How to practice cubicle courtesy
Study finds distractions cost as much as an hour each day
By Kate Lorenz
Editor's Note: CNN.com has a business partnership with CareerBuilder.com, which serves as the exclusive provider of job listings and services to CNN.com.
Let's play "Pyramid" for a minute. You know, the game where one person hands out clues and the partner has to guess what they have in common.
Here are the clues:
Touch tones via speakerphone.
The themes from "Rocky" and "Sex and the City."
"What have you got planned for the weekend?"
"Click-click, click-click, click-click, click-click...."
"I'd like information about booking your band for my wedding."
The latest online Bush and Kerry song parody.
Things I have heard from my cube today.
Experts say 65 percent of people who work in an open office plan say they are often distracted.
People spend about 25 percent of their time making noise within their own workspace.
Consider this, if your workspace is a typical grid and there are eight people adjacent to you, chances are, one of them is making noise at any given time leaving little time for quiet throughout the day.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Sue Weidemann, director of research at workplace consultant Bosti Associates of Buffalo, New York, noted at one law firm, that people were interrupted an average of 16 times by noise, visual distractions and chatty visitors, and 21 times if you include work-related distractions.
Weidman said it takes 2.9 minutes to recover concentration after these disruptions, which turns into spending more than an hour a day trying to refocus and even more time if you count the distraction itself.
In their study, "Disproving Widespread Myths About Workplace Design," Bostie Associates identified that people are engaged in two major sets of activities in the office: quiet work and verbal, noise-producing interaction.
Of course noise is not completely unavoidable. People must produce noise in and around their workspaces to be productive for their employer -- phone calls, conference calls, meetings in the workspace, impromptu meetings in the hallways. And there's always that personal thing you've got to take care of during the work day.
Bottom line: Noise and interruptions are pitfalls of working in a cube environment. What's irritating to you is likely to irritate others. The important thing is to respect others' time and space.
Here are some tips on being a good cube neighbor from Peggy Post, spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute, etiquette expert, author and great-granddaughter-in-law of Emily Post.
Telephone conversations: Few people can do their job without a phone. These can be disruptive and it's hard not to overhear in a cube environment.
Try to keep your voice down without messing up your call. Avoid speakerphone unless you are taking the call with several people -- and make attempts to use a meeting room for those. If you want privacy, find an empty meeting room.
Cell phone ringtones: From "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to Usher's latest, everyone has their own personal cellphone ring. These can be obnoxiously loud anywhere, but especially distracting in the workplace.
Post suggests switching to a quieter ring or turning to vibrate and keep the phone near you.
Gathering in groups outside of a cube: Be aware of group chats. Just like phone conversations, discussions throughout the cube grid are inevitable. Try to keep them to a minimum.
"Refrain from prairie-dogging -- hanging over cube walls to talk to someone," says Post. "It can be bothersome to that person and the people around you."
Interrupting someone: In a workplace without doors, it's tough to ask for no interruptions. Instead of hovering, come back later or leave a note. If the person is on the phone, leave a voicemail. Or, send an e-mail. Unless, of course, the building is burning down, adds Post.
Annoying habits: Sounds certainly travel, not just voices. Do you have an absent-minded habit? Clicking pens, popping gum, drumming fingers, radios and clipping fingernails can all be distracting to those around you (not to mention rude).
And if you find yourself constantly distracted? Try to find a conference room. Speak up -- politely -- and simply tell the person you are trying to work. Some people try to sound proof their cubes -- cube doors, plants, corkboard and noise machines, but make sure your company allows it. Or, ask for a flexible schedule or work-at-home days.
Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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