Cubicle co-existence

THE PHOTOGRAPH of the modern office looked wonderful in the advertisement. It was a riot of colours with modular furniture, sleek computers and other paraphernalia that no modern office can be without. A perfect picture that made you think: "Wow! This is a great environment to work in". The space was neatly divided into perfect little cubicles, all looking very precise, symmetrical and pristine in its arrangement.

But there was something very odd about that picture. Then the realisation dawned on me. There were no people in that snapshot. The place looked untouched, unused and tidy. No human to mar the perfection! For the majority of office goers who are not fortunate enough to have the corner office with a view, work space divided into cubicles is a definite improvement over one large room crammed with loud chatter, incessant ringing of phones, motley collection of office desks and chairs.

Cubicles provide a private workspace while keeping the physical openness that fosters easy communication, camaraderie and movement. The intent behind the design is real, but the concept of privacy is an illusion. In a recent survey, only seven per cent of cubicle dwellers had anything nice to say about this arrangement. Why? That is because the very reasons that are a boon have become the bane of cubicle setting.

The big reason — people! They don't understand that the normal rules that govern while functioning in proximity to others, apply here also. The foam and fabric half-wall is there only to obscure sight and simulate privacy. Please note that the operating word here is, "simulate"!

Check your cubicle sense and see where you stand in this `cubicle land'! Cubicles, of course, come with no doors. Just because there is no door, it does not give you the right to just barge into another's office. Your best buddy's office is included in this list! Ask if they can spare a few minutes, get permission before you enter. Once given the permission, finish your business, thank the person for their time and attention and be on your way.

Just as you would not walk into someone's home and take something, you should not take anything from anyone's cubicle either, however insignificant the item may be. Yes, that does include stapler, scotch tapes, pens and pencils. "No door" reality withstanding, you have to respect each other's space and privacy. Do not hang your favourite swimsuit model in your cubicle. As attractive as she might be in her skimpy bikini, and as inspirational as she might be for you, it is in poor taste. Remember it can offend your female colleagues (most definitely), as well as some of your male colleagues. Also think about a client walking by or visiting your cubicle. There is a place for everything.

Be aware of the fact that if you can hear your neighbour, they can hear you too! People forget that. No one wants to hear your personal conversation. Keep your voice down.

Cubicle co-existence

Don't gather outside the cubicle for chats and clog up the aisles. It makes it hard for others to concentrate on their work. Conversations must be of short duration and in a quiet manner. Use meeting rooms for lengthy discussions to avoid disturbing others.

Resist the temptation to yell across the partition and down the hallway. Walk over to whoever you need to talk to. Don't be lazy now!

The other major no-no is very strong perfumes and colognes. If the person occupying the cubicles down from you can smell you, then you have marinated yourself in the perfume or cologne.

If you are eating at your desk, again remember that everyone can smell it. It might be the most delicious dish that has been so lovingly prepared and packed for you. If you must eat at your desk, dispose of everything and do not keep it on your desk or stuff it in your garbage can where it continues to emit the odour. Keep your surroundings clean and tidy.

Just because your chair creaks, don't sneak into your neighbour's cubicle and switch chairs after everybody is gone. Talking about chairs, while having an impromptu meeting in your space, don't grab all the chairs from nearby cubicles either. Remember the meeting room down the aisle?

What about the music lovers? Have some consideration and keep it as soft as possible, others may not share your ecstasy over your choice of music. Finally, keep the volume of your telephone ringer down and limit the use of speakerphones. If possible, answer the phone within three rings to avoid unnecessary noise pollution.

To put it succinctly, the closer the environment, the more considerate one needs to be of the neighbour. That is the rule for a peaceful co-existence.


(The writer is the director of ProEt Centre for International Protocol and Etiquette. Ph: 23372004/ 55503605; e-mail:

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