Life in a Sardine Can – How to Survive Cubicle Dwelling

trapped at workForty million Americans work in cubicles, according to an article in Fortune magazine. That’s a lot of people squeezed together in tiny workspaces across the nation. Working in close quarters creates unique stressors. That’s why practicing cubicle etiquette can make life in the box much more bearable.

Wear headphones to drown out noisy co-workers. Listening to music while you work can actually increase your focus by eliminating outside distractions. Headphones are a much better option than just bringing a personal stereo to your desk because even if you play your music quietly, chances are your cube mates will still be able to hear it and may feel annoyed at the added noise pollution.

Clean up your area every now and then. Since most cubicles don’t have doors, there’s nothing to keep co-workers from seeing your space. If you have three mugs of week old coffee, a half-eaten sandwich and piles of crumpled paper cluttering your desk, chances are, your cube mates resent your sloppiness. Not only are these messes distracting, when food’s involved, there’s the germ and odor factor to consider.

Wait to be invited into a conversation before offering your two cents. Because cubicles provide very little privacy, it’s common to overhear co-workers talking in other cubicles. But, just because you can hear them and there isn’t a closed door doesn’t mean they want you to join in their conversation. To be sensitive to your cube mates, don’t chime in just because you’re curious or even happen to have the exact answer they’re looking for. Let them come to you instead. This will help your fellow cube dwellers feel like they have more independence and privacy.

Don’t shout over cube walls. Even if your co-worker is only a few feet away, it’s best not to try to talk over cubicle walls. The reason is that everyone else sitting around you will also be forced to hear your conversation. Sending a quick e-mail, picking up the phone or getting up and walking to the co-worker’s desk will help to keep the noise level down.

Avoid habits that may grate on others’ nerves. Things like loudly clearing your throat and blowing your nose, spraying cologne or perfume in the cube, eating smelly food like onions or fish or talking on speakerphone are cubicle taboos. Any behavior that accosts your neighbors’ senses is best to avoid.

I’d like to hear your cubicle stories. What are your pet peeves? How do you make the most of working in a small space?


  1. bellneice

    The man who sits in the cubicle across from me is extremely noisy, and I’ll bet he has absolutely no idea how annoying he is. He eats healthy. So, I hear him when he eats nuts, seeds, carrots. I hear him rustle the little baggies of healthy food he brings from home. I hear his plastic spoon click and scrape around in the bottom of his plastic yogurt cup as he makes sure to get every last drop. I hear him sigh. I hear him cackle.

  2. martha

    I just recently moved to a cubicle from a nice office…and I hate it. It is so stressful, and to make matters worse, the way they configured my cube, my computer is facing the hallway, and believe me there is no way I can move it the way they designed the cube (of course without taking into consideration that there are people who have to sit here for 8 hours a day). Some days I can talk myself into just dealing with it, some days like today I just want to stand up and scream. I did buy headphones and a CD player that plays music and nature sounds, but it really doesn’t help all the time. I really love my job, and I don’t want to leave – hey I could be getting into a worse situation, but I am having a real difficult time dealing with this. My boss knows and he fought my move to a cube, but wasn’t successful. I feel stuck.

  3. gilly

    I recently left a job for one that was seemingly perfect – pay increase, company car, etc. all of which I am grateful for! However, I left a bright office with a window view for a cubicle environment. I didn’t think it would be all that bad, but I find myself wishing I wouldn’t have made the change, for the simple fact of having an office! I can’t focus with all the chatter around me! One of my cube neighbors talks VERY loudly and when she answers the phone, she sounds like Nina from Office Space – no kidding! Another coworker listens to her radio constantly. I don’t know how to approach her without offending her. I’ve tried headphones, but then I can’t hear my phone ring and people try to talk to me not realizing I have headphones on. I don’t think I can take this too much longer!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *