Cubicle Etiquette

Peggy Morrow

Within the past several years, a great majority of businesses have moved their people into a cubicle environment. Unfortunately, while it may be more cost-effective than offices, it can also cause interpersonal squabbles and a lack of productivity. Employees complain that cubicles are noisy, lack privacy and are even offensively smelly when coworkers choose odiferous lunches.

People use speaker phones that cause everyone to lose their concentration. Coworkers congregate outside cubicles and disturb everyone around them. Many people are offended and upset at the lack of privacy and fellow employees’ disrespect for the necessity of a quiet place to work.


There is definitely a need for some new rules of business etiquette that pertain specifically to this workplace trend. The best way to approach it is not to simply issue new rules and regulations about the dos and don’ts of cubicle etiquette. That won’t get much "buy in." If possible, gather your staff together in a "lunch and learn" environment to develop a set of cubicle ground rules together.

Give them the following list I have gathered from my programs with various businesses and have them decide what they want to include in a group "cubicle agreement."

Privacy Issues:

  • Never enter someone’s cubicle without permission. Behave as though cubicles have doors. Do not enter before you have verbal or eye contact "permission" from the occupant.
  • Try not to sneakup behind someone in a cubicle. Announce yourself at the entryway or lightly knock on the wall or door jam.
  • Don’t "prairie-dog" (stick your head over the top of your cubicle to talk to someone several cubes away) or peek in peoples’ cubicles as you walk past each one.
  • Don’t loiter outside someone’s cubicle while you wait for him or her to finish a phone call. Come back at another time. Never interrupt, whisper or use sign language when he or she is on the telephone.
  • Never read someone’s computer screen or comment on conversations you’ve overheard.
  • Should you happen to overhear private or confidential conversations, pretend that you never heard it. More importantly, don’t repeat what you have heard to others. And resist answering a question you overheard in the cubicle next to you!
  • Keep your hands off a cubicle dweller’s desk. Just because there’s no door doesn’t mean you can help yourself to someone's stapler!
  • Do not exchange confidential information in a cubicle. If you would not want it broadcast on national TV, do not discuss it in your cubicle.

Telephone Issues:

  • Try to pick up the phone after one or two rings. Set the ringer volume at a low level.
  • Never use a speakerphone in your cubicle. Use a meeting room for conference calls. Watch your volume when talking on the phone. A headset can help keep your voice low.
  • When you leave your cubicle for a period of time, turn your telephone ringer off and let it go to voicemail or forward your phone number to your new location.
  • While in your cubicle, keep your personal cell phone off. If you must leave it on, put it on vibrate. But don’t leave it on the desk where the vibration will be heard and felt by employees in the other cubicles. Always take your cell phone with you.
  • Keep personal phone or sensitive calls to a minimum and limit them to breaks or lunch because your neighbors can hear your end of the conversation. You want to keep your personal life private.

Noise Issues:

  • Use your "library voice." Be aware of how much your voice projects. A loud voice makes working conditions difficult for your cubicle neighbors. It’s distracting and makes concentrating on the task at hand very difficult.
  • Don’t talk through cubicle walls or congregate outside someone’s cubicle. For impromptu meetings, go to a conference room or break room.
  • Don’t bring clients or vendors to your cube to meet with them. Go to an office or conference room.
  • Don’t yell across the "cube farm." Get up and move to the other person’s location.
  • Play radios at low volumes or use a headset.
  • Set your PC volume to a low level and turn off screensaver sound effects.
  • Eat quietly. Avoid gum-popping, humming, slurping and pen tapping.


  • Avoid eating smelly food in your cubicle. Some workers have even complained about the smell of popcorn!

All of these issues and more can cause trouble between co workers and lead to a lack of productivity. So before you move everyone into cubicles, or if your workforce is already there, use these ideas to help them open a dialogue with their coworkers and come to agreement on a common code of conduct.

First published on Human Resources IQ.