Business Etiquette Part 3 – Do’s and Don’ts of Cubicles

by | Jul 27, 2023 | Blog, HR Policies

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or

How To Create A Productive Work Environment With Cubicles

Shows like House Hunters have inspired people to want open concept spaces at home and work.

Cubicles provide the airy and lustrous spaces we long for – well as much as you can ask for inside an office building. They not only open up your office space, but they also promote cooperation and relationships in the office.

While cubicles seem to solve a few office problems, they also have a tendency to cause them. When you have that many people within close proximity, you are going to have issues.

As a business professional in a management position, you may or may not be sharing the same space as your employees. Maybe you are in touch with the issues cubicles can cause or maybe you are completely oblivious. Either way, you need to create a productive work environment especially in a cubicle setting.

That’s why in our third installment of our Business Etiquette series we are tackling the Do’s and Don’ts of Cubicles. While some of these tips may seem like common sense, you’d be surprised how many offenders we’ve seen. So please share these helpful suggestions with your employees so that they thrive in their office environment.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Cubicles

Personal Hygiene     

  • Do remind employees that personal cleanliness is important. They should be aware of personal odors and minimize them at the office. No one wants to inhale the aroma of sweaty feet or underarm odor.

And speaking of feet, employees’ shoes should never come off in the cubes, no matter how uncomfortable they are.

  • Don’t have employees groom themselves in the cubicles. Suggest they take that to the restroom. Don’t encourage any of the following in your cube setting: nail trimming/filing, picking at teeth or flossing, applying cologne/perfume, applying make-up, and fixing hair.

Personal Problems

  • Do remind employees to tread lightly when it comes to discussing troubling personal events with co-workers in their cubicles. Don’t If you discover an employee is distracted by something that happened in his or her family life, or is suffering through a break-up.
  • Don’t console the worker in their cube. Invite the employee to come into your office or other private area to discuss and to possibly let out a good cry.


  • Do be considerate and let employees work from home if they are contagious and can easily complete their work in the confines of their own home. Germs can easily spread to those working at neighboring cubes.
  • Don’t forget to keep a stockpile of tissues and sanitizer in the office for when flu season rolls around and engulfs your cube farm.


  • Do promote a clean and organized workspace. Cubes are generally fairly tiny and small spaces call for organization if they are to run smoothly. Make sure employees tidy up paperwork and get it filed away as soon as possible.
  • Don’t have items overflowing the cubicles. Employees should make sure to find spots for their items inside of the cube- hanging coats or purses over the cubicle walls should be discouraged.

Food and Eating      

  • Do provide a place for employees to eat outside of their cubes. Scents from one cube can easily waft over the short walls and becoming a nuisance to other cube dwellers. Even if the scent is not unpleasant, it may still be distracting to other employees trying to focus on the job. Also, pungent scents may create issues for other employees by irritating allergies or causing nausea.
  • Don’t have employees keep leftovers or open food in desk drawers in the cubes. That is just asking for an insect invasion or even mold problems. No thank you.


  • Do remind employee that going to a co-worker’s cube and disturbing them while they are on a business call is unacceptable; the person in need should come back at a later time when the co-worker is no longer on the phone. Do have employees keep their cell phones on vibrate or silent when at the office. While one employee may love his or her new ringtone, it will probably drive everyone else insane.
  • Don’t allow that employees to use the company phones for personal phone calls. Advise them to make personal calls out of the office. (HR Tip: You really need to have this part about using company phones in your policy manual.)


  • Do remind employees that “popping in” to another person’s cube without first shooting a quick call or message to see if it’s a good time to talk is considered rude. Encourage employees to knock before barging in if they must speak with a co-worker without notice.
  • Do encourage employees to get permission before borrowing items from someone else’s desk. Just because cubes are open, doesn’t mean the office supplies on a neighboring desk are up for grabs. Some people are protective of their belongings and this includes office supplies.
  • Do have employees post notices when they need private work time with no interruptions. This is easy to do by updating calendars to show unavailability, or displaying some kind of sign.
  • Do explain to employees the proper place to hold conversations. Loitering or congregating in groups right next to a cube is a disruption to the cube owner and seems inconsiderate and rude. If it’s an important business-related discussion, it should move to a conference room. If the topic of conversation isn’t pressing or work-related, employees should save the gabbing for the break room.
  • Don’t discuss personal or confidential matters with employees in cubes. Anyone who strolls by may get an earful of something they shouldn’t have heard!
  • Don’t encourage this behavior in cube: Standing up to peer over cube walls to try and see what others are up to is a no go. Looking at or reading the contents displayed on someone else’s computer screen should also be avoided.


  • Do remind employees that everyone can most likely hear them talking! “Library voices” are recommended when possible.
  • Do remind employees that they should blast their favorite jams from headphones, not the computer speakers.
  • Do watch out for employees stopping to chat too many times or for long periods. Its keeps all those around from focusing on their work. Maybe you as the manager should have a chat with them about their chatting – in your office of course.
  • Don’t have employees shout over the cubicles; if an employee needs to say something, they need to get up and walk over to the person.
  • Don’t have employees use speakerphones in cubicles; it’s disruptive to others nearby and detracts privacy from the person on the other end of the line. If other employees were meant to be involved in the call then they would have been conferenced in!
  • Don’t put up with old and squeaky office furniture.

Although the cubicle setting promotes collaboration and teamwork, when sharing such close quarters disruptions are inevitable.

As a professional in a management position, you should keep an eye on the employee work area to make sure that it is providing a positive and productive work environment. This is just a suggested list of cubicle do’s and don’ts. You may edit this as necessary so that it reflects your company culture.

If you find bothersome behaviors occurring in the cubicles, remind employees that they can politely address the issue. Suggest that saying something simple can be a tactful and effective way to address the problem.

For example, “Sarah, I’m working on a really important document right now, would you mind using your headphones for your music please?”  Requests should be short and sweet; it may feel awkward for a moment, but that will soon pass and the employee will again be able to focus his or her energy on work.

What is the most inappropriate behavior you’ve seen in the cubicle-working environment? We’d love to hear!

As we mentioned previously in our blog series, we believe holding a training session on business etiquette is the best way to get your message across. And it just so happens that Integrity HR can conduct those training sessions for you.

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