Need ideas for cubicle etiquette awareness

I'm looking for some novel and interesting ways to encourage employees to be more mindful of their neighbors in the cube farm. We've displayed lists of dos and don'ts with ho-hum results. Everyone thinks it doesn't apply to them, but to the other person or department.

A face-to-face training class would probably be overkill. Not everyone would go through an e-learning course. You guys always come up with great ideas, so I'm hoping something fresh and different will come to someone's mind. Thanks for any ideas you can share!

34 Replies
Ashley Chiasson

If you don't think everyone would go through the e-learning course; I would do something more instructor-led; however, I think that the computer-based approach could suffice - especially if you added a good amount of humour to engage the audience.

At one of my last cube farm gigs, I worked with someone who was hard of hearing, and despite using headphones, he would listen to his music on the highest possible volume...one day in particular, he had decided to listen to James Brown Get Up Offa That Thing on repeat. You could hear him from the furthest point in the cube farm! We all wanted to cry - it was awful (no offence to JB)!

Jackie Van Nice

I'm not a cube farmer, but it seems to me if you're addressing cube behavior, the smart thing would be to use an actual cube as the centerpiece of the (instructor-led) training. (Okay, okay - you could set up a "cube simulation" in a training room.)

Each person could take a turn in the cube (where they can't see the other participants and vice versa so it's as realistic as possible) and act out what they think it means to violate Rule ABC.

I think it would lead to very interesting discussions and revelations about exactly how much noise/smelly stuff/stuff draped over the cube wall people find acceptable - and would certainly bring it to life better than lists of rules that get ignored. Plus it would be kinda fun.

So that's my answer: bring it to life!    

Holly MacDonald

I'd create a character who does all the annoying things that you want to stop and make an elearning course a very exaggerated version of what it would be like to live beside him. Give him a name (Roger) and then you can use light-hearted reminders (signs, emails, etc) that say "Don't be a Roger". 

I don't know how that would work with your culture, but some way of getting attention is key. 

Hope that helps!

Holly

Ashley Chiasson

Holly MacDonald said:

I'd create a character who does all the annoying things that you want to stop and make an elearning course a very exaggerated version of what it would be like to live beside him. Give him a name (Roger) and then you can use light-hearted reminders (signs, emails, etc) that say "Don't be a Roger". 

I don't know how that would work with your culture, but some way of getting attention is key. 

Hope that helps!

Holly


Love that idea, Holly! Hopefully they don't have any Rogers working there :P

Bruce Graham

I would start a little higher up the "moral food chain", (...not sure that metaphor really works....but here's what I mean...)

It's about rights, but also respect and responsibilities - a point Jackie is near.

With due respect, I have to completely disagree with Holly here. Just showing a cutesy character will have no effect. Showing people pictures of lung cancer victims does not stop them smoking, as they think it will never happen to/be them (an effect you have seen). They will say "That is not like me - that is just a (lame) cutesy character"

At the start, show a video someone getting pi55ed off at home, because their small son/daughter is woken up by someone revving a car at 0630 in the morning, (or whatever). It's just not right.

Show a video smoke from a bonfire cutting across someone's garden, ruining washing that is on a line. They never bothered to check. It's just not right.

etc.

Then show the "cubicle noise/music" example

Then show the "smelly food in the cubicle next door" example.

It's the same thing.

Rights, but also Respect and Responsibility.

Make it personal, and make people feel guilty. Only by changing feelings will you have any chance to make this work. This is not training, this is the corporate equivalent of a Public Awareness Campaign, and needs to be handled with the same (lack of) tact and brutal honesty. Do not tell them it is a video on cubicles. Send it out from HR attached to an email (with Read-Receipt) and title it something like "Do you deserve to be treated like this?" There is only one answer to that question.....psychologically they cannot ignore that fact, even if only in their subconscious.

Have a follow-up communication(s). This is not a "course", it is an ongoing communication plan and culture-change-management exercise. Anything less than bold will fail in the medium/long-term.

In the wonderful book "The Tipping Point", Malcolm Gladwell makes a point about teenage smoking. Gladwell suggests that a better approach would be not to try to fight teenage experimentation with smoking but rather to try to ensure that such experimentation is not going to be dangerous, in other words, that teenage experimentation with smoking will not lead to addiction. (Source)

I would use the same sort of techniques here. It's OK to have music, it's OK to eat gorgonzola - HOWEVER your cubicle is next to someone else's, and if it affects them, find another way.

That's what I would do anyway.

Beverly Scruggs

I posted this request just before leaving work yesterday. Came in this morning and...wow!...all these great responses greeted me. These are all wonderful ideas. Ashley, I laughed out loud at your real-life example! Bruce, you're probably right that this should come from HR, but it will be Org Dev's (my dept) task to come up with a solution.

I'm meeting with the rest of my team today and next week, so thanks to you, I've got some "meaty" ideas to discuss.

Jerson  Campos

Bruce has a point, but making it very "realistic" could backfire too, it would need be handled correctly. I'm more for the humorous type of lessons. Here is another idea.  Why not do a comedy sketch type of routine. If you have the space and time available, you can set up three different mock cubicles with three actors who each display a few of the bad habits that have been brought up and take it to the extreme. Strange food smells, have a person grilling.  Loud music, have them playing a really annoying song and singing to it. Loud phone talker, have an "uncomfortable" conversation. At the end you could have one person summarize what happened and remind the audience that even though the portrayal was supposed to be funny, that some of this happens and they need to respect each other. 

Bruce Graham

@Jerson

I agree it has to be handled correctly - every behavioural change programme needs to be planned well and executed perfectly.

Saying that - I am also a fan of dealing with problems in a grown-up and serious, often "matter of fact" way.

Why do we always have to dumb-down (to an extent...) topics that we are scared to deal with?

"These are the rules we play by - please abide by them".

john faulkes

Beverly,

if you think that an elearning course would be too much, you could mount an application on peoples' screens that would facilitate the collection of opinions and display a leader-board of the top things that make it work / inhibit work; a teambuilding exercise without needing to get everyone together. You could run this one-time, or periodically, or it could run perpetually. It could be arranged to that one person like you could moderate in case anyone put something inappropriate on it.

JaF

Bob S

Ok, lots of good ideas thus far. However all of them are centered on the "awareness" training side.

Might want to include an actual "skills" piece where you teach people ways to have that uncomfortable convo with their cube mates about their offensive habit. Maybe a guideline on when to confront vs let it go. Perhaps up to and including an escalation strategy if neccessary.

This skills training in and of itself will have a tremendous impact on the awareness side....

Cary Glenn

I wouldn't use the Asian idea. There are too many ways that this could backfire terribly. Besides the idea that Asians are more considerate than other cultures is wrong. I've had several female friends who were groped while riding crowded trains and being in other crowded places.

I don't think that the "here are the rules follow them" approach works all that well. People know the rules of the road but everyday I see people break those rules. I think you have to make people care, and see how their actions impact their co-workers lives. I might consider targeting the training towards managers and how to have difficult conversations. This would be part of an overall strategy on cubicle etiquette which might include posters and emails outlining the expectations. You could have something like the classic "Goofus and Gallant' or "Dim and Dash"

Jerson  Campos

@Bruce, You may be used to big brother watching everything you do, but over here people would throw some serious fits over privacy violations if those where installed. It won't matter that it really isn't a privacy violations since it's at a workplace, people would still be upset.

Besides cameras didn't stop these people.  http://youtu.be/VpCXevKpjX4

Holly MacDonald

Bob S said:

Ok, lots of good ideas thus far. However all of them are centered on the "awareness" training side.

Might want to include an actual "skills" piece where you teach people ways to have that uncomfortable convo with their cube mates about their offensive habit. Maybe a guideline on when to confront vs let it go. Perhaps up to and including an escalation strategy if neccessary.

This skills training in and of itself will have a tremendous impact on the awareness side....


Excellent point Bob. 

Holly MacDonald

Bruce Graham said:

I would start a little higher up the "moral food chain", (...not sure that metaphor really works....but here's what I mean...)

It's about rights, but also respect and responsibilities - a point Jackie is near.

With due respect, I have to completely disagree with Holly here. Just showing a cutesy character will have no effect. Showing people pictures of lung cancer victims does not stop them smoking, as they think it will never happen to/be them (an effect you have seen). They will say "That is not like me - that is just a (lame) cutesy character"

At the start, show a video someone getting pi55ed off at home, because their small son/daughter is woken up by someone revving a car at 0630 in the morning, (or whatever). It's just not right.

Show a video smoke from a bonfire cutting across someone's garden, ruining washing that is on a line. They never bothered to check. It's just not right.

etc.

Then show the "cubicle noise/music" example

Then show the "smelly food in the cubicle next door" example.

It's the same thing.

Rights, but also Respect and Responsibility.

Make it personal, and make people feel guilty. Only by changing feelings will you have any chance to make this work. This is not training, this is the corporate equivalent of a Public Awareness Campaign, and needs to be handled with the same (lack of) tact and brutal honesty. Do not tell them it is a video on cubicles. Send it out from HR attached to an email (with Read-Receipt) and title it something like "Do you deserve to be treated like this?" There is only one answer to that question.....psychologically they cannot ignore that fact, even if only in their subconscious.

Have a follow-up communication(s). This is not a "course", it is an ongoing communication plan and culture-change-management exercise. Anything less than bold will fail in the medium/long-term.

In the wonderful book "The Tipping Point", Malcolm Gladwell makes a point about teenage smoking. Gladwell suggests that a better approach would be not to try to fight teenage experimentation with smoking but rather to try to ensure that such experimentation is not going to be dangerous, in other words, that teenage experimentation with smoking will not lead to addiction. (Source)

I would use the same sort of techniques here. It's OK to have music, it's OK to eat gorgonzola - HOWEVER your cubicle is next to someone else's, and if it affects them, find another way.

That's what I would do anyway.


I don't think we're on completely opposite ends of the spectrum Bruce, both our suggestions involve invoking some degree of guilt. 

We do agree on the campaign side of things though. It is a behaviour change that you are looking for. I'm going to check out Switch to see if there are some examples that might connect.

Rachel Barnum

Who is the training actually intended for? Is it intended for absolutely everyone (the way it sounds)?

What is the culture like there? Is it young/traditional/varied/conservative?

Are there different cultures within each team? Does this happen more among certain teams than others?

Personally - I think a training/memo should be aimed at managers on how to hold their team accountable. The problem with training and the signs around the office is that it's not actually holding anybody accountable for the problem. For example, a "DO NOT WALK" sign is only effective if it's actually enforced by someone or something (police, drivers who are threatening to run over the people trying to walk, etc.)

What are some specific examples that happen often? For example, is there constantly conversations happening? Music too loud? etc.? These issues should be channeled (and therefore controlled). Going back to the "DO NOT WALK" sign, it's only effective if people are given an option to walk eventually or given directions to walk somewhere else.

If there's too much chatting that's interrupting others, maybe implement an online chat system or an area (such as a break room) where people are ENCOURAGED to relax for a little while and chat with their coworkers. Obviously these would need to be monitored to avoid overuse (and even then, as long as they're getting their work done - then whatever). If they are business related chats, encourage them to book a conference room or have the company create a coworking space away from the cubicles.

If someone's music is too loud, encourage the company to purchase sound reducing headphones for employees or encourage employees to bring in their own, and managers should hold them accountable for keeping them down at an acceptable level.

Just some ideas, I'd be happy to talk through some more!

Bruce Graham

Jerson Campos said:

@Bruce, You may be used to big brother watching everything you do, but over here people would throw some serious fits over privacy violations if those where installed. It won't matter that it really isn't a privacy violations since it's at a workplace, people would still be upset.

Besides cameras didn't stop these people.  http://youtu.be/VpCXevKpjX4


I guess that I should have added an

BTW - the toughest "Follow the rules or leave" policies I have ever had were when working at US owned companies, so privacy violations, perhaps not....but rules that had to be followed...certainly.

@Rachel uses the words "accountable" and "enforced". These are so correct - and why not? Why in many cases do companies pussy-foot around issues such as these? I'm not saying that we have to be nasty in any way about it, but in so many other areas of life, (social clubs, homes etc.) we have rules - where there are consequences if they are broken.

@Holly used the word "guilt" - again correct. It is a GREAT motivator.

I just think that if we have a problem, it should be sorted swiftly and effectively so that life/business can move forward. That's not "nasty", that's business.