9 Rules of Open-Office Etiquette

When the rules of open-office etiquette are observed, camaraderie, communication and collaboration will ensue.

learn more about Jacqueline Whitmore

By Jacqueline Whitmore • May 5, 2016 Originally published May 5, 2016

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Nowadays, many entrepreneurs choose not to rent a large office space. Rather, many enterprises work in a spare bedroom, garage, basement or another one- or two-room office space. Many cost-conscious business owners are even opting for an open-office plan where multiple staff members work together in a large room.

It would be ideal if each person could have his or her private office, but that is often unrealistic and extremely costly. Therefore, to create peace and harmony a few rules of etiquette should be observed.

1. Respect another's need to work.

Just because others are sitting nearby doesn't mean they are available for conversation at all times. Respect one another's privacy. Act as if there is a door between you and if they appear to be busy, ask if they have a moment to talk.

2. Be aware of smells.

Within a tight space smells can be magnified, so use consideration when packing your lunch or snacks. Try to eat meals in the kitchen, break room or outside, rather than at your desk. Since many people have allergies to scents, forgo wearing perfumes, cologne or strong after shave to the office. Pay attention to your personal grooming as well. Unfortunately, common sense is not so common anymore.

Related: The Rules for Eating Lunch at Your Desk

3. Keep noise and distractions to a minimum.

Noisy conversations (either between workers or on the telephone) or habits such as tapping on the desk, fidgeting or getting up and down often can create an annoying distraction to those trying to concentrate. If you want to listen to music, podcasts or videos, use headphones or ear buds.

4. Be tidy.

Your messy desk can be a distraction to others and will detract from the professional image your organization is trying to establish. Keep your belongings confined to your own personal space and tidy up your immediate area each day before leaving work. If you share a desk, be sure to clear away any personal items like coffee cups and office supplies.

5. Respect another's space.

Just because another's workspace is within reach of your desk doesn't make it common domain. Treat each person's space as if it was a private office. Do not help yourself to anything on their desk or in their area. Ask first or go to the supply closet if you need a pen or a stapler.

6. Don't come to work sick.

When you work in close quarters, it is easy to transfer germs. Stay home if you are sick. It's good hygiene to cover your mouth when you cough, keep hand sanitizer on hand, don't leave used tissues around, and wipe down the desk, computer keyboard and phone from time to time to help prevent germs from spreading.

Related: 4 Signs You Talk Too Much at the Office

7. Be considerate.

Respect is key when working in an open-office environment. Act respectful and expect others to act in the same way. Set rules of conduct and reiterate boundaries when they are crossed. It's best to address problems and concerns directly and diplomatically before they escalate.

8. Be tolerant.

The open-office environment brings together myriad personalities, with different styles. Be tolerant of these differences and find ways to adapt. Everyone is not going to agree with you one hundred percent of the time. Keep an open mind, listen with the intent to learn and focus on the positive aspects of your job.

9. Think like a team.

In order to maintain a cohesive team, do not spread gossip, cause another to feel like an outcast, or grumble about petty things. Hold regular meetings to set goals, share ideas and talk about concerns.

Related: Think Privacy for Open Office Layouts That Work

When the rules of open-office etiquette are observed, camaraderie, communication and collaboration will ensue.

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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