Office Drama, Cubed: Solving Personal Space Issues at Work

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CubeSpaceWith most companies embracing an “open architecture” floor plan, privacy has, along with job security and a living wage, become a part of nostalgic workplace lore. In many cases, cubicles are the standard — even among executives.

The greater the company’s profits, the more people hired, and the closer we get (literally) to our co-workers. Gone are the days of closing the door, drawing the blinds, and keeping company with your inner chi.

As it is in your love life, it is in the office: Greater intimacy breeds greater responsibility. Remember the old adage, “Do unto others as they would do unto you.”
Mind Your Manners
If you find you’re all too familiar with the sometimes entertaining, often freakish details of your cubemate’s life, here are few things to keep in mind:
  1. Be aware of your surroundings. Keep in mind whoever could be peeking around the corner, or inadvertently eavesdropping from a nearby desk. It could be your manager, or someone whose assistant you’ll need next week. Your behavior (this, ahem, includes words, not just actions) should always put you in a good light. We all get frustrated. But dropping curse-filled bombs on your defenseless computer or head-butting your desk in the purview of your boss’s boss won’t be good for your career.
  2. Personal? Take it outside. Of course, everyone has a personal life. We all have spousal disputes, sickly children or flea-ridden pets that need tending. But, unless the call is short and sweet (i.e., “Honey, I’m picking up dinner tonight) you should take it somewhere private. Either use an empty conference room or take your conversation outside. Some things are better left private (“Hello, Doctor. Now about that rash … )
  3. Avoid cubicle creep. We all have too much to do. Our desks are covered in paper and files and half-empty coffee cups and candy-bar wrappers. Sticky notes adorn every possible surface. But, just because your organization skills may work for you, your lax approach to desktop hygiene may not do it for your co-workers. Make sure you keep your mess — err, work — in your space and out of your coworkers’ eyesight.
If You’re Not the Problem …
What happens when you follow all the rules … but your coworkers don’t? You are considerate enough to keep your microwave popcorn and personal life out of the office. You don’t laugh like a braying donkey while flirting with the delivery guy. You have never (not once!) flossed your teeth at your desk, using your monitor as a bathroom mirror.
You are constantly baffled and disgusted at your coworkers’ suspect behavior. Rather than belittle Tommy Tattletale (who, mind you, can be far worse than Doug the Disgusting or Damon the Do-Gooder), try one of these tactics:


  1. The Sneak Attack. Often people exhibit behavior that they don’t realize is unacceptable. Sometimes a carefully placed word or inconspicuous note can do the trick. Most people don’t relish being the person who makes your stomach turn.
  2. Ask for better conduct. If your coworker leaves her cell phone on all the time (forcing her “Hit Me Baby One More Time” ringtone to stick in your ears like chewed gum long after the work day is over), try asking her to put the phone on vibrate. It’s likely she doesn’t realize that everyone doesn’t get as jiggy with it as she does, and will oblige without putting up much of a fight.
  3. Be a mentor, not a hater. If your coworker is irritatingly late to meetings and unprepared when he shows up, try to approach him with a spirit of camaraderie. Offer suggestions on ways to make him look better to his boss or how to improve a process. It’s possible he’s miserable and having a hard time finding his motivation. Maybe you can help him re-discover his corporate mojo.

Just because your company’s floor-plan is “open,” that doesn’t you should act like it’s the Wild West. Boundaries may be increasingly invisible, but you should still respect other people’s space.

Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.