- There are unspoken rules for cubicle workspaces.
- Although it's important to build morale, it is possible to be too talkative or social in the office.
- In cubicle settings, personal space affects shared space. The cubicle of one person can make an impact on the rest of the office.
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 for employees to be respectful of those around them, to make the working environment productive for everyone.
"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 how to be a good cubicle neighbor. Here's what they advised. [Read related article: Toxic Co-Worker Test: How to Identify and Avoid Them]
1. Don't be overly chatty.
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."
That discussion can be very distracting to employees working inside their cubicles, Sarikas said.
The conversations "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."
2. Watch your volume.
In the same vein as speaking too much, speaking too loudly is equally rude.
Because 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."
3. Set "appointments."
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, said Ann Marie Sabath, founder of At Ease Inc. and author of Business Etiquette: 101 Ways to Conduct Business With Charm and Savvy.
"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.
4. Promote team bonding.
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."
5. Clean your cubicle.
While clutter may not bother you, it may annoy others. This is especially true for trash. Anything that can attract bugs or rodents becomes a problem for the entire workplace.
It's also vital to understand that cleanliness, or lack thereof, influences the appearance of the organization. If a potential hire or new client were to walk through the office and see a messy cubicle, how might they think of the company?
Cleanliness is also important to safety. At a school or a hospital, there could be a large amount of critical data in cubicles. If this information is not sorted and filed, the clutter becomes a security problem.
6. Don't smell up the office.
Smells are not contained by cubicle walls. Whether it's a particularly strong-smelling lunch or a new cologne, your co-workers may not appreciate the aroma.
Smells can also be a hazard. Co-workers might have an allergy to fragrances. Or, if a smell is especially fragrant, it can mask the scent of a gas leak or a fire. When in doubt, be courteous about the smells you bring into the office.
7. Silence your phone.
Cellphone alarms and ringtones do not benefit anyone but the user. Typically, they are distracting and unnecessary. Besides, when someone is at work, they probably shouldn't be using their personal cellphone. If employees are expecting an important call, they can forward their cellphone calls to their work phone.