Nov 17, 2009

Etiquette Cubed: a cube dweller's guide to a more tolerable work place

I'm going on almost two years of working in a cube farm and over the past two years, I've developed a fairly comprehensive set of guidelines for things you should and should not do if you, too, have the misfortune of working mere feet from dozens of your closest colleagues, with nothing between you but a flimsy wall that you can see right over when you stand up. Considering that many 20-somethings will find themselves in a cubicle at some point, I think this information is worth sharing.
  1. Smells. Smells carry in a cube farm, so you owe it to your neighbors to keep the odors at a minimum. These smells can include: general personal hygiene (shower regularly, wear deodorant), strong perfumes and colognes, food (seafood is off-limits and please don't throw away food products in your cubicle trash can--it could be a few days before anyone picks it up, and you don't want your cube to smell like a dumpster), post-smoke break smells (they may never say anything to your face, but people do talk about you and find your odor just as offensive as the guy who never wears deodorant), scented aerosols, plug-ins or cleaning products, and by all means, KEEP YOUR SHOES ON.
  2. Sounds. Sound carries even moreso than smell in the cube farm. Whether you are having a conversation with your cube mate or are in a phone conference with a colleague at another location, you should always be aware that the people around you are trying to work. Mind your voice level at all times, because many people will find your loud talking abrasive and distracting. Whenever possible, please take phone conversations or personal discussions with other coworkers to an area away from the workspace. Break rooms, meeting rooms, stairwells, the cafeteria. I don't really care where you are, so long as I can't hear your voice. Other sounds I don't want to hear: smacking when you eat (if you haven't learned to close your mouth while you chew yet, perhaps it's time you do), music so loud others can hear it despite your head phones, finger or toe tapping, clipping your fingernails or toenails (GROSS GROSS GROSS!), belching, farting, or any of the other things your mother taught you not to do before you even started kindergarten.
  3. Keep your business to yourself. This is an extension of the "sounds" section, but it's such an egregious offense, I felt it deserved its own special paragraph. No one wants to know about your medical history or troubles. Ditto on the medical history of anyone you may know or have even heard about. Nobody wants to hear about personal arguments with your significant other, family, or friends, and nobody wants to hear about any of their personal arguments with each other or anyone else. No arguing with divorce lawyers on the phone. No discussions of dirty nappies or diaper rash. Not only do those conversations have no business in the workplace, those discussions are often distracting and even repulsive to the people around you. Either way until 5 o'clock or step away from the cubes while you have those discussions.
  4. Mind your own business. If you overhear someone in a cubicle near you that has absolutely nothing to do with you, do not go and ask the people having the discussion later what they were talking about. If that conversation was for you, you would have been included in it. Do not look or read over other people's shoulders, whether they are looking through paperwork, reading a book, or on their computer. I'm not sure where you got the idea that this was appropriate behavior for any setting, but this behavior is inappropriate at work and inappropriate pretty much anywhere else you may go. Unless someone invites you to look at what they are looking at, keep your eyes to yourself. It's none of your business.
  5. What's mine is mine. Hands off! If it's not yours, don't touch it. If the owner is present, you may ask for permission. If the owner is not, DON'T TOUCH IT. If you are sitting in someone else's cube, do not touch their things or rifle through their belongings...even if they are sitting there with you. This might seem obvious to most of you, but I guarantee you that there are some people out there who are clueless. But let me reiterate: IF IT'S NOT YOURS, DON'T TOUCH IT, unless you have the express permission of the owner.
These are really the key things you need to know about working in a cubicle. There are many other items that I could list, but the offenses that seem to keep coming up over and over again, at least in my workplace, are summed up in the above. I think the whole thing can be summarized by saying: Keep your hands, eyes, sounds and smells to yourself.

Keep in mind that your neighbors are pretty much trapped in the same small space as you for at least 8 hours of the day. Be courteous, and be aware of how your behavior might be annoying others.

1 comment:

  1. I'm 100% with you on the nail clipping issue. A co-worker of mine does it e-v-e-r-y Monday. I can hear him ... just plain gross. Please please please take your nail clipper home and do that privately over the weekend!!!