Open Plan Office Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts


Planning your escape route? Read this first. Photo: via shutterstock


As a designer, it is easy to get caught up in technical debates around the pros and cons of particular design solutions. At the moment, it is all about the supposed Jekyll and Hyde attributes of cubicles based offices and the perceived dreamy benefits of open plan workplaces. I sit on the fence in most of these deliberations, as I believe that business needs should be addressed before design trends are implemented. “One office design solution does not suit all”, is a common phrase, but boy oh boy it is so true. While we banter back and forth in our own creative kingdom, the people we are designing space for are getting on with their day jobs. I think sometimes it pays to remember that the office design you create has a life after you hand over the keys. When I stumbled upon the following article in the Huffington Post by etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, it prompted me to consider those who have just made the transition to open plan offices. Hopefully the design has been sympathetic to the gripes of open plan and a great change management programme has been executed. However, if you are a person who is still struggling, here is a list of do’s and don’ts to consider. It is a great read for anyone working in a more exposed environment.



Many will contend working in an open plan office area brings out the worst in coworkers due to hourly distractions and lack of privacy. One client went so far as to say they can see, hear and smell everything their neighbor is eating, drinking and saying throughout the work day. Then, there are those who prefer an open design because it ignites their creative juices, encouraging a collaborative culture. Whatever side you sit on, open plan office design is here to stay. If you find yourself working in a setting with plastic palm trees blowing from the ceiling fan and people directly across from you so close you can hold hands, here are a few tips to make the most of your day.

Do look at your office with a “glass half full” attitude. First and foremost, you said “yes” to the job. There are always drawbacks in any work environment, and changing your outlook by compiling a list of the benefits your present situation offers may help you hone in on the good versus the bad.

Don’t assume your coworker wants to brainstorm. A closed door is a clear sign not to disturb, but when your surroundings are wide open, it can be more challenging to read between the lines. Use your good judgment before taking a seat on someone else’s sliver of a desk. If you notice their gaze stays intensely focused on their computer, you may want to come back later, or ask when a better time to discuss a new project may be.

Do make the most of the entire space. Having the freedom to move about can break up an otherwise ordinary day. For example, if there is a comfy place to sit and work through your list of tasks, by all means, bring your laptop and settle in! Take advantage of the creative setup by going outdoors to answer emails or grab a cup of coffee at the in-house coffee shop to discuss an upcoming event.

Don’t allow the noise level to become a distraction. If you are sensitive to noise and find it unsettling, employ your ear buds or headset to stream your favorite music. Though you are still in a shared space, music will offer a quiet retreat. It is best to get the “okay” from your supervisor before plugging in. While you may think using your ear buds in the office is harmless, company policy may say otherwise.

Do make use of small conference rooms for confidential conversations. If a sensitive topic comes up that is not meant to be shared with the entire staff, use discretion, suggesting the discussion happen in a room or an office with a door.

Don’t allow your smartphone to become an office-wide distraction. What would otherwise be a discreet notification, such as a “ping” when a new text or tweet arrives, becomes a nuisance to all of your neighbors in an open office area. Adjust your phone alerts accordingly in order to avoid annoying those working around you.

Do establish office standards for interaction in a variety of scenarios. Since the personalities of your employees will most likely fall on different ends of the spectrum (highly introverted – highly extroverted), it is a good idea as a supervisor to set company standards for how best to navigate the open space arrangement.

For more etiquette tips, visit Diane’s blog.

This article was first published on the Huffington Post here




The articles on the Charter Build blog – Officeionado – are written by the CB team and edited by Jane Bright, our Design Director. If you have any questions regarding our content, syndication of our content or content submissions, please contact Jane via email For notification on new blog posts either subscribe (top of sidebar on this page) or follow Charter Build @charterbuild and Jane Bright @1JaneBright.