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Overhead view of adjoining cubicles, showing two employees with different work styles, one lounging on the phone, another on the computer.

Sometimes it may seem like a miracle, but cubicle coworkers with very different work and personal styles can get their jobs done. Supervisors play an important role in setting the tone and, when necessary, negotiating conflict and creating policies for healthy office culture.

Cubicles, copiers, and coffee pots

Tips for supervisors and staff to improve the office commons

By Dee Anne Bonebright

From Brief, October 6, 2004

Many of us work in office cubicles or other open environments. As we all know, one of the results can be friction between coworkers with different working styles and preferences.

Last month I was part of an online discussion on cubicle etiquette. A group of University of Minnesota supervisors shared pet peeves and ways they've found to cope with them, plus resources to help. Here are highlights.

General courtesy

In cubicle environments, "common" courtesy is more important than ever. A little bit of politeness goes a long way toward smoothing problems. Everybody should model good behavior and expect it from co-workers. For example...


"I didn't hear that!"

The coworker on the other side of the cube wall is stuck with a problem and you know the answer. Should you pretend you don't hear them? or offer to help?...You're six-and-a-half feet tall and every time you stand up, your coworkers glare at you as if you are trying to spy on them...A single parent, you call home every afternoon to make sure your child made it safely. One day, your coworker on the other side of the cube wall asks, "So, what time does school get out?"...You call for a doctor's appointment and, when the scheduler asks, "What about?" you are silent--you really don't want the whole office to know what you think you have...Your partner calls and signs off with "I love you" and you just say, "Ditto!" --Anon.

Here are some resources to help.

Office Etiquette 101 (PDF). Whitepaper, Haworth Inc., May 2000.

Cubicle Etiquette. (PDF) Intercom, November 2000.

Cube and Cubicle Etiquette. Pagewise, 2002.

Seven Ways to Get Along in an Open Office. Jugglezine, January 1988.

Three peeves and what to do about them

Pet peeve: Conversations in the walk way outside your cubicle and drop-in chats at inconvenient times Possible solutions: Negotiate house rules. Create group habits that respect each other's work space. For example-- Pet peeve: Distracting noises Possible solutions: Pet peeve: Distracting odors Possible solutions:
Dee Anne Bonebright directs the Supervisory Training Program in the Center for Human Resources Development.

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