I have worked in an office environment my entire adult life. This means that I have been surrounded by cubicles my entire adult life, which in turn means that I have seen thousands of breeches of cubicle etiquette. What is cubicle etiquette, you ask?
Cubicle etiquette is a commonly accepted set of unwritten rules that the majority of your coworkers are going to follow and expect you to follow. Failure to do so can slow your career progression, alienate your coworkers, and literally cause people to hate you. Here are a few of the basic rules of cubicle etiquette:
- Pay attention to non-verbal cues – If you stop by my cubicle and I fail to look up at you when you start talking, then I am busy and I do not want to be interrupted. Politely excuse yourself and let me know that you will stop back later to tell me whatever important thing you need to tell me. If I don’t look up at you, don’t keep talking. Not only am I not listening to you, but you are mildly irritating me. No eye contact means you should keep moving.
- Speakerphones and cubicles don’t mix – If you are sitting in a cubicle and you do not have an office door that closes you off from the rest of the world, then you should never use a speakerphone (even if you are only checking voicemail). It is disruptive to everyone around you. I don’t feel the need to explain this one in a lot of detail, just don’t do it.
- Don’t make or receive personal calls from your cubicle – Your coworkers do not want to hear you making your next doctor’s appointment and they certainly don’t want to hear the reason why you are making it. If you have to make a personal call then step into a conference room or step outside. I do not make or receive a lot of personal phone calls during the day and I have a very difficult time understanding people that do. I come to work to work, and that is where my focus is while I am there. On the flip side, I also do not get a lot of calls from work when I am at home. Practice a little work life balance and try to keep your personal life out of the workplace.
- Careful with décor – It is certainly okay to add your personal touch to your cubicle, but you can easily overdo it. If you are going to display pictures, then try to ensure that they are appropriate for the workplace. The picture of you winning the booty shaking contest during spring break in college is likely a great conversation starter, but it is probably not appropriate for the office. Plants are another pet peeve of mine. Done in moderation they are fine, but don’t bring in too many plants, or plants that are too large for the space. Plants can be messy and they can also attract insects. Don’t be the crazy plant lady.
- Don’t share your music – If you are going to listen to music at work, then use headphones. If you are using headphones then do not turn your music up so loud that I can easily determine what song you are listening to when I walk by. Even if those around you say that they don’t mind if you listen to your music without headphones, don’t do it. They are just being polite.
- Think twice before eating at your desk – Before you unwrap that garlic and onion sandwich, think about the impact that the smell is going to have on your neighbors. Try to eat your meals away from your cubicle (see Join Me For Lunch?). Food smells can linger for hours after you are finished eating.
- Don’t “borrow” things from other cubicles – How annoying is it when you go to staple something and your stapler is not right where it is supposed to be. It then becomes your highest priority to find it. You spend the next fifteen minutes searching for it only to realize that your cubicle neighbor “borrowed” it. Try to not borrow things when you neighbors are not in their cubes. If you absolutely must borrow something, then return it where you found it.
- Obey the dress code – My company has a dress code. There are people that like to push the limits of the dress code. I notice them and I can’t help but form judgments about them based on their poor fashion choices. If your manager has to take time out of their day to call you into a room to remind you of the dress code, do you think that has a positive impact on your career progression? I openly encourage employees to try and stand out in many different ways, but dressing provocatively or poorly is not the way to separate yourself from the crowd.
- Keep it neat – A completely disorganized cube with stacks of papers sends a very bad message to those around you, even when you are not at work (see Happy Clean Off Your Desk Day).
- Obey the Golden Rule – As a general rule if it bothers you when other people do something at their cube, then avoid doing the same thing in your cube.
I am pretty sure that I have only scratched the surface of cubicle etiquette rules. What rules am I missing?
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