Open office etiquette

As part of our week discussing the perks and perils of the open office format (see our previous blog here), today we are discussing how to co-exist in an open office with minimum discord and irritation, we’re sharing with you our tips for open office etiquette.

What is an open office?

Open office
An open office environment

Not sure what an open plan office is? With nearly 70% of offices adopting an open plan layout, chances are you’re reading this in one right now. An open plan office is the term used in architectural and interior design for a floor plan which utilises large, open spaces, and minimises the usage of private offices.

This use of open space allows floorspace efficiency, easier heating and cleaning, and open collaboration among colleagues. Sounds great, right? Some would disagree, based on recent studies that found that working within an open office makes workers less productive (Gensler, 2016), and increases absenteeism (Indoor Air, 2015).



Woman eating at desk
We see you eating at the desk… and we smell you!

We’ve all got five basic senses, and one of them is the easiest to offend! Take care when bringing food and drink into the office, ensure that anything too offensive to the nose is eaten in your canteen or kitchen! We know that tuna sandwich looks delicious, but your colleague may just disagree …


Man on phone
Yes the person on the other end of the phone can hear you… so can all of us

The second of our senses… sound! Over time, the effect of noise pollution within the office environment can have an increasingly negative effect, increasing stress levels, and potentially exacerbating existing mental health conditions such as anxiety or PTSD. Be mindful of this factor when talking in your office, aim for a level where you can be heard, but not by someone the other side of the room!

Assume barriers

Stop! In the name of office cohesion

If we wish there to be walls, sometimes we just have to pretend they are present. Assume that there are barriers between desks and workspaces, don’t just ‘drop by’ a colleagues desk to thrust a question upon them, send an email and allow them to digest your queries or requests in their own time. Similarly, respect the boundaries between your desk and your neighbours. You may work very closely, and perhaps even be friends, but their space is theirs, and your space is yours, your papers must remain either side of that dividing line.


Click that pen one more time, we dare you.

We all get distracted, perhaps you are distracted right now, reading this blog instead of working! However, we must not allow our distraction to become the distraction of others. Keep your non work related discussions for the break-room or for during lunch times, this will facilitate more meaningful conversations, instead of drips of chat here and there. Keep your fidgeting to a minimum, we know that you don’t mean to tap your fingers, or jiggle your leg, but we also know that once we notice you’re doing it, we won’t be able to stop noticing.


Messy desk
Make a note to clean your notes off your desk

You spend 50% of your week in the office, this inevitably leads to some eating at your desk, collating of coffee cups, and usage of scrap paper for that thing you mustn’t forget. This is natural, and to be expected. However, your colleagues also spend 50% of their working week in the office too. When you allow food to linger, they must put up with the odour, when your collection of coffee cups becomes excessive, they must find alternative receptacles for their morning brew. Take five minutes out of your day to clean up after yourself, organise your desk, and return things to where you found them. Your colleagues will appreciate it, and it will probably make your working day a little more pleasant also.

A little consideration goes a long way

Team work
Colleagues to friends in five easy steps

Even if our tips fall by the wayside, you eat pickles at your desk, and create a pottery of used coffee cups, at the very least, employ consideration to your colleagues. Perhaps that means doing the morning coffee run, maybe it’s helping on a project that you can see is becoming a burden. Spreading a few smiles and reducing a few frowns will make your open office a far nicer place to work.