This is a guest post.

cubicleMy days of working in a cube farm are gone for now, but I do remember how it was. It was nice to have the interaction with peers, but it could be stressful. Lets face it… not everyone is a good work neighbor. Some engage in loud phone calls. Others have annoying noisy habits, some like to play music in their cubicle like they think we all want to hear it, and others may bring fish for lunch every day. LOL! There is a such thing as being a good neighbor at work. The guest post below shares a bit about that.

My company recently moved its office. This meant, among other things, that they hired professional¬†computer movers¬†to come in, box up everyone’s monitors and towers, and take them to the new location. It was a much better plan than what I had originally assumed, which is that each of us would have to carry our computer towers down four blocks to our new building. (Yes, in my younger days, I interned in an office that made us do exactly that. We also literally made a daisy-chain line down the street and passed along books and other office materials. Hiring professional movers is much better!)

I hadn’t really thought about it too much, but when the computer movers unboxed everyone’s computers at their new workstations, I ended up next to a workmate I’d never had before.

Let’s call her “Susie.”

I’d seen Susie in meetings and such, and she seemed nice enough — until you sat down next to her. She was a “um-hummer:” the type of co-worker who types happily away until she comes to a problem, and then she says “UM-HUMM.” Loudly.

An um-hummer isn’t the worst of office workmate sins, of course. Susie could have been a Personal Caller, a Loud Eater, a Smelly Eater, or a Headphone Leaker. She could have been a Pen Tapper or a Chair Squeaker.

The worst part is that Susie probably doesn’t know that she’s being distracting; the thing about cubes is that they give you this illusion of personal space, so she probably wasn’t thinking about me at all. Behaviors like um-humming or pen tapping are largely unconscious too, so Susie might not even be aware of what she’s doing.

On the other hand, my experience with Susie — before they reorganized the workstations and placed me in a corner near a window — prompted me to send out another reminder about Work Station Etiquette.

1. If you can hear it, your neighbors can hear it.

If you can hear yourself talking, so can your neighbors. If you can hear your chair squeak every time you shift your weight, so can your neighbors — time to talk to your office manager about getting it fixed! If you like to listen to music while you work, invest in some headphones that prevent noise leakage. The only person who wants to listen to “Wrecking Ball” 50 times a day is you.

Same with your phone conversations. Of course you have to make office calls, and you probably have to make a few personal calls, but don’t be the person who’s on the phone with her sister talking about her stomach flu. We don’t want to know.

2. If you can smell it, your neighbors can smell it.

This applies to food, of course, but to a few other things as well. There’s one man in our office who likes to bike to work and then change his clothes. He leaves his stinky sneakers under his desk all day long. I wouldn’t want to sit next to him!

And, of course, a more sensitive issue: if you think you might need to go to the restroom, get up and go. Don’t test the air a few times to make sure. We can all smell that.

3. Watch out for unconscious habits.

Chair bouncers, um-hummers, pen tappers, fingernail clickers… this one’s for you. (And for all of you who don’t yet know that you’re tappers and clickers because you’re doing it unconsciously.)

If you notice that you seem to have a nervous habit, ask yourself: is this habit making noise? Then, if possible, switch it out for a silent habit, like playing with a rubber band or unfolding and refolding a paper clip. It’s going to take a while to remember to take a deep breath without exhaling a loud “um-hummm,” but your workplace mates will thank you.

And so will I.