12 Etiquette Tips for an Open Office Work Space

March 28, 2016

www.communicationdiva.co,Why Work Space Etiquette?

It’s one thing to have a private office with a door, where what you do inside is your business…to a point. But with an open office work space, where everything you do has the potential to have an impact on your next-door cubicle colleague, consideration of others and common courtesy is critical.

Distractions, interruptions and interference…

Some of us are extroverts, and some of us are introverts, and sometimes, we are unaware of how what we do affects the well-being of those we work with. It’s often hard enough to remain focused these days on the task at hand, without being distracted or constantly interrupted by a colleague…so here are some ways to ensure that you are playing nice and not interfering with the work and productivity of those around you.


1. Is your desk area tidy and clutter-free? What you have on your desk and how you keep it is a non-verbal communication to anyone walking past. If it’s a disaster, you will be seen as disorganized and less than professional. How does this affect your co-worker? It might not, unless others need to share your space from time to time; however, physical clutter contributes to stress levels, so even just seeing a grand disaster of a desk can make some people more anxious. (You might even find that if your desk area is clean and clutter free, you are more productive, more efficient and less stressed).

2. How do you decorate your work space? Offensive images or items, (including calendars and screensavers) are not cool, and again will reflect negatively on both you and your employer. Personalizing your space is of course a nice thing to do, as long as it is in keeping with the overall atmosphere of the organization, and you can still find what you need.  Remember that artifacts (things you decorate your space with), are a communication to anyone passing by. A well-chosen photo or two, a plant, a small piece of art or nice coffee mug can make statements about who you are.

3. Grooming yourself in your work space can be very distracting for your co-workers. Applying a full face of makeup, clipping toenails, brushing hair,  using your allergy nose-spray, (I’ve even heard of people flossing!)…all of these personal hygiene activities would be better done in the relative privacy of the restroom, and not in the close company of your colleagues, who might be distracted (and disgusted) by your ablutions.


4. Some food smells are challenging to others….especially if you aren’t willing to share. Freshly popped, buttered popcorn at 2:00 in the afternoon is a wonderful smell, but only if you are willing to share! Some food smells are very distracting, and some companies have policies about eating in the work space. Best to keep food to the lunchroom.

5. Back to personal hygiene: working in a tight space with others can mean that many smells, like colognes and perfumes, are competing with each other. For many people, these trigger allergic reactions such as breathing problems and sometimes migraine headaches. Try to be mindful of the person next you before you squirt that second spray.

6. One co-worker I knew used to remove his shoes and socks and walk around the office in bare feet, especially in the summer. His feet did not always smell very nice. (In fact, they smelled like old rubber tires.) Be mindful of how you are affecting others, especially when it comes to body odors. When it’s hot out, and you don’t have air-conditioning,  these smells can amplify.

7. Garbage, especially food waste, gets smelly fast. Keeping your cubicle trash can empty on a regular basis will make the air quality in and around your work space much fresher, and will discourage the invasion of little four-legged whiskered critters.


8. Lots of workers like to play music while working as it often helps with concentration. Use headphones for this so that your music doesn’t interfere with the work of the person nearby.

9. Keep a reasonable vocal level when working in an open work space.  Loud telephone conversations can be very distracting to those nearby, especially if others are working on the phone as well. A telephone headset with a microphone can  reduce the need to speak as loudly, and can cut out noise from the room around you, allowing you to concentrate better.

10. If you need to speak to someone two desks down, go directly to them to have the conversation, instead of calling to them across the room, which will annoy everyone around you. Be sure to interrupt the person you need to talk to gently. With no door to knock on, calling them by name or knocking quietly on the divider might be best.

11. Personal calls (especially ones filled with drama), can make it very difficult for others to work through. Use private conference rooms for those, or save these calls for break times when you can be outside the office area. Set personal cell phones to vibrate, and computers to silent so that beeps and pings and other technological notifications are kept to a minimum.

12. If you need to hold a meeting with someone,  try to use a conference room or empty office that has a door.  The other people who need to keep working next to your work space will appreciate you for it.

The biggest thing to keep in mind about working in an open office space is that mutual respect goes a long way. Being aware of your own volume levels, and how what you do in your space may affect others in their ability to be efficient and effective in their jobs will make you a more conscientious and more likable co-worker. Working well with others is a quality that often shows up in employee performance reviews, and can affect your potential for advancement.


Would you like more posts on workplace etiquette? Drop me a note below to let me know.

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