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 courtesyIn 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...
- Respect each other's belongings. Don't borrow items from other people's work stations and don't open drawers without permission.
- Never interrupt or hover over someone who's involved in a phone conversation.
- If someone is in deep concentration, don't interrupt. Come back later or send them an e-mail message.
- Clean up after yourself in common areas. If the printer is almost out of paper, refill it. If there are only two ice cubes left, make more. Don't put the coffee pot back on the burner with only a half-cup remaining.
- Remember that people have different working styles. Some people are more extroverted and need to talk. Others are less social and prefer to work all day without interruption. Respect others' preferences and explain your own. Consider taking a group workshop on style differences, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the DiSC inventory. For more information about arranging one, see the Employee Career Enrichment Program Web site, http://www.umn.edu/ohr/ecep/DepartmentConsulting2.htm.
"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 themPet 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--
- Ask staff members to gather in designated spaces and not in the work area.
- Ask staff to stop at the doorway and knock before entering someone else's cubicle.
- Be sure everyone agrees to house rules so staff don't feel that they're being rude when they need to focus on what they're doing.
- Have quiet hours for support staff when they can focus on their tasks without being interrupted. Make sure everyone enforces them.
- Music may be played, but it must be low enough that it can't be heard on the other side of the cubicle wall. Head phones are a great invention.
- Don't use speaker phones in a cubicle setting.
- Keep drop-in visitors to a minimum and limit loud conversations.
- If eating at your desk, choose "quiet" foods and limit crunching, stirring, slurping, etc.
- Ask staff members to be conscious of cooking and food odors. If necessary, ask that all food-related trash be thrown away in a central location (be sure it's emptied every day) instead of in personal wastebaskets.
- If any staff member has perfume or other odor sensitivities, it may be necessary to have a unit policy asking staff to refrain from wearing scents. Disability Services can help you create an appropriate policy. Call 612-624-3316.
Dee Anne Bonebright directs the Supervisory Training Program in the Center for Human Resources Development.