Office Etiquette Tips: Cubicle Culture

January 29, 2013

Etiquette - Office | Work | Workplace - Tips | Advice

Along with writing professional emails and being an excellent co-worker, practicing proper office etiquette is an important part of standing out in the workplace. A unique culture has emerged from people working close together in open floor plans and understanding the norms of this culture can help you integrate smoothly into your first experience working in a cubicle. These rules also apply to any workspace where many co-workers are expected to perform their jobs in close proximity to each other, such as at nurses’ stations, research laboratories or hospitality kiosks.

While every workspace will vary in what’s acceptable for their culture (a trendy marketing agency versus a prestigious attorney’s office), here are some basic guidelines for proper workplace etiquette you can always fall back on if you’re unsure.

Keep it Quiet – Control Office Background Noise

The number one priority for people in an open workspace is noise mitigation. There’s nothing worse than trying to write a complicated report while your co-workers are chatting – Larry’s on speakerphone and Sarah in reception is blasting her radio. Contribute to a quiet, productive communal workspace by using a “library voice” when talking to co-workers, turning your cell phone to silent and booking multi-person meetings in a conference room. Invest in a high-quality pair of noise-canceling headphones to both block out ambient noise and allow you to listen to music without bothering others.

Keep it Neat – Keep Your Workspace Clean and Organized

Cubicle culture is nothing if not open. Removing doors and offices means greater opportunities for collaboration, but also means everything is on display. Keeping your workspace neat gives your managers a favorable impression helps you stay organized and presents an overall sense of order to any clients or partners visiting the office. Take a few minutes at the end of the day to straighten your desk so clutter doesn’t pile up and you’re able to sit down to a clean workspace the next morning. Also carefully consider personal decorations. While having a few pictures or plants warms up your space, too many bright decorations, personal photos or distracting toys makes your workspace look more like a dorm room than a business office.

Respect Privacy and Personal Space at Your Office

In an environment where you can hear someone sneeze across the floor, it’s up to you and your co-workers to promote a culture of privacy. Always announce your presence at another person’s cubicle. Instead of barging in, knock gently and ask if they have a moment to talk. In can be nearly impossible not to see other’s screens and overhear their conversations, but resist the temptation to comment on either without an invitation. Try not to remove materials from a co-workers desk without asking, but if you need something urgently always leave a note saying you borrowed it and will return it promptly. Respecting each other’s space, conversations, and belongings will go a long way towards creating a pleasant work environment for everyone.

Display Professional Behavior, Practice Proper Business Etiquette

Not having an office door reduces privacy, but it also encourages you to display professional behavior at all times. Some cubicle etiquette errors include eating sloppy or smelly food, having extended personal phone conversations and grooming at your desk. Take advantage of the break room instead of eating at your desk if you’ve brought gorgonzola salmon pasta for lunch. While some phone calls need to be placed between 9 and 5, be sure to keep non-work phone calls brief and make them outside or in the break room rather than in your communal workspace. Quick lipstick and unscented lotion applications are acceptable, but hair brushing, flossing or nail clipping belongs in the restroom.

Respecting the office culture is an important part of being a team player. Follow these office etiquette tips to make a smooth transition into an open workspace. And remember never to steal Milton’s Swingline stapler!


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