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Cubicle Manners: Common Courtesy Goes a Long Way

Cubicle Manners: Common Courtesy Goes a Long Way
Credit: bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock

Working in cubicle-style offices is almost like living in a neighborhood. Employees in adjoining cubes can chat and work together to achieve common goals or, in some cases, drive their neighbors mad.

Lynne Sarikas, director of the Graduate Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston, said it is critical that employees be respectful of those around them to make the working environment productive for everyone involved.

"Bottom line, common courtesy and respect will go a long way in ensuring a peaceful coexistence with your fellow residents of cubicle-land," Sarikas told Business News Daily.

We asked some experts for tips on how to conduct yourself in these kinds of offices and be a good cubicle neighbor. [See Related Story: Toxic Co-Worker Test: How to Identify and Avoid Them]

As the leader of your department or team, do not be afraid to set rules and stop the chitchat.

"Work is not social hour, and while teamwork is wonderful, there is a line that gets crossed when personal lives spill too much into work and become a distraction," said Becca Garvin, executive HR recruiter at Find Great People International. "Having a solid team does not mean having a team of best friends. More often than not, the [best friend] dynamic ends up harming a team at some point in the long run [due to drama]."

Those conversations can be very distracting to employees working inside their cubicles, Sarikas said.

"[They] have implications for confidentiality, but can also be disruptive to those trying to get some work done," Sarikas said. "Be mindful of the potential for disruption, and step to a convenient conference room or to a general corridor away from the cubicles."

In the same vein as speaking too much, speaking too loudly is equally as rude.

Since cubicles are not soundproof, workers must be conscious of the volume of their voices, whether they are speaking to someone in their cubicle or on the phone, Sarikas said.

"You do not want to share your conversation with the entire row of cubicles, and you don't want to disrupt their work," she said. "You also don't want to be distracted by their conversations and calls." 

It's nice to be close to teammates when you need to speak to them quickly about a project or when you have a question. However, it might not be the best move to barge into their workstation and hover over them as you have a lengthy chat.

When visiting a peer's cubicle, it's important to tell the person in one or two sentences what you would like to talk about, Ann Marie Sabath, founder of At Ease Inc. and author of Business Etiquette: 101 Ways to Conduct Business With Charm and Savvy said.

"Then ask the person if he or she has the amount of time you need to discuss it," Sabath said. "For example, you could ask, 'I have a few questions about XYZ project. Do you have 10 minutes to discuss it?'"

"Sometimes it is acceptable just to pop over to someone's workstation two cubes down, but often it is appreciated if a heads up is given or an appointment is made," Garvin added.

Unlike open offices, cubicle-style layouts can sometimes make workers feel isolated and, quite literally, boxed in. Garvin suggested holding regular team meetings and occasional "bonding" events to get people out of their cubes and into a collaborative environment.

"The trick here is encouraging and fostering [collaboration]," she said. "Teamwork is supposed to boost work and productivity, not take away from it."

Additional reporting by Chad Brooks. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article. 

Shannon Gausepohl

Shannon Gausepohl graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a degree in journalism. She has worked at a newspaper and in the public relations field. Shannon is a zealous bookworm, has her blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, and loves her Blue Heeler mix, Tucker.