• Good office etiquette ups your reputation and boosts personal brand
  • Respect the boundaries and the privacy of others
  • Keep your own noises, sounds, smells under control 
Oh great, he’s back at his desk. It’s going to be another solid hour or two of bad humming, desk tapping, loud sneezing, cross-aisle gossiping, etc.

It get so bad sometimes that all you want to do is yell out, “Shut the fuck up!

The only time you can get any amount of peace and quiet is when he’s away from his desk at a meeting.

It’s moments like this where you dream about having your own office where you can close the door for some quiet and get shit done.

Like the millions of us working out of cubicles or open office plans, you’re probably very familiar with the varying degrees of your desk neighbors' workspace etiquette. Some are pretty self-aware and practice good office manners, while others seem like they just graduated from elementary school.

Every cubicle neighborhood is just like a real-life neighborhood. There are cool, laid back neighbors at one end of the spectrum, asshole or bitch neighbors at the other end and everything else in between.

Some cubicle neighborhoods are more like young, rowdy and lively singles while others are more like quiet family communities. It all depends upon the department and overall company culture.

We’re here to help improve the world’s office manners at the staff or working level. You know, the folks that do all the grunt work and details? The ones that execute and complete all the tasks?

That’s you and us.

When we all follow and practice good office etiquette, everyone benefits and work then doesn’t become a place of drudgery and angst, but a place that’s actually enjoyable and dare we say, fun?

Why Cubicle Etiquette Matters

The biggest reason why cubicle etiquette matters is because it makes everyone’s working life better (or less miserable). It creates an environment that’s more enjoyable, conducive to collaboration and leads to more overall productivity.

And, it’s not just at the higher group that benefits.

Practicing good office manners directly benefits you from a career and personal standpoint.

Ups Your Office Reputation 

Everyone has a reputation at work - good, bad or neutral. What you do, what you say and how you carry yourself everyday shapes your reputation in the eyes and minds of your colleagues.

When your name comes up in a conversation or meeting, people automatically have an idea about you. Your reputation represents you when you’re not there.

And when you’ve got a good positive rep, people think highly of you, even those that haven’t even worked with you yet.

How you work with others, the quality and productivity of your work and of course, your office etiquette all go a long way in upping your reputation.

Boosts Your Personal Brand

Beyond your reputation, you also have to manage your personal brand at work. When we think of brands, we often think of companies or products like Coke, Apple, Target, etc. But, there’s personal brands too.

Every brand triggers certain emotions and qualities. It’s an automatic association.

The same thing happens when someone sees or hears your name. It automatically results in certain thoughts and feelings.

When you’re self-aware and practice sensible cubicle manners, it continues to polish and shine your personal brand.

Ensures Productivity For All

If you’ve ever participated in any outdoor team-building events, there’s one task that really highlights the importance of group collaboration and teamwork. It’s the two-plank team walk.
team plank walk

(Credit: Women In Rail)

When one person isn’t following the cadence, it creates issues for everyone else.

The same situation happens when one or more of your coworkers isn’t following common sense manners at work. Their actions have negative ripple effects that spread outward to others.

However, when everyone’s on the same page, things operate so much more efficiently and effectively. It ups the chances for everyone to “get in the zone” at work. And when shit gets done good things happen.

Makes Everyone Happier

When the workplace environment is welcoming, fun and conducive to productivity, it will let happiness at work happen more often.

One of the key elements that creates, supports and sustains this kind of workplace environment is cubicle etiquette.

When everyone gets along and there’s little to no friction, work life is smoother, more enjoyable and challenging tasks and projects are overcome and achieved with more verve and motivation.

And when this happens, there are greater chances of happiness spreading throughout the culture.

The Web’s Most Comprehensive List Of Cubicle Etiquette Rules

There are pockets of good useful tips on cubicle etiquette scattered throughout the web. However, we have yet to see a comprehensive one that covers all of the bases.

So, we compiled this ultimate guide based upon our research and personal experiences at the office from our team.

This guide consists of three main sections: 
  • Boundaries and privacy
  • Sound and noise control
  • Odors and smells

I. Boundaries & Privacy

You’ve heard of the saying, “Good fences make good neighbors” and it applies to so many aspects of life. It’s all about having clear boundaries that are understood and observed by all.

It’s the cashier behind the counter and you on the other side, the parking spot lines, standing six feet away from the person using the ATM, etc. There are clear and hidden boundaries everywhere in life.

Respecting other people’s boundaries and setting solid boundaries of your own at work is an important part of office etiquette.

“Knock” At The Cubicle Entrance

Because cubicles don’t have doors and open office plan workspaces don’t even have walls, it’s always a good idea to introduce yourself before chatting with your colleague. Don’t just barge in.

If there’s a partition or hard surface by the workspace, a little knock on the surface is a great way to get their attention.

Otherwise, if it’s an open floorplan style, you can simply say, “knock-knock”, wave and smile.

Don’t Interrupt If They’re On The Phone

As you approach your coworker’s desk, keep your eyes and ears open. If you notice that they’re on the phone, don’t interrupt them. Just keep walking by or do a u-turn and head back to your desk.

When there are less interruptions, it improves monotasking skills.

About the only time it’s okay to interrupt is when it’s an absolute urgent priority. Otherwise, swing by later or send an email or text instead.

Stop “Prairie-Dogging” And Peering Over The Wall

Looking over the wall of your cubicle and down into your neighbor’s workspace is annoying and feels like a bit of privacy invasion. It’s kinda like if someone peered over the bathroom stall wall to look at you while you’re doing a toilet meditation.

If it’s the cubicle next to you, just talk through the wall or just roll yourself around to see them. Or, if it’s on the other side, get up and walk over. You need to get up and move around anyway.

Don’t Take Or Borrow Things

If you’ve seen the classic 90’s movie, “Office Space,” this is Milton’s biggest pet peeve. His favorite red Swingline stapler is his most prized possession and often gets swiped by others.
milton swingline stapler

(Credit: 20th Century Fox)

In some offices, personal theft can be an issue to the point where you may be searching for ways to keep your purse safe at work.

Cubicles and open floor plan workspaces don’t have doors, so it’s easy for people to “borrow” a stapler (we feel you Milton), pen, scissors, sticky notes, calculator etc.

Don’t borrow or take things from other people’s desks. If you need something, raid the office supply closet instead.

Don’t Leave Paperwork On The Seat Or Keyboard 

This has come up quite a bit in our informal surveys. When you’re not at your desk and somebody drops by and puts paperwork on the seat of your chair or directly on your keyboard, it’s annoying.

It’s like forcibly putting a document in someone’s face. Please don’t do this.

Instead, place the document on their desk next to the keyboard along with a friendly sticky note. Or, even better, if they have an inbox that’s hanging on the wall or on their desk, put it in there - that’s what it’s for.

Don’t Use Your Cubicle As A Dressing Room

Taking off or putting on your jacket in your cubicle is fine. Ditto for swapping into and out of your office shoes.

But, please spare everyone the embarrassment of seeing you change out of your shirt, pants, etc. Your workspace isn’t a dressing room. Take care of any wardrobe changes and/or adjustments in the bathroom.

No Personal Grooming At Your Desk

This is another activity that shouldn’t take place at your desk. Any personal grooming like putting on make-up, brushing hair, applying deodorant or antiperspirant etc. should be done in the bathroom.

Plus, there’s nothing more grotesque than hearing somebody clipping their skanky fingernails at their desk while you're trying to work or even worse, trying to eat your lunch.
someecards clipping fingernails

Keep Your Chachkies And Decoration Within Your Space

We’re all for sprucing up your desk at work. Adding your own little personal decorative touches here and there help to make your cubicle more inviting and fun to be in is all good.

Just be sure that none of your stuff spills over into your neighbor’s area.

The one debatable area is the thin piece of real estate between you and your neighbor. It’s that 2-3 inch partition wall, the “no man’s land”. We say it’s neutral and don’t use it unless it's for the hanging file folders.

Don’t Put Up Offensive Posters, Photos And Screensavers

Anyone and everyone can see your workspace. So, be wise about it. Don’t put up vulgar or offensive posters, photos and/or screensavers in your workspace.

Your cubicle isn’t a frat house. Okay?

Just imagine if your big boss or the president of the company walked by your desk and looked at your work area, would any of the things displayed in your cubicle help or hurt your image?

Keep Your Cubicle Organized

Some have said that messiness is a sign of creativity. And while that may be true for some professions, most office occupations don’t fall into this category.

Having piles of random and scattered paper piles everywhere with stale leftover food and stained coffee rings on your desk isn’t a good image. It portrays lack of organization and cleanliness.

Less mess leads to less stress. Decluttering your crazy cubicle is a great first step. Now, this doesn’t mean that your workspace needs to be immaculately spotless all the time. It just needs to be organized and reasonably clean most of the time.

However, if you want to take it up a notch, do a little Feng Shui mini-make over to bring on ultimate organization and boost good spiritual vibes.

II. Controlling Sounds & Noise

Because we’re all in cubicles or open plan offices, controlling sounds and noises can be a huge challenge. Focusing in a noisy office to get shit done can sometimes be an impossible task. But, if everyone does their part in minimizing noises and sounds, the office can actually be a reasonably low-noise place.

There are some sounds that are unavoidable and part of all working environments. It’s the ringing desk phones, in-person discussions, copy machine printing, keyboard clacking, impromptu aisle convos, etc.

In some cases, having some ambient background sounds can actually help you focus. It’s the reason why some people work well in coffee shops.

So, we’re not here to turn the offices of the world into pin-drop quiet libraries or silent “quiet rooms”. We just want to keep the noise from getting out of hand.

Adjust Your Talking Volume

Every office and company culture has different levels of noise tolerance. The main floor of a call center will have much higher levels of acceptable noise than that of a research group within a law firm.

So, you need to adjust your talking volume to match that of the environment.

If your area is filled with chatty folks and the nature of the business requires that, then match your talking volume to the norm or less. If it’s the opposite and things are very quiet, then you’ll need to tone it down a bit.

Don’t Yell Across The Room 

Talking with your next door cube neighbor or the one across the aisle is fine. In fact, it’d be weird if you use the phone to talk to them.

What’s not good is when you prairie-dog and yell across the whole damn floor to get someone’s attention. Don’t be that guy.

If you need to contact someone that far off, get up from your chair and walk over. It’s good to get up every once in a while anyway. Or, shoot them an email or instant message.

Avoid Aisle Or Hallway Meetings

Every now and then, you may catch your coworker in the hallway or the cubicle aisle to discuss a critical task or get what you need from that unresponsive coworker.

While it’s great that you’re finally able to pin them down, it’s not great for you guys to have an informal meeting right in the hallway or aisle where other people are working right next to you.

Head to an open meeting room or back to either of your desks to continue the conversation.

Don’t Use The Speakerphone

Look, nobody wants to be part of your conference call or conversation. We all have enough of our own to manage, thank you.

So, don’t use the speakerphone on your desk. Pick up the handset and do it the old-school way. If you’re on a lot of boring conference calls, ask for a headset so that you don’t tweak your neck.

Mute Or Set Your Cell Phone On Vibrate

Back when cell phones first started becoming popular, there was only one ringtone - a simple ringing sound. The only choice you had was to either turn it on or off.

Today, there are millions of custom ringtones to choose from. You may love your 90’s song ringtone or that custom funky sound you selected from the phone settings, but others don’t, trust us.

VIDEO: Geico 2010 Ringtone Commercial
YOUTUBE: CommercialsUSA
LENGTH: 00:30
When you’re away from your desk and your phone is blowing up with text message alerts, app notifications chirps and phone calls, we want to hit your phone with a sledgehammer and throw it out the window.

So, remember, to put your phone either on mute or vibrate so that it’s not driving everyone crazy.

Set Your Desk Phone Ringer To Low

Unless you’re geriatric wearing a hearing aid, you don’t need to have your desk phone blasting the ringer at max volume.

Adjust your desk phone ringer volume to the lowest level possible where you can still hear it well enough in your working environment. This way, when you’re not at your desk, it’s not ringing loudly.

Even better, if your desk phone has an “away” function, get in the habit of turning it on whenever you leave your desk and turning it off when you return. So, if any calls come in while you’re out, it’ll go straight to voice-mail.

Turn Off Computer Audio Speakers & Use Headphones

This is along the same lines as the speakerphone use. Don’t do it.

Sound carries in open offices and nobody wants to hear you listening to the training webinars, YouTube videos about your hobbies, interests or your synth-pop-rap channel.

Turn off or disable your computer speakers and plug in your headphones instead. Besides, using headphones is a great way to mask and drown out office noise.

Avoid Loud Headphone Music 

Okay, there’s usually one person in nearly every office that abides by the rule of having to use headphones for listening to music while working. But, they listen to their music at maxed-out volumes where you can hear the music too.

Not cool.

Tone it down and be respectful of others. Plus, your eardrums will thank you too.

Stop Tapping The Table & Clicking Your Pen

Some folks have a nervous habit of tapping their desk with a pen/pencil or clicking the retractable pen in and out while thinking. This habit is a mechanism to help work through thoughts and ideas.

While it helps to mentally process things, table tapping of any kind or incessantly clicking your pen just drives your cube neighbors up the wall. Instead, try tapping yourself on the thigh with your fingers or squeeze stress balls instead.

Don’t Bounce Your Knee/Leg

This is along the lines of the table tapping thing. Some people have bodily motion disorders where they need to rapidly bounce their knee up and down while thinking or working. It’s along similar lines as mild restless leg syndrome.

The issue is that these fidgeting energy vibes travel across the floor like an earthquake. Your nearby coworkers can feel it. And, it’s annoying as fuck.

It’s an odd habit and many times, it’s subconsciously done. If you fall into this category, try to calm those nerves or burn that extra energy before your cube neighbors beat your ass.

Your Desk Isn’t A Drum Set

There’s nothing quite like a killer beat to keep your energy levels up. It gets your body moving and heart pumping. We’re all for listening to upbeat tunes to get through the work day.

Fav tunes help to keep you from falling asleep at your desk. However, when the enthusiasm extends to using your desk as your impromptu drum set, you’ve crossed the line.

Air drumming is no better for the same reasons as the leg shake vibes. Your body movements reverberate through the floor to others nearby.

Don’t Have Personal Arguments At Your Desk

Dealing with arguments at work causes a lot of stress. But, things can get even worse when we’re in some kind of argument with our family, spouse, kids, etc. Having personal arguments at your desk is not only inappropriate but also an annoying distraction to others.

Nobody wants to hear you going off on your phone. It creates and spreads bad mojo. So, don’t do it at your desk.

Instead, continue the conversation at a meeting room, take it outside or even in your car. This way, you can be free to let loose without making it uncomfortable for your coworkers.

Make Very Personal Calls In Private

If you’ve got to sort out some very personal issues like hemorrhoids, yeast infections or other real personal things, do yourself and others a favor by having these discussions in private.

This means taking the call outside or in your car or wherever that is out of the hearing range of others. Nobody needs to know about your very personal issues.

Don’t Discuss Confidential Stuff At Your Desk

Along the same lines as above, but somewhat less embarrassing, is having confidential conversations in your cubicle. This could be about your challenges with dealing with an asshole coworker, performance review, paycheck issues, etc.

Having these kinds of discussions at your desk only fuels office drama.

It’s far better to have these kinds of conversations in a meeting room. Where you can speak freely without others eavesdropping. This way, you’ll avoid the gossip trap and keep things confidential.

III. Minimize Odors & Smells

If there’s one thing that can universally sour everybody’s day is foul odors or smells. Most office ventilation systems do an okay job of circulating warm or cool air, but none are designed to eliminate odors well.

Some cubicle farm layouts and open floor plans have dead-zone pockets or areas where odors just seem to linger on forever. And worse, in newer modern office buildings, the windows can’t even be opened to get some fresh air. It all gets trapped inside.

With that in mind, we all need to be more aware of the smells and odors that we may be bringing with us or creating in our workspaces.

Don’t Be Pig Pen

If you remember the old Charlie Brown cartoons, there was Pig Pen. Charlie’s long-time bestie was always dirty and stinky. Everywhere he’d go, people had to pinch their noses to be around him.

The message here is simple. Don’t come into work with nasty foul-smelling body odor or all sweaty and stinky from a heavy workout (try easy low sweat workouts sometime).

Whatever you do, just be sure to get yourself cleaned up and freshened before rolling into work.

Check With HR About Perfume/Cologne Use

Some people really enjoy wearing perfume or cologne. It’s part of their identity and helps to improve their mood throughout the day. The issue is that what smells good to one person is awful to another.

In particular, some people have very sensitive noses and even subtle wafts of perfume or cologne can be an irritant.

Since you can’t physically limit how far the scent can travel, minimize the amount you use. Don’t be a scent bomber. Or, use scented oils instead which stay close to you and don’t dissipate far.

The best thing to do is check with HR and see if there’s any policy about using/spraying scents at work.

Don’t Use Air Fresheners Or Aromatherapy

Scent preferences are a very personal and sensitive thing. For some people, a little spritz of an air freshener is a great way to liven up your space. But, that same little spritz is like a fumigation bomb to others.

The same goes for aromatherapy diffusers. What smells great to you can smell awful to someone else. If you’re gonna use any kind of aromatherapy, limit it to dabbing essential oils just under your nose. This way only you can smell it.

Leave all the air fresheners and aromatherapy stuff for your home shower sanctuary

Avoid Strong Food Smells At Desk

If you like spicy flavorful dishes, watch out for this. Strong food odors can be a real problem for your fellow desk mates. So, you’ve gotta be aware of this and respect the shared airspace.

Freshly baked chocolate cookies or brownies at your desk or the community food spot are most usually well accepted. But, bringing your just reheated fish leftovers to eat at your desk won’t win you any favors, just scowled looks.

Keep the stronger food smells in the break room or take it outside to the patio. Or even better, head out for lunch with your BFFs.

Your Cubicle Isn’t A Nail Salon

It’s amazing how fast and far nail polish fumes can travel. The moment you uncap that tiny brush applicator, the odor instantly spreads like a nuclear bomb mushroom cloud.

VIDEO: Funny dog (husky) sneezing
YOUTUBE: sora Takeuchi
LENGTH: 0:14
Nail polish and removers have a bunch of toxic chemicals including acetone, butyl acetate, dibutyl phthalate, ethyl acetate, formaldehyde, toluene and others. All of these chemicals emit noxious fumes that can cause headaches, dizziness, breathing difficulties and eye, nose and throat irritations.

Leave the fingernail polishing at the salon or at home.

Don’t Fart In Your Cube

Sometimes, when the urge to fart is intense and you can’t get to the bathroom, you’ll just spread your ass cheeks a bit and try to sneak it out sideways while sitting at your desk.

This is a big no-no.

Farting at work has big consequences.

First off, you don’t know how bad it’ll smell. It could be a fairly harmless one or it could be a nose-hair curling stink bomb. Secondly, you never know who’s going to just pop by your desk right after you let loose. And lastly, never ever trust that fart because it could easily turn into a shart (shit-fart).

Play it safe and just take it to the bathroom. 

Keep Your Shoes On

Dress shoes aren’t the most comfortable things to wear, we get it. The temptation to kick off your shoes under your desk is very alluring. It feels great to let your tired dogs relax and air out.

However, for some folks, foot odor is a problem. And if you’re in this camp, please keep your shoes on. Nobody wants to get a whiff of your stinky toe cheese fumes.

If You’re Sick, Stay Home

While this isn’t categorically an odor or smell, it’s kind of in the same general idea of bad things wafting toward your cubicle mates.

Coming into work when you’re sick isn’t a sign of commitment to your job or a badge of honor. It just pisses others off. All you’ll be doing is exposing others to your hacks, coughs and sneezes and potentially getting them ill with whatever you’ve got.

So, if you’re not feeling well, work from home or take a PTO day or two to recover. Don’t bring that shit into the office.

Common Sense & Courtesy Go A Long Way

woman smile desk
Cubicle life ain’t easy and work life can be a real bitch sometimes. So, why make it any more difficult and annoying than what we all have to deal with already?

When we all do our part in making office life more pleasant, it compounds into even better things over time. A little courtesy here and a small gesture there leads to others doing likewise. It then increases the odds of an upward cycle of goodness.

It’s not going to be all happy-go-lucky all of the time. There are going to be rough days where everyone in the office is in a shitty mood and manners go out the window.

And that’s exactly when things can either go south real quickly or it can be a pivot point where a bit of courtesy and etiquette can be just the thing to turn things around. It can lead to more positivity at work when work sucks.

So, do your part, follow these cubicle etiquette tips and eventually as others catch on, life at work won’t be as annoying. It’ll get to be more fun.

Feel Better,

more on cubicle life