If you are preparing to enter the world of Corporate America, the odds are pretty good that you will live part of your life in a cubicle – at least during your first few years on the job.
Not everyone is cut out for success in the world of cubes, but it does have certain upsides. If you are someone who is energized by being around others, enjoys collaboration, and do not get distracted easily, you might have what it takes to function in a cubicle environment.
Cubicles also often allow you greater access to your manager or fellow co-workers, which can be helpful for entry-level employees. However, these frequent interactions also mean you have to make an extra effort to be on top of your game. The problem is that it can be a little awkward walking the fine line between a public work environment and constantly exercising good judgment about personal (and professional) boundaries.
Below are some of the top “Cubicle Etiquette” tips I have come across, reduced into five basic categories. Enjoy!
1. Don’t Prairie-Dog
One of the most tempting cubicle-behaviors is something called “prairie-dogging.” I’m not talking about bathroom slang terms here – although I’m sure that can also have a bad effect on your work life.
What I AM referring to is the nearly-incontrollable desire to poke your head over your neighbor’s wall and check out what they are up to – or the urge you will almost certainly feel to stand up and peer across the sea of cubes to yell a greeting to your buddy.
Don’t prairie-dog. It’s unprofessional, distracting to your co-workers, and invasive of their workspace. Instead, walk around (through the cube maze if necessary) and knock politely at the entrance to their cube.
Allow people the courtesy of “switching gears” to talk to you, rather than forcing them to engage with you via a surprise appearance.
2. Avoid Conference Calls or Personal Conversations
Similarly, you should avoid having any type of distracting personal conversation in your workspace.
Maybe you have an important conference call, or maybe one of your friends from Accounts Payable dropped by your cube to discuss the weekly lineup for the company softball team. Regardless, your speakerphone, cell phone, or personal chatter can probably be heard by anyone in the vicinity and may interrupt their workflow.
Not everyone is able to tune out background noise effectively, so try to be considerate and take your conversations to a conference room or employee lounge if possible.
3. What’s that Smell?
Painting your nails during lunch? Eating some leftover Indian food? Forget to shower this morning? No matter what the source is, smells can often be just as distracting at noise, so do your best to limit any odors.
Even perfume or cologne can be offsetting to people with an allergy or a strong sense of smell. Think first before bringing anything to your cube that may produce a strong odor – you do not want to be put in an awkward situation when your cubicle buddy exclaims, “What’s that SMELL?”
4. Decorate Tastefully
Continuing our tour of the senses, our next stop is visual stimulation.
Remember, the decorations you choose for your workspace – whether that includes a giant fern, a kitten calendar, or a trippy-looking Grateful Dead poster – reflect your professional brand and personal tastes.
Is it distracting? Is it overboard? Consider how your decorations may appear to others. Sometimes, your decision about what is appropriate may be affected by company policy or the nature of your work. Cubicle environments that regularly involve interactions with clients and customers, for example, will probably have to be decorated more conservatively. Moral of the story? When in doubt, leave it out!
5. Be Respectful
The overall point with cubicle etiquette is to be respectful and considerate. Despite the fact that cubicles are designed to be somewhat public work environments, you must still respect the boundaries of professional behavior. Keep noise to a minimum. Pick up after yourself. Try not to peer into every workspace as you walk down the aisles. When a large number of people are sharing a mutual area, the basic rules of common courtesy can go a long way toward ensuring your success!
What about you? What are some good and bad cubicle etiquette behaviors that YOU think are important to know?