Office life often means spending the day in a cubicle. For some, “life in the cube” is not unlike life on the farm, with large groups of diverse beings clustered together, trying to live in harmony, despite their many differences. Unfortunately, life in the cube can mean being without a moment’s privacy, and hearing and seeing everything your neighbors do.
It’s enough to drive a person to the trough. If your day involves living in the cube, follow these simple tips to survive, thrive, and save your (and your neighbor’s) sanity.
1. Keep It Down
Don’t squawk: Whether you’re talking on the phone or in person, keep your voice down and turn the speakerphone off. While you’re at it, turn down the volume on computer and desk phone ringer, and set your cellphone to vibrate. If you enjoy listening to music while you work, keep the volume low, or use headphones, and don’t sing along to your favorite tunes. To be sure, ask your surrounding cube neighbors if any volume coming from your cube is too loud.
2. Keep Your Personal Grooming, Personal
Don’t be the barn cat: Working in a cubicle is like living in a glass house. Everything you do is on display, especially personal grooming and preening. If you need to clip your nails, floss your teeth, shave, put on cologne, do your hair, or do some other ritual, do it at home. In case you wondered, spitting chewing tobacco into your trash can is a definite office “no”.
3. Keep the Group Chats to a Minimum
Don’t gather and cackle: If you and other coworkers gather to chat, talk quietly if you’re near other cubes. Better yet, go to another area or conference room. Remember, the people around you are trying to work. Group or loud conversations can be distracting to others, and make it hard to get work done.
4. Keep Your Repetitive Habits Toned Down
Don’t horse around: Finger, pen, or toe tapping might help you concentrate, but the distraction can make it harder for the people around you to focus. Keep repetitive noises to a minimum. Don’t bang file cabinet drawers closed or roll your chair excessively around your cube. If you have equipment that squeaks or needs to be repaired, call maintenance for assistance.
5. Keep Your Personal Information to Yourself
Don’t ruffle any feathers: Though you might think they do, most people don’t want to hear about your personal life. Keep private conversations to a minimum, and don’t have them in your cubicle. If you’re having a private telephone conversation, remember that people in the next cubicles can hear it, too, so be aware of your voice volume and what you’re saying.
However, sometimes the occasional personal call is unavoidable at work (like getting test results from the doctor during working hours or talking to the school about your child). When that happens, keep your voice low and information to a minimum on your end. Try to have the call on your cellphone in a private area. And cube neighbors, if a coworker is having one of those unavoidable, yet necessary, personal calls in the cube next to you, be respectful of their privacy and don’t listen in. Better yet, it’s the perfect time to refill your coffee cup or take a short walk down the hall.
6. Keep Your Germs at Home
Don’t be a donkey: If you’re sick, stay home and recover. While you might think your efforts to come to work are heroic, your coworkers probably resent being exposed to sickness. Germs get passed around the office area quickly via door handles, file folders, printers/copiers, coffee pot handles, telephones, etc. Remember to wash your hands often, keep them away from your face and mouth, and use hand sanitizer frequently.
7. Knock Before Entering
Don’t ram your way in: Just because a cubicle doesn’t have a door doesn’t mean it’s okay to barge in. Respect your coworker’s work area, and assume there is an invisible door. Softly knock on the nearest surface and wait until you’re invited in. If the cube is blocked by a free-standing screen, it’s usually a clear signal your coworker is trying to concentrate in a tough environment and doesn’t want to be disturbed at the moment. If your coworker’s cube is empty, don’t enter, unless it’s to quickly drop off an item on his/her chair. Never, ever lurk around their cube, looking at papers on their desk or at their computer screen. If no one’s home in the cube, return to your desk and send them a voicemail or an email to let them know you stopped by.
8. Avoid Interruptions
Don’t storm the barn: If a coworker is on the phone or deep in thought, don’t try to get their attention or talk to them. Instead, try to catch up with them later. If the matter isn’t urgent, send them a voicemail or an email.
9. Keep the Fragrances in the Field
Don’t reek like the farm: Avoid wearing heavy perfumes or colognes to the office, and don’t use air fresheners in your cube. Your coworkers might have allergies that can be triggered by strong fragrances. Avoid eating in your cubicle if your meal is particularly pungent. Also, be mindful of coworkers with food allergies (like peanuts), and don’t bring or eat those foods in the work area.
10. Don’t Borrow From Your Neighbors
Don’t be a fox: Never borrow or take anything from your coworker’s desktop or cubicle without asking first. Even if they let you use the item in the past, ask to use it each time. If they aren’t available, wait until they are. Don’t take anything out of their unoccupied cube unless you have prior permission.
One Final Thought:
Even though there’s not a lot of personal space in the typical office cubicle, it still should be respected. Keep your cube clean. Respect your own space as well as that of others. Ultimately, the office space belongs to the company you work for, so take good care of it. Remember, the CEO can stop by at any time for a surprise visit. You don’t want your cube looking like the barnyard, so be prepared!
Follow these simple rules to show each other respect and ensure a stress-free work environment. When you work in the cube, it’s important to mind your manners and keep your coworkers in mind, too.
We try our best to follow Rebecca’s advice at Kennametal, but what other tips have you found helpful for working in the cube?