Open space office etiquette

Written by sumei fitzgerald
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  • Introduction

    Open space office etiquette

    There are several reasons that a company may choose open office design. Knoll, Inc., a company that specialises in office design, says that sometimes this choice is a cost consideration but in most cases, an open office design helps to support collaboration or reduces hierarchy within the organisation. Executive business consultant Kristin Arnold believes that open office design promotes communication and teamwork. An open office design includes a "pod" or cubicle for individual work and other areas for team gatherings. The transition from closed doors to the open office requires a shift in office etiquette, however, because so much of the formerly private becomes public.

    Open space offices encourage collaboration. (modern office image by Andrey Kiselev from

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    In an open office, your coworkers might not appreciate your lunch odours. The same goes for air fresheners, cologne and perfume. Consider eating in a designated area if others could consider your food smells offensive. And take care that other fragrances you use are subtle.

    If you eat at your desk, be sure that the food smells don't bother others. (prawn noodles image by Aqeel Ahmed from

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    One of the biggest breaches in office etiquette occurs with noise. People often forget that their cubicle isn't a closed environment. Noise carries in an open office design, says Knoll. Remember to keep your voice down when you're on the phone; don't use the speakerphone option; and don't call across the office to a co-worker. Since there's a lot going on in an open office design, it's good office etiquette to be considerate about adding to it. Set your cell phone to vibrate, recommends Knoll. If you have a large amount of copying to do wait for an ideal time when there's less need for others to concentrate or when there's fewer people in the area. Kristin Arnold says it's good to remember that meetings, even impromptu events made up of just a few people, should take place in designated meeting areas rather than distracting your neighbours.

    Save large batches of copying for times when few people are concentrating. (Fax/Printer buttons image by Jeffrey Zalesny from

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    Clutter and Cleanup

    Office etiquette includes cleaning up after yourself and not cluttering common thoroughfares or shared stations. Throw out your trash, push in chairs, put things back where they belong after you use them, says Arnold. These minor considerations go a long way in terms of getting along with others in an open office.

    Tracking down misplaced office supplies can be frustrating. (photographic film cartridges image by Scott Williams from

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    Personal versus Public

    Handle personal calls discreetly. Handling your private business publicly puts both you and the people that overhear you in awkward or uncomfortable situations. Knoll says this applies to business-related confidentiality too. Take it into a conference area or take a walk to protect your privacy and that of others.

    Keep personal conversations private. (Attractive Businesswoman Using Cell Phone image by Andy Dean from

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    Respect for Virtual Walls

    Open offices encourage collaboration but that doesn't mean everyone is immediately accessible to you whenever you need them. Arnold says workers need to "imagine a door" and knock on a partition as if there was a real door. She adds that when you see someone intently at work, it's better to wait for another time to interrupt. She recommends that workers use an actual "Do not Disturb" sign or other means to signal when they're not available to others.

    A simple sign can prevent unwanted intrusions (do not disturb image by FinePix from

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    Guideline Involvement

    Knoll says the most effective guidelines for open offices include the contribution of employees. If you notice problems and have an idea about how to address them, do so. A survey by the corporate architecture firm, Gensler, found that 50 per cent of their employees said they would work an extra hour every day if they had a better workplace. Gervais Tompkin, vice president of Gensler's San Francisco office, says it's best to create an "activity portrait" tracking the traffic patterns in the office and determining the actual use of different areas in the open office. This can determine how to arrange the area so it is more user-friendly.

    A better workplace improves productivity. (Office-manager behind the workplace k image by Mykola Velychko from

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