Cubicle Courtesies

Look, it’s no secret that an office job can be a pain. You aren’t paid for commuting, there’s never enough real sugar for coffee, and the thermostat is never set to the right temperature. To top it all off, our co-workers were not selected for their social compatibility. Not since high school have we been forced to interact with such a motley crew.  It’s astounding that work doesn’t more often devolve into an unintelligible screamfest of petty grievances.

But the fact of the matter is that we will end up spending a third of our adult lives together, so it behooves us to try and treat each other with respect. If we can all do each other the following kindnesses, it’ll be the weekend before you know it.

1. Decorate tastefully

The easiest way to make work bearable is to make your cube into a sanctuary. Family photos, band lithographs, and graphic art are all great, so long as they are tasteful. Exercise common sense, though; no nudity, for example. Boticceli’s Birth of Venus is a welcome exception, but keep your framed Leonard Nemoy at home. You should also feel free to bring small religious items, but, to quote “The Man,” “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” That is, you’re here to work, so keep it low-key and, most importantly, the private matter that it is. The main point here is to decorate in moderation. Minimizing how much beige is in your field of vision is one thing, but too many pictures and knick-knacks can be distracting and send the message to your bosses that you’d rather be anywhere but here.

2. Keep the humor light

Humor is great for making and deepening personal connections, and pinning up cartoons is a great way to let your co-workers know that you’re more than just another person in a cube. But humor gets a lot of people in trouble. Far Side cartoons are ubiquitous on cubicle walls because they are unexpectedly funny yet unoffensive. But do yourself a favor and keep anything political like Tom Tomorrow to your Facebook timeline. Memes are also dangerous territory, as many are politically or sociologically oriented and are the textual equivalent of being screamed at. Unless, of course, it’s an Office Space meme; so long as it isn’t clearly directed at any of your co-workers.

3. Neutralize your smells

First off, if the office smells like anything other than paper, plastic, and carpet, it smells bad. You can do your part by showing up bathed and in clean clothes. Don’t bring scented candles to work, don’t keep an open car freshener in your drawer, and absolutely do not wear perfume or cologne. This isn’t singles paper pushing, it’s your job, and so long as you don’t smell like you just went swimming in the East River, no one cares if you wear designer fragrance. Not to mention, there are some people who are genuinely allergic to their components, so just don’t do it.

Then there are your food smells. The break room invariably becomes a hodgepodge of rather strange smells, but that is where they should stay. For those of you who like to work through your lunch breaks, stick to cold lunches like sandwiches or salads. Heating your meal just makes it smellier, so if you’re having fish or something particularly spicy or fragrant, suck it up and endure the small talk with your co-workers in the break room. You never know, you might find you actually like them.

4. If I can hear you, you are too loud

Speaking of table manners, if you’re going to eat at your desk, chew with your mouth closed. This goes double for gum. Actually, no matter where you are, don’t smack your food.

For many, phone calls are unavoidable, so make sure your ringer is turned down. If you need to take or make a personal call, do it on your cell phone outside of the office. When it comes to intraoffice communication, there’s little reason to call or pop in. It’s 2016; if it can’t be asked or expressed in an email or instant message, it’s because your computer has exploded.

And for the sake of your ears if not your cube mates, turn your music down. Ask any 13 to 25 year old—your music taste stinks. It doesn’t matter what it is, no matter if it’s reigned atop the Billboard for 20 weeks; or if it’s Pitchfork’s current favorite coveted album; or if it’s your buddy’s avant-garde, lo-fi foray into salsa-soweto-polka-fusion; nobody wants to hear it. It goes without saying that, unless you have been dubbed the office DJ, you should only listen to music on headphones, and at a volume that isn’t spilling out in sharp, tinny screeches. You were probably not hired to be a musician, either. Incessant whistling, finger tapping, or bouncing your leg is annoying—yes, to everyone. And if you love to sing, Stewie Griffin has a message for you:

6. Find your own dang supplies

You’re more likely to be told to “keep your hands to yourself” in sexual harassment training, but you should extrapolate that to mean “keep your hands within your cube.” Just because someone is out of their cube doesn’t mean their stuff is up for grabs. The only supplies you get for free are the ones out of the supply closet. If you didn’t get it out of the closet or with your own money, it’s not yours. Quickly borrowing a nearby pen is one thing—so long as you immediately return it. But if you’re constantly snagging highlighters or someone’s staple remover until they ask for it back, then you are why work doesn’t buy better pens. Your office manager would be happy to order you a new stapler, so leave Milton’s alone.

We’re all just marching towards 5:00, so in the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln, be excellent to each other.