Open work space etiquette

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A guide to working harmoniously with your co-workers


Working in an open space usually has a lot of downsides, from the noise to privacy to the hourly distractions. But for design agencies and those in the creative field, it is preferred and necessary. And with a few tricks, you can always learn to survive in a room full of other creatives.

A closed door allows you to control who you invite into your space but when you share an open space, it can be tricky. Your co-worker intensely gazing at his screen or a book may most likely mean he is busy. You may want to come back later. Better yet, book a meeting!

Phone calls can be distracting, especially when your ringtone is anything other than a soothing recording of rain falling. You can also put your phone on vibrate. Ask your HR Manager to make it a rule for everyone’s cell to be on vibrate. Take your phone calls outside, especially the long ones, and especially the one where someone pisses you off. Nobody wants to hear you explain to your girlfriend why you liked another girl’s picture on Instagram (Actually, stay for that lol)

Adjust your phone alerts accordingly in order to avoid annoying those working around you. It’s not just phone calls that are annoying. You can open Whatsapp , Twitter and Facebook on your laptop. You can also download Viber on to your computer. Messaging apps are also great for communicating without getting up from your desk or shout across the room. Just text what you want to say. At The Workspace, we use messaging apps to communicate even though we are literally desks away from each other. No more breaks in creativity!

Earphones are a blessing in these situations. Everything is better with good music. Good earphones will block out the noise of your co-worker who chews gum loudly, or the guy who caught a cold but won’t stay home. Earphones are also good for when that one co-worker decides to play music communally.

Open work spaces definitely have a conference room for big meetings etc. Once not occupied, you can make use of it for sensitive discussions, or phone calls with a client.

Unless everyone has a particular desk assigned to them, you should avoid scattering your stuff all around. Even if it’s your assigned space, keep it sane! It’s etiquette.

Do I need to talk about pungent or bad odours? Practise good hygiene and don’t forget to use deodorant. And here’s where it gets tricky: don’t suffocate your co-workers with your perfume or aftershave.

What you might think is the best cologne or eau de toilette ever produced might make another person retch and overpowering perfumes can have an even more negative effect, first thing in the morning.

Same goes with eating at your desk. The obvious advice would be not to do it. There are those days you have a deadline to meet but that hunger headache and pangs won’t leave you alone, so you have to kill two birds with one spoon. On those days, choose relatively neutral smelling foods i.e. no curries, onions or garlic, no koobi-based foods or anything you need to chew mint gum after eating.

Work etiquette isn’t always about the way we say and do things and how we behave. Wearing the ‘proper’ clothing is also a major part of correct work etiquette. ‘Proper’ is relative, of course. Design agencies usually dress casual or smart casual to work. That does not mean wear a rumpled shirt or dress like a Christmas tress. Your company is a brand; dress like a brand ambassador.

If you have a co-worker who annoys you with all these little habits, send them a subtle and subliminal message by letting them read this article. Make the world a better place, one co-worker at a time.


Written by Efua Dufu for Thrive blog.