The workplace can be a stressful environment. Open-plan offices are no exception. Follow open-space office etiquette rules to keep your workplace healthy and productive.
What office etiquette is
Office etiquette is the set of rules to maintain appropriate behavior in the modern workplace. Such rules include:
- How to respect your coworkers.
- How to keep the office productive, healthy, and safe.
- The office etiquette mistakes to avoid.
As an employee, you should respect office etiquette to politely deal with your coworkers and avoid any embarrassments.
As a manager or employer, promote office etiquette in your team to ensure the appropriate use of office space and avoid conflicts between team members.
Office etiquette golden principle: the scalability rule
What are we allowed to do in an open space office?
When in doubt, ask yourself the scalability question. Instead of “am I allowed to do this?”, ask “what if everyone in the office does the same?”
For example, instead of:
- Am I allowed to listen to loud music in an open space office?
- What if everyone in the office listens to their own loud music? Would it make a better or a worse environment?
If the answer is the latter and that behavior risks making the office a less productive environment, it means that the behavior is not scalable. Thus, it is best to avoid it.
Office etiquette rules
1) Respect boundaries and privacy
Open space offices have boundaries. Office etiquette requires us to respect such boundaries.
Do not invade other people’s workspace. Keep your belongings in your area. Respect an appropriate minimum personal distance between you and others. Do not stand too close to your coworkers.
Do not take or move any belongings of your coworkers without their explicit permission.
Respect your coworkers’ privacy. Try not to listen to their conversations. Do not peek at their screens.
2) Do not bring bulky personal items to the office
Avoid bringing bulky items to an open office. No bikes and no e-scooters. What if everyone brings their bikes to the open space? Nobody would be even able to walk around.
3) Do not move furniture around the office
Do not alter the office design or space allocation. Doing otherwise is against office etiquette. Keep desks, chairs, furniture, and decor items in their original place. Do not move them around.
If you temporarily move a chair or any other item, place it back in its original place once you are done.
4) Be considerate when you move
Do not run or make abrupt movements in an open space office. It risks distracting and even hurting others.
Avoid ample gestures. Look where you are going. Do not look around while walking. Apply extra care if you are carrying items, such as a laptop or other business equipment.
5) Limit noise in an open space office
Noise in an open space office can be disruptive. Some coworkers might need silence in order to be able to concentrate. Try your best to limit sounds and noise.
Do not play music or videos. If you do, put your headphones on. Even with your headphones on, keep the volume down.
Avoid making distracting sounds. Do not click pens. Do not stamp your feet or drum with your fingers rhythmically. When you talk, keep the volume down.
6) Help keep the office tidy
Respect office personal hygiene etiquette and keep your work area tidy. Store your belongings before leaving. Throw away your trash. Bring cups, glasses, and kitchenware back to the kitchen. Clean after yourself. If you spill food or beverage, clean it up or call the janitors.
Keep the appropriate behavior in every space of the workplace. Respect meeting room etiquette, office bathroom etiquette, workplace kitchen etiquette, and even elevator etiquette.
7) Do not eat at your desk
Eating at your desk is against open-space office etiquette. The smell of food can distract or even annoy coworkers. You risk spilling food on your desk and making a mess.
People may forgive bad table manners if at least you are eating in the kitchen, or in any other appropriate space. They will be less forgiving if you are displaying poor table manners in an open space office where they work.
8) Allow coworkers to concentrate in an open-plan office
It can be hard to focus in an open space office. Many people try to isolate themselves, to be able to focus. Do your best to respect that need.
Look out for signals. Coworkers with their headphones on are likely trying to concentrate. Do not interrupt them unless you really have to.
Concentrate but be approachable
An open space office is meant to be a social area. It is against etiquette to be unapproachable. Thus, if you put your headphones on and try to concentrate, you still need to make yourself approachable.
It is ok to focus. You can signal in many ways that you wish to concentrate on work and avoid interruption. However, allow others to call for your attention if they need to.
It is ok to wear headphones. However, do not get upset if coworkers knock on the table, or touch your chair, to ask for your attention. If you have a favorite way for them to call you, like email or team chat apps instead of in-person, let them know.
Office etiquette: the worst mistakes
The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors.
A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.
Avoid the worst office etiquette mistakes.
- 9/10. Not respecting privacy or boundaries.
- 9/10. Not respecting workplace hygiene rules.
- 8/10. Running in the office.
- 8/10. Making loud noises.
- 6/10. Bringing bulky personal items to the office.
- 4/10. Eating at your desk.
- The impact of the open workspace on human collaboration: royalsocietypublishing.org