Do You Mind Your Cube Manners? writer

Loud conversation, miniature basketball games, hollering across the office and a brazen lack of courtesy for other employees are eminent in today's workplace, replacing what used to be a quiet, work-compatible atmosphere. With 58 percent of American offices housing cube farms for employees, good manners regarding workers' home away from home is a must.

Check out the following questions from concerned employees about cube manners and how our experts weigh in.

Q: My co-workers are loud in everything they do, from their conversations to their computer activity. What should I do?

A: "Tune in to tune out," says Linda Lopeke, a career advancement expert and creator of SmartStartTM Virtual Mentoring Programs. "Simply bring in your iPod or similar device, pop the earphones in your ears and replace the noisy gaggle with soothing tunes or other sounds that calm your frazzled nerves and keep your spirits up."

Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of The LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based employment solution company, says general cube etiquette calls for everyone to keep his/her volume down.

"That means your voice, your computer, your music. Your neighbor doesn't want to hear every detail of Aunt Marnie's wedding or feel like they're in the front row at an Aerosmith concert."

Q: Is it possible my co-workers don't realize they are loud and annoying?

A: "We're rarely aware of behaviors that irritate others -- unless we're malicious or retaliatory and are doing it on purpose -- which is often imputed but infrequently true," says Francie Dalton, president of Dalton Alliances, Inc., a Maryland-based executive coaching firm. "Explain that much of your work requires concentration, and that you'd be much more productive if they could find it in their hearts to soften their voices a bit."

Q: What's the protocol for eating smelly food in the office?

A: "Don't eat overly powerful fragrant foods," Gimbel suggests. "No one wants to sit next to the guy who eats smelly tuna, curry or grease-soaked fries every day. Especially when the stomach issues kick in later in the day."

Q: My co-worker is always barging into my cube or popping her head over the top. How can I handle this nuisance?

A: "Don't creep up on people," Gimbel urges. "Don't scare the crap out your neighbors by sneaking into their cubes unannounced. Give them a friendly neighborly knock instead."

Lopeke says if people aren't going to knock, they should at least make some sound of entry rather than just hovering like a shadow until you catch their reflection in your monitor.

"Simply ask the person not to creep up behind you and to please knock to let you know they've arrived or need your attention," Lopeke says. "If they forget... OOPS, did you just accidentally run over their foot jumping up from your chair?"

Q: My co-worker has hundreds of pictures, her troll collection and high school memorabilia in her cube. Is there a rule about cubicle decorations?

A: "With the amount of hours today's employees work, they often spend more time living in their cube than in their home," Gimbel says. "So, it's to be expected that co-workers will decorate their cubes to make their space a little more livable."

Pictures, plants and knickknacks are all OK for cube space, but there are a few rules you should follow for proper cube decorating, according to Gimbel:

  • Censor Decorations: You may want to spend the day looking at the half-naked women in the 2007 swimsuit calendar, but chances are your female co-workers probably do not. Same goes for that picture on your desk of you in your string bikini. Don't go bizarre with decorations, either. You may scare your cube neighbors.
  • Don't Go Overboard: It's OK to bring in plants, collections and other decorations, but keep it to a minimum. Keep plants trimmed and collections tidy. No one wants to journey through a bamboo forest to get to your desk or fear the ivy creeping over your cube. Make sure your decorations don't intrude on others' space or make your cube unapproachable.

Q: Whenever I pass my colleague's cube, he is always surfing the Web or doing non-work related stuff. Should I say something?

A: Definitely not -- you are not responsible for your colleague's work habits; you are only accountable for your own, Lopeke says. "Mind your own cube and habits and forget about what other people are doing or not doing."

Q: What's the proper etiquette for personal phone conversations at your desk?

A: "Don't publicize your personal soap opera," Gimbel says. "Your cube mate probably doesn't want to hear the details of your breakup or your doctor's appointment, so try to avoid making unnecessary personal calls from work, and keep your voice down when you do."

If the issues are intensely personal, go outside or to an unoccupied area and use your cell phone, Dalton says.

"Keep in mind that people make judgments about your professionalism and your productivity based on the frequency and the etiquette with which you conduct such conversations."

Q: How important is it to be a good neighbor at work?

A: "Being a good neighbor at work is being a good co-worker," Gimbel says. "If you sing aloud in your cube, partake in overly fragrant cologne/perfume or eavesdrop on your neighbor's phone calls, chances are you aren't being a good colleague. You want to contribute hard work, not daily annoyances."

Q: Is there a rule of thumb for cube etiquette?

A: "If you can't escape from cubicle nation, do unto others as you would have them do unto you," Lopeke says. "Cube karma rules.

Next: Do's and Don'ts of Cube Decor >>

Copyright 2007

Read Full Story