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Etiquette for Shared Work Spaces

By: Cady Barrett and Carol Rovello

Sharing office space can be difficult, especially when you’re at work for up to nine hours a day. It's important for you to create a workspace that helps you work efficiently. Creating a pleasant work environment that does not interfere with the efficiency of your coworkers is important as well. Distractions and interruptions can prevent you and your colleagues from performing at your best.

It's helpful when you can collaborate with your coworkers to determine what ground rules will work for everybody. Here are some some suggestions to boost productivity when office space is shared.

Personal Decorations

It's important to create personal space at work, but too much "personalizing" can overwhelm the office with clutter. Keep it simple and your workspace will look clean, put together, and professional.  It should go without saying that no potentially offensive photos or calendars should be displayed. Be sure that all personal items remain consistent with your organization's workplace harassment prevention policy.


When you work in close quarters, do not use your speakerphone during office hours unless you are prompted to do so and have your coworkers' permission. Speakerphones are loud, distracting, and often considered rude by coworkers. Use a headset if you prefer to be hands free while talking. This allows more quiet for others and it also keep office noises from disturbing your call.

Try to keep your voice down no matter what you’re doing in the office. People may be on different schedules, so talking while having lunch, for example, may disturb employees who are still working. Shouting across the office is never considered acceptable behavior. And, avoid playing music during working hours unless you use a headset or get coworkers' permission.

Personal Calls

Avoid personal phone calls while in a shared office/workspace. Conversations with friends or family can become emotional, causing you to raise your voice or offer personal details others don’t need (or want) to hear. Instead, if you need to talk to someone, take your cell phone and use it outside of the office or during your lunch break when others are not nearby.

Non-Work Email

Refrain from sending joke e-mails or forwarding ‘junk’ mail to colleagues. You are all at work to get the job done. In addition to being an annoyance to most people, if your e-mail is viewed by your supervisor, you could be perceived as lazy and distracted. Furthermore, your work computer is just that, a work computer, and most organizations prohibit it's use for personal reasons. (And, keep in mind that all communications should comply with your organization's workplace harassment prevention policy.)

Avoid Interrupting Coworkers

Never barge into a coworker's work space without asking. If there is not a door, you can speak quietly or knock on the desk gently to let the person know you are there. If they are on the phone, do not interrupt! If you treat everyone and their space with respect, you can expect the same respect in return. 

Personal Comfort

Do not take off your shoes and walk around the office in your socks or bare feet. Most organizations consider this to be unprofessional, and it could bother some with a potentially unpleasant scent. Try to refrain from belching, passing wind, nose picking or any other personal care issues that should be done in private. :) In addition, it is best to keep air fresheners, perfumes, and other scented items at home as many people are sensitive to smells and/or have allergies. 

The Office Kitchen

Office etiquette always extends to the office kitchen, which may or may not be cleaned every day. Employees sharing a kitchen should clean up after themselves so that the kitchen can remain clean, hygienic and free from bugs. Agreeing to a set of rules for the office kitchen can help you reduce the mess and can help things moving smoothly when everyone is trying to get their lunches.

No Coffee Left?

A very important rule in office kitchen etiquette is, if the pot of coffee is getting low or has been emptied, make a new pot of coffee! No one likes to have to do all the work while someone is enjoying their caffeine boost. So, if you take the time to make a fresh pot, your colleagues will thank you for it.

Clean Up

Even if your company has a cleaning service, it's still important for you to clean up after yourself. You coworkers want to prepare their lunch or snack and eat in a clean environment. Put all of your trash in the trashcan and wipe down the counter/table. This applies to leftovers in the fridge  and the spatter in the microwave.

Respect the Bagged Lunch

Be kind to your coworkers lunch. If there isn’t room, see what re-organization can be done.

Kitchen Supplies

If your organization supplies plastic utensils or paper towels, replace them. Don’t leave an empty box of forks for the next person.

Take out the garbage

If the garbage is full, alert someone who has the responsibility to take care of it, don’t shove your trash on top and walk away. If no one else can take out the trash, then you certainly can. As an employee of the company, it's everyone’s responsibility to contribute to the efficiency of the company, even in the kitchen.


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