Workplace Wednesday: Cubicle Courtesy

Posted by Eric Smith

In honor of Workplace Conflict Awareness Month, we’re posting excerpts from Caroline Tiger’s How To Behave: A Guide to Modern Manners. In How To Behave, Caroline dedicates an entire chapter to office etiquette. It’s my hope that these bits of wisdom, posted every Wednesday this month, will help you to alleviate the conflict in your workplace.

Last week we talked about how to deal with the Overripe Office Refridgerator, and the week before, it was Photocopier Etiquette. Today, Caroline teaches you some valuable lessons in Cubicle Courtesy.

Cubicle Courtesy

From How To Behave by Caroline Tiger

A study completed in 2001 by an environmental psychologist at Cornell University confirms what we all already know: Cubicles are not fit for humans. The scientist studied 40 women working in cubicles where the atmosphere ranged from very quiet to one suffused with typical office background noise.

The women in the noisier cubicles experienced much higher stress levels, made 40 percent fewer attempts to solve an unsolvable puzzle, and were more prone to twisting themselves into nonergonomic positions (which left them open to repetitive stress injuries). And it’s not just the noise that makes cubicles lousy places to work—it’s the size. Where cubicles once averaged an area of eight feet by eight feet, they’re now closer to five feet by six feet, providing 30 square feet of workspace—or half as much space as the average jail cell.

To make these doorless, anonymous spaces livable for you and your coworkers, be sure to keep in mind the basics of cubicle courtesy.

1. When on the phone, keep your voice low and even.

2. Avoid noisemakers: Set cell phones and pagers to vibebrate; turn off the sound on your computer; if you’re going on vacation, turn the ringer on your phone to the “off” position; wear headphones if you like to listen to music or the radio while you work.

3. Refrain from backing your chair into the cubes’ “common wall.”

4. Keep personal phone calls especially hush-hush (no one wants to know what you did last night, and if they do want to know—you don’t want them to know) and to no longer than five minutes. Even better, make the call during lunch or after work, or use e-mail.

5. Respect the space of others. Just because they don’t have a door doesn’t mean you should feel free to barge in at will. Knock or pause to make sure they’re not busy before you enter.

6. Don’t stand around and wait to speak to a coworker who’s on the phone or speaking to another coworker. Come back in a few minutes.

7. Avoid bringing strong smells into close working quarters—avoid too much perfume or cologne—and always remember to use deodorant. Do not eat strong-smelling foods at your desk, such as cheesy microwave popcorn or anything with raw onions.

For more information on How To Behave by Caroline Tiger, scope out the book’s official page.

Eric Smith


ERIC SMITH is the cofounder of Geekadelphia, a popular blog covering all-that-is-geek in the City of Brotherly Love, as well as the Philadelphia Geek Awards, an annual awards show held at the Academy of Natural Sciences. He’s written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Weekly, and