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Open Office: 5 Etiquette Tips for Workers

Open Office: 5 Etiquette Tips for Workers
Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Open offices are increasingly common, saving money and encouraging collaboration. However, seating employees in the same room with an open floorplan can also lead to distraction, inefficiency and sometimes even conflict.

It's important to be polite and self-aware in the workplace – especially when working directly next to your colleagues. Here are five tips for open office etiquette.

In open offices, employees typically work close to each other – so close, in fact, that you could probably read what your colleague is typing on his computer from your own seat. This can cause insecurity and even discomfort in workers.

"Employees in open offices may feel they are easily watched or being eavesdropped upon by co-workers," said Brett Good, senior district president for Robert Half. Because of this, you should discuss confidential matters in a private setting, he said.

Also, be sure to respect your co-workers' privacy by keeping your eyes to yourself. No one should feel the stare of another employee's (or employer's) eyes on their work.

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Since you don't have your own office or cubicle, in a way, your space is also everyone else's. Even if you have your own desk, you're still sharing the area with others, meaning your mess can affect them.

"Your workspace is in full view of others, and the way you keep your space reflects upon you and your department," said Jodi R.R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. "Neat and professional is the only way to go."

Be sure to dust and wipe down your desk each week, don't leave old food or cold cups of coffee out overnight, and try your best to keep your station organized.

Noise travels far in an open office. Even if talking or music doesn't distract you, it may distract those around you, hindering productivity.

"The noise from your space should be at a minimum," said Smith. "This means no listening to voicemail via speakerphone, no singing/humming/whistling, no playing the drums with your fingers on the edge of your desk, and no perpetual gum snapping. Little habits you barely register in yourself have a way of quickly driving your co-workers batty."

You don't have to be silent or keep to yourself the entire day, but be aware of your volume, especially if you notice others getting sidetracked or frustrated.

Some people are sensitive to smells, feeling queasy at the slightest scents. Even sweet aromas can cause nausea, an itchy nose and other unpleasant symptoms.

Smith said that if you bike to work or spend your break outdoors, make sure you come back to your desk clean and fresh, but don't douse yourself in perfume or cologne to overcompensate. Also, she added, if your lunch has an overwhelming smell, eat it in your break room away from your desk.

Overall, "pay attention to colleagues' cues," said Good. If someone seems disturbed, anxious, annoyed or affected in any way by you or your actions, try your best to accommodate them within your means.

"Always put yourself in others' shoes and consider how you would want to be treated," said Good. "How you conduct yourself in the office and treat others can be just as important to your career as your work performance."

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Purch B2B staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.