Cubicle Etiquette: Getting the Word Out

Cubicle etiquette is something that everyone sharing space in an office — any office — should observe. Alas, one person’s “common sense” isn’t always as common as another might hope. Loretta McNeil writes:

Hi, Chris. I’m currently temping in a large office space with dozens of other coworkers. It’s nice that we each have our own cubicles (I’ve worked in places where we’ve had to share), but it can still be hard to focus when a seemingly large percentage of my fellow cubicle drones don’t know the first thing about boundaries. Maybe it’s my fault for growing up as an only child, but personal space is very important to me! When I need to get work done and I have nincompoops playing volleyball with wads of crumpled paper over what functions as my “office” as the divider, I want to scream. And kill.

Obviously, while screaming and killing would feel good for the short term, it would accompany all sorts of other messy problems. I was hoping that you could get the word out about the importance of cubicle etiquette in the workplace — before it’s too late?

Thanks for all that you do!

Cubicle EtiquettePlease don’t scream and kill, Loretta! Then you’ll get sent off to the penitentiary, where I’m told that the cubicles are much smaller, more crowded, and the concept of “personal boundaries” is completely thrown out the window. (Also, there aren’t many windows.) Out of the cubicle and into the cell? In the immortal words of Oklahoma City’s own Sweet Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” A little cubicle etiquette goes a long way, and you shouldn’t need a protocol droid hanging around the office to remind people of this fact.

So maybe I’ve never spent much time in an office environment aside from the one that’s in my own home, and the interruptions are usually welcome (e.g. Diana bringing me delicious food, Wicket coming in to tell me a hilarious joke that he read on the Internet, or Pixie letting me know that she’s secured the perimeter against all potential intruders), but plenty of people I know have spent thousands of hours in the cubicle trenches to pass along the wisdom I’m going to share here. If you work in a cubicle setting, here are a few guidelines to which you should adhere.

Cubicle Etiquette: Respect Privacy

Privacy is a major factor when your workspace is in a cubicle. Given that there are often half walls and no doors, privacy is minimal. However, a cubicle is still an individual’s personal office space and should be treated this way. With this in mind, avoid barging into a coworker’s cubicle uninvited. Instead, stand at the entrance until your presence is acknowledged.

Cubicle Etiquette: Don’t Bring on the Noise

Still on the lines of privacy, be aware of noise level. Whether you are talking on the phone or having a conversation with a coworker, keep your voice level to a minimum. One sure way to irritate coworkers in surrounding cubicles is to carry on loud conversations, constant chattering and laughing.

Cubicle Etiquette: Keep It Secret. Keep It Safe

Confidentiality is also a major factor in cubicle etiquette. Thin half walls do not prevent others from hearing your conversations, regardless of how quiet you attempt to be. When it comes to discussing confidential information, it may be more appropriate to do so in a private meeting room or in person.

Cubicle Etiquette: Tidiness is Next to Professional… ness

If you have read up on email etiquette, you know that carelessly worded emails can reflect poorly on your professionalism. The same goes for your office space. A cubicle that is untidy, disorganized, or littered with personal items can leave the impression that you may not be the most professional person in the office.

Cubicle Etiquette: Noise Annoys, But the Nose Knows

Finally, remember that some people around you may be sensitive to certain odors, such as smoke, strong-smelling food, and even body odors. Not only can it irritate people in surrounding cubicles, but it may deter people from visiting your cubicle.

So those are just some basics, but I’m sure we haven’t covered every pet peeve and periwinkle to be found in the office environment. What suggestions might you have for someone seeking sensible guidelines for cubicle etiquette? Please leave a comment below and let’s get the word out together!

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Chris has consistently expressed his convictions and visions outright, supplying practical information to targeted audiences: media agencies, business owners, technology consumers, software and hardware professionals, et al. He remains a passionate personality in the tech community-at-large. He's a geek.