Office Etiquette: 4 Tips for Keeping the Peace in an Open Office

Open Office Workplace

A typical day in the life of a facility manager starts with a swift and traffic-free drive to work, followed by a warm greeting at the office by your team, then you hear the sound of birds chirping outside your office window while your inbox quickly dwindles down to ‘zero.’ All the while your employees are smiling, complimenting each other, and high-fiving one another around the office.

Sound familiar? We didn’t think so.

Let’s be honest. In an open office there’s always the chance that the lack of physical barriers will cause problems. Colleagues may speak too loudly on the phone. Some may come in sick and spread their germs around the office. Some may hold impromptu meetings at their desks while their neighbors are trying to focus on a task close to deadline.

To keep the peace, it’s important to create a list of guidelines to make sure employees aren’t disturbing others. The following are tips to start forming those guidelines, as well as steps for FMs to make the office more comfortable.

1. Phone calls and noise

Open Office Collaboration Shorter calls are fine to have at your desk, but lengthy calls should take place in private areas. Avoid speakerphone conversations. If you need to use a computer during the call, take a laptop with you to the private area. Be mindful of your volume too. Speak at a normal tone, and remember that there are others working around you. If you have to work with someone else or in a group, take the conversation to a collaborative area. Read this great piece on why sound matters, and ‘How to achieve acoustic comfort in the contemporary office.’

FM Tip: Make sure that private areas are close to the open office area. If it’s too far, staff may choose to not use them at all.

2. Food smells and other odors

There’s no such thing as secretly bringing in a tuna fish sandwich to work. Yet, there’s always that employee who things he or she can, and no one will notice.

Strong smells can be a distraction to some, whether it’s the annoyance of a lingering smell or the problem of an allergic reaction. Certain types of foods that have strong odors, such as fish, would best be consumed in the break room. Keep in mind that some workers may also be sensitive to air fresheners, perfume and cologne.

Check out this piece on Top 10 Rules of Etiquette for an Open Office.

FM Tip: It’s never a bad idea to post a brief review of office etiquette rules in each open office area. You may want to call special attention to certain rules, like ones about noise, smells, etc. by creating special reminder signs. For example, you could remind staff to use their best judgment when it comes to scents, odors and other smells.

3. Sickness and germs

Workplace WellbeingWhen you’re ill, try to work from home or take a sick day. If you must come in when you’re under the weather, practice good hygiene. Wash your hands frequently, cough into your sleeve instead of into your hands, turn your head away when you have to sneeze, etc. Encourage staff to wipe down their work areas with sanitizing wipes during cold and flu season.

FM Tip: FMs can mitigate the spread of germs by adopting touch-free technology in restrooms. Of course, installing this type of technology may not be at the top of your organization’s priorities. If this is the case, educating staff on proper hand washing etiquette or even providing hand sanitizer in common areas are still good protective measures.

4. Communicating concerns about office etiquette

office etiquetteBe sure that your colleagues know how they can reach you if they have any questions, concerns or complaints about the office environment. This may be including your name and email address or phone number in the policies or office etiquette signage. If you find you get little response, try having an anonymous slot where employees can leave a note about their concerns that you follow up with daily or weekly.

FM Tip: It’s always a good idea to keep in regular contact with your customers. That’s true, regardless if you’re in sales or in facilities management. Informal conversations can be a wellspring of good information, so don’t underestimate the power of saying hello to a colleague when you pass them by. Since they’re ‘in the trenches’ on a daily basis, they may have valuable ideas on how the office etiquette policies should be changed or expanded. 

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