Make us your home page
Instagram

How to behave in a cubicle society

Recently, a reader wrote in asking for guidance on the rules of etiquette for life in cubicles. It can be easy to irritate others in those close spaces, and coworkers who disregard office protocol and commit cubicle faux pas can affect productivity and stress levels.

The cubicle evolved from the Action Office furniture system, invented by Robert Propst of Herman Miller in the 1960s, with the intention of giving employees flexible space and saving companies money. A 2010 study by the International Facility Management Association found that the typical cubicle size for office employees has shrunk by almost 20 percent over the past 17 years — from an average of 90 square feet in 1994 to about 75 square feet now.

Some say today's younger, tech-savvy employees aren't as concerned with having their own office and instead prefer an open environment of creativity and collaboration — as long as they have reliable wireless infrastructure and lighter laptops (or iPads). This may be true for some, but in other places, workers may need more privacy or quiet time for thinking and reflection.

I conducted an informal survey asking people what most annoys them regarding their workspace. What I found may sound familiar. With an eye toward your organization's corporate culture, here are some rules of thumb for coexisting in a cubicle culture.

Be respectful. Knock (on their cubicle wall) and ask first if your neighbor has time before you start talking. I know they may not "look busy," but sometimes they could just be thinking. Your interruption could set them back in their work.

Don't "take" or "borrow" things from a co-worker's desk just because the area is open (unless they have already told you it is okay). Staff who have desks in a common area often run into the problem of people taking their staplers, tape dispensers, scissors or rifling through their desks in search of paper and pens, etc.

Avoid trying to talk to someone who is on the phone or sending an e-mail. By waving your hands, using sign language, or talking louder, you are interrupting them.

If someone is out, don't hang out at their cubicle reading what's on their desk (e.g., memos, faxes, letters).

Don't yell across the room. Walk over to someone to have a conversation.

Don't peer over the top of your cubicle wall (called prairie-dogging) to see what the next person is doing. Respect their privacy.

Avoid the speakerphone and don't discuss personal or confidential issues at your desk, even on the phone. Remember, your conversations travel.

Make sure your cell phone is set on "silent," or at least set to a low volume ring tone that won't disturb others.

Watch out for strong smells. Don't leave "old food" in your space or bring in food with really strong odors. Avoid wearing strong perfume or cologne, which impacts the breathing of those near them, especially those with allergies.

Eat in the lunchroom. Eating at the desk is one area that seems to highly upset co-workers — all the sounds people make when chewing ice or gum or eating seeds, carrots, nuts and other loud and crunchy foods.

Don't use your cubicle as a dressing room or a place to put on makeup, floss your teeth, cut your nails, etc. The restroom can't be that far away.

Avoid loud music. Use headphones and make sure you are not singing or humming out loud.

Keep your cubicle clean, neat and organized — it sends a message about your professional brand. You can personalize it, but be careful not to decorate with so much stuff that no one can find any of your work.

Watch out for offensive pictures, posters, slogans, etc. Check out your company's code and use common sense so that your workspace is not a place that others might find offensive.

When in doubt, think about whether you would be comfortable having the president of the company see in your cubicle.

Your primary objective in the office is work. Sure, you should have fun while you are working, but your cubicle is part of the office, and others around you still need to get their work done. Respect for your co-workers and enhancing the harmony of the workplace will go a long way toward making sure you succeed in your career.

Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.

How to behave in a cubicle society 09/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 10, 2011 4:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Target says customers want it to pause the Christmas creep

    Retail

    NEW YORK — Target says customers want it to pause the "Christmas creep." It says it wants to be more in tune with customers' mindset, so it plans to ease in holiday promotions this year while better recognizing Thanksgiving.

     Target says customers want it to pause the "Christmas creep." It says it wants to be more in tune with customers' mindset, so it plans to ease in holiday promotions this year while better recognizing Thanksgiving. This is Target's new store in Manhattan's Herald Square that opened last week. 
[Kavita Kumar/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS]
  2. Tampa's Walter Investment Management restructuring, could file for bankruptcy

    Corporate

    TAMPA — Tampa-based Walter Investment Management Corp. is restructuring to cut down some of the mortgage firm's $700 million debt, Walter announced Friday night. The firm, according to its investor relations page, focuses on subprime and "other credit-challenged" mortgages.

    Walter Investment Management is restructuring to reduce its $700 million debt, the company announced late Friday. Pictured is Anthony Renzi. CEO. | [Courtesy of LinkedIn]
  3. Carrollwood fitness center employs scientific protocol to help clients

    Business

    In 2005, Al Roach and Virginia Phillips, husband and wife, opened 20 Minutes to Fitness in Lakewood Ranch, and last month they opened the doors to their new location in Carrollwood.

    Preston Fisher, a personal fitness coach at 20 Minutes To Fitness, stands with an iPad while general manager/owner Angela Begin conducts an equipment demonstration. The iPad is used to track each client's information and progress. I also included one shot of just the equipment. The center recently opened in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser.
  4. Olive Tree branches out to Wesley Chapel

    Business

    WESLEY CHAPEL — When it came time to open a second location of The Olive Tree, owners John and Donna Woelfel, decided that Wesley Chapel was the perfect place.

    The Olive Tree expands its offerings of "ultra premium?€ extra virgin olive oils (EVOO) to a second location in Wesley Chapel. Photo by Danielle Hauser.
  5. Massachusetts firm buys Tampa's Element apartment tower

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Downtown Tampa's Element apartment tower sold this week to a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company that plans to upgrade the skyscraper's amenities and operate it long-term as a rental community.

    The Element apartment high-rise at 808 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa has been sold to a Northland Investment Corp., a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company. JIM DAMASKE  |  Times