Office Etiquette


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Today, professionals of all stripes, from entry-level to highly skilled, share their space in cube farms, shared offices, and open work environments. While the benefit of these arrangements is open for argument, the friction that arises is hard to deny. For many of us, operating in these close quarters is a new experience and we aren’t always aware of how our actions impact those around us. This article offers a few tips to the “privacy-impaired” that should help keep the peace in what is sometimes a frustrating environment.

The first thing to recognize is that you have no privacy. Every phone call you make; every conversation you have; every bodily function that you issue will be observed by one or more of your co-workers. In most cases, they won’t want to hear these things from you – they simply can’t avoid it. So don’t be offended if you get unsolicited advice about your love-life if you spend a lot of time on the phone with your significant other.

This brings up the issue of making personal calls or having extended non-work-related conversations when others around you are working. If someone is trying to concentrate or conduct business within earshot of you, take the conversation somewhere else. If you don’t, you’re imposing on their right to do their job. And that IS why you’re all there, right?

Speaking of distractions: have you ever listened to someone eat a whole carrot in the cube next to you? No? Well I can tell you that it is highly distracting. In fact, anything that resembles a bodily function, whether it’s eating loudly, clipping your finger nails, belching, or worse, should not occur within the confines of a shared office or cube. If someone can hear, or sense your actions in any way, please take them outside. You’ll save yourself some embarrassment and your coworkers will thank you.

Another no-no is sharing your music or talk-radio with your office-mates. If you enjoy listening while you work, more power to you. But to many folks, these are distractions. Use headphones if you like to listen to music or anything else. And by no means should you hum, whistle or sing when others are within range!

One really lousy thing to do to your office-mate is to discard something smelly in the wastebasket. Banana peels, onions, blue cheese, and many other substances can get pretty ripe after sitting at room temperature for a few hours. Discard these things, and anything else that smells, far, far away.

Simply being aware of the people in your vicinity will help you to be considerate of how they feel. And while you might not mind the sound of potato chips being munched, don’t assume that everyone else is as tolerant. Once you start thinking along these lines, I’m sure you’ll have your own ideas on how to make your cell mates’, I mean work mates’ lives easier.

Joe Pescatello is an author and a commercial software developer. Visit for a sample of his work or contact him at


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