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How to Navigate the Cube

Posted on Thu, January 1,2015 @ 9:06 AM

Decades ago, Mother Necessity – in order to achieve more efficient use of office space – gave birth to the cubicle. Fast forward to today, and one might find “mother” a tad disappointed by a certain aspect of cubicle-laden work environments – our manners.


Many of us, for instance, have labored in a cube farm infested with “prairie dogs” who pop up above the enclosures to communicate with each other. We’ve experienced those associates who eat their corn beef and cabbage in adjacent cubes. Or, we’ve tried to tune out the cubicle co-workers who listen to their favorite polka-rap music – aloud, over their computer speakers.

Too often, cubicles feature a parade of uninvited guests, less than pristine work environments, bosses that hover while a cube denizen is on a call, and more personal conversations than one would ever want to overhear.

This not-so-new phenomenon has generated enough angst to drive HR professionals, journalists and bloggers to pound out various rules of etiquette (even a quiz) for cube residents and their visitors. Most of their recommendations simply apply good manners to this different setting, things like:

  • Your cube is a bit of a fish bowl. Keep your space clean, organized and work-oriented.
  • Don’t talk over the top of cubicles, or answer a question you overhear across the room.
  • Limit personal calls and be discrete. Avoid using the speakerphone setting altogether.
  • Treat cubicles as offices and knock lightly or ask if it’s a good time to interrupt before entering.
  • Don’t loiter around one’s cube if they are on the phone when you visit – come back later.
  • Don’t read co-workers’ computer screens when visiting their cubicles.
  • Cubicles make lousy meeting space. Schedule meetings elsewhere.
  • Your cube shouldn’t offend the senses – be it sound (you, your computer, music), sight (décor) or smell (food, cologne, perfume, other).

Naturally, rules are subjective and by no means all-inclusive. That’s our polite way of saying the experts might have missed, or misstated, a few things.

For instance, setting out candy is supposedly taboo because it fosters lolly-gagging, but that fails to recognize the upside in morale and positive stimulation of say, Hershey’s minis (dibs on Mr. Goodbar).

Personalizing one’s space with photos is also a gray area – consensus suggests keeping it minimal and modest. We would offer some clarification: no pictures of cats, no photos from the beach, no Justin Bieber posters, and try holding off on the baby shots until six months to two years, when most tykes start looking cute to everyone else.

Personal calls, rightfully, are not recommended. We would take that a step further and propose a ban on certain subsets of personal calls, such as: calls to the radio station trying to win Styx tickets; calls with a mommy-parts doctor; phone fights with a spouse; booty calls; conversations with a grandmother who is hard of hearing; calls with a brother who wants to rehash the big game; calls with a lawyer, probation officer or spiritual advisor; and calls in which one talks about someone in a neighboring cube. (Yeah, like it was that hard to figure out who you were talking about, jerk-face.)

And then there’s the unwritten rule about not touching anything in someone else’s cubicle. Exceptions abound. For instance, what if the cube resident has a bowl of Hershey’s minis? Or, they display own one of those pendulum ball swings on their cube counter top. Or, that particular cube neighbor once replaced your family beach outing picture with a cast photo from Biggest Loser, and you are hungry for some payback.

Navigating the cubicle environment requires decorum and tact much different from the industrial age when one simply assembled as fast as possible in dim light, sweltering conditions, poor ventilation and a level of noise nearly impossible to talk over. It brings a whole new set of challenges – challenges we believe we can meet head on with common sense and helpful tips provided by blogs such as this.

If you would like to know more about cubicle etiquette, ask Mr. Manners sitting on the other side of my carpeted wall. If you would like to know more about registration software and ABC Signup, feel free to contact us by e-mail or phone (866.791.8268x0) at your convenience.

And as always, use the Comments section below to add your thoughts about cubicle etiquette, including any rules we might have missed, lessons from personal experience, etc.

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