Workplace Etiquette: The Cubicle

Has it really been 20 years since I received my J.D.?? Yes, in fact, it has been! And while I have worked in many different roles and for many different employers, I’ve always had a private office.  I cringed at the idea of shared work space. I resisted cubicle seating for as long as I could, but my time has officially come.  In keeping with the trend of enhancing collaboration and saving costs, my company moved me and my team into office cubicles.  I’ve been in my new cube for a few weeks now, and to be honest, I’m struggling with the change. So, I decided to figure out how to make this work for me. I started thinking about what was bothering me and came up with some ways to make this fun and enjoyable. As always, I incorporated basic etiquette techniques to make improvements.  With the cooperation of the whole team, the suggestions I came up with should make things much better.

Let’s start with a few key components of working successfully in the shared office space: greetings, noise, and image. 


A person’s cube is still a personal space, even though there aren’t walls and a door. When we are visitors, we must respect the time and space of our fellow colleagues.   Just as someone refrains from barging into an office or opening a closed door, we should knock lightly and ask permission to enter another’s cubicle.  Be mindful of your colleagues’ need to concentrate and work without interruption.  Don’t assume that your colleagues are automatically available when you pass by or need to speak to them.  Look to see if they are on the phone before addressing them.  If they are, don’t hover; go back to your workspace and email or instant message that you need to talk.  If you have a next door neighbor, don’t hang over the wall to talk.  If a colleague is not within normal voice range, do not shout at them across the cubes.  Instead, dial their phone extension and talk through the phone. 

Do you stand when someone enters your cube?   Yes, if the person is a client, visitor or your CEO.  If they come back a second time, standing is not necessary.  Standing is not necessary if the person is a colleague.


The noise level, and frequent distractions, are by far the hardest adjustment for me – and I’m the worst offender in our office.  I have a loud voice and I seem to talk louder when on the phone.  I am making a concerted effort to speak more softly and tune out other conversations.  Take a deep yoga breath before a call—this will help you modulate your voice more effectively. Assume everyone can hear everything you say and discuss confidential or sensitive matters in a private space or after hours.  Don’t spread gossip if you overhear something of a personal nature. 

Avoid using a speaker phone and group gatherings around a cube.  Use a head set and a conference room for meetings. If you listen to music at your desk, wear earbuds or headphones. 


In an open environment where everything is more transparent, it’s important to maintain a professional image in your workspace.  I used to pile up files and loose paper on my bookcase, and keep extra pairs of shoes under my desk.  Now, I use hanging files in drawers and put my shoes in a box under my desk.  Think about what others will think before you pin articles or jokes on your cube walls.  Stay organized with neat files and keep only what you really need. 

If you need to correct a coworker who is disruptive, do so politely. Try phases like: “Would you please come around to my desk?” or “I’m working on something right now that needs my full attention.”

Above all, maintain a positive attitude.  Be upbeat and helpful to others.  Accept change and business realities.  Shared space is just another way to connect to others and productive collaboration thrives in this environment.

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