One of the good things about my workplace (in Fairfax, VA) is that each station has a headset provided.

  4. Thank heavens you posted on this! I am a receptionist, and one of my pet peeves is when a colleague answers my call to them via speaker phone. The entire office does not need to hear my voice as I announce that so-and-so is on the phone for that one colleague! At least I know why it always bothered me... it's just an inconsiderate thing to do.

    1. Yes! I totally agree, not a fan of the speaker phone/megaphone. lol.

  5. I find it very irritating when co-workers bring their children into the office. I don't want to work in a daycare; I don't think children are cute; if you need to show your co-workers your children or other family members, meet at a restaurant. It just isn't professional.

    1. Good point, Anonymous! While I think meeting a co-workers little one is a fun experience, the time should be limited and not done in a way to distract others from their work. Maybe a few ladies can meet the new mom's baby in the break room or off-site in a restaurant is always best! Anything longer than 10 minutes in an office is unprofessional.

  6. I sit in a cubicle and get to enjoy all the distractions in my surrounding area. One employee blows air thru her teeth all day long and might have a hearing deficiency because she is constantly slamming file drawers and doors. I am not sure how to approach this situation because I would like to be able to ask her to please be quiet but don't want to step on anyone's toes. Any suggestions?

    1. @Anonymous- Definitely speak up! It's your work at stake, such distractions can be frustrating and it is unnecessary. Simply approach her and let her know while you enjoy working next to her that you'd kindly ask if she could be a bit more gentle when closing file drawers, doors, etc. Just tell her you find it a bit distracting and that you'll promise to do the same (you probably already do these things quietly, but this way it sounds like an even exchange vs. making her feel bad or to have her become defensive).

      Another suggestion (I'm not sure where you work or if this would be okay) would be to wear earplugs. If you have long hair, it will cover your ears. I used to do this sometimes when I was preparing client presentations working in a cubicle myself. I didn't get many people stopping by needing to talk to me so it worked out. I would also sometimes keep a headset on after a conference call which helped to mute some of the nearby noise.

  7. Wow! Nice and neat. It's just a good feeling to work in a spic and span room.

    1. I agree! I always work best in tidy spaces, it doesn't allow your mind to wonder and think about all that needs to be done. I personally find it allows me to be more productive.

  8. Hello, Looking for cheetah print theme just started working and I have a cubicle that I would love to design please let me know if you have any ideas??


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