Open Office Etiquette and Ground Rules

Managing employees in an open office or shared workspace can be incredibly challenging. In addition to the need to keep everyone on track and minimize distractions, you need to set up some ground rules for meetings and individual work time. These ground rules should help set up a respectful environment that allows everyone to remain productive. Consider the following 10 ground rules of open office etiquette.

1. Respect the Need to Work

Remember that everyone in the space has work to get done and respect that. This means that you should not start conversations while someone is busy. If you need to say something, first ask if you can interrupt.

2. Minimize Distractions

Since everyone needs to work, avoid creating things that can lead to distractions for others in the space. This means only listen to music, videos, and podcasts with headphones; try to take phone conversations to another area; and avoid loud conversations in common areas.

meeting coworking space
Meetings should be in designated areas and conference rooms to minimize distractions

3. Have Meetings in Designated Areas

If you have a meeting planned, remember that it could be distracting to others. Instead of having it in the open space, have the meeting in a designated area, like a conference room or a social area.

4. Stay Organized

Unlike in a traditional office, an open office puts your desk in the line of sight of everyone else. This also means that mess on a desk can easily spill over into someone else’s work area. Keep this in mind and keep your work area tidy with your items only on your own desk.

5. Respect the Space of Others

One of the reasons for staying organized comes down to another separate ground rule, respecting other’s space. Keep your items out of their space, and do not “borrow” items from them without permission.

Open Office Etiquette and Ground Rules
Ask before encroaching on the space of others

6. Respect Privacy

In addition to respecting the space of others in the office, respect their privacy. Do not peer over their shoulder to see what they are working on or intentionally eavesdrop on a short phone call or conversation.

7. Avoid Strong Smells

Since everyone in an open office shares the same space, any strongscent permeates. This means that one of the ground rules for meetings is to avoid strong-smelling foods, perfumes, or lotions. It also applies to staying on top of personal grooming to avoid unwanted body odors.

8. Stay Home if You Are Sick

There are two main reasons to stay home from an open office if you are sick. You want to avoid spreading germs, and you want to minimize distractions. No matter how hard you try, some sniffling, sneezing, and coughing will distract others. If you must come when sick, try to be respectful of others and practice good hygiene, such as sanitizing your workspace.

9. If You Have an Issue, Address It Politely

People will disagree on what behavior qualifies as distracting. If someone else does something you find disrespectful or distracting, talk to them calmly and politely. If you do not feel comfortable doing so yourself, ask the manager of the space to do so. Do not leave the issue to fester. The person distracting you may not even be aware of a problem.

10. Listen to the Concerns of Others

The previous rule goes both ways. If someone comes to you with a concern or noise complaint, work with them to come to a solution and try to manage your behavior.

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Displaying the Rules

There are several options for displaying the ground rules you choose for your open office etiquette. You should include them in the membership agreement, but must make clear if they are suggestions or actual rules. You will also want to post them in at least one common area within the space, with a good option being by the entrance.

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