How to Make Your Cubicle Not Feel Like a Chokehold
By Susan Bryant, Monster Contributing Writer
For many otherwise happy workers, the cubicle is the bane of modern work life. Although cubicles give the illusion of privacy, those little walls are easily penetrated by your cube mates’ incessant sounds and conversations. Not only is a lack of cube etiquette a problem, but spending most of your workday sitting can also make you feel like your muscles have seeped into your ergonomic chair.
Anyone who has resided in Cubeland knows how difficult it is to work while trying to block out coworkers’ conversations. “There is always someone who doesn’t quite get that if he can hear me, I can hear him,” says Mary Risher, a photo editor and cube dweller for the last 10 years. “I am forever overhearing domestic tiffs, weird bodily functions, etc. I’ve been reduced to wearing earplugs so I can concentrate. Even then, someone’s voice manages to cut through the foam.”
These complaints are common, says Hilka Klinkenberg, founder of Etiquette International, a New York City-based firm specializing in business etiquette. In a cube environment, professional etiquette must be elevated to a higher standard than in a traditional office because of the workers’ close proximity. Klinkenberg gives these guidelines to making your office cube-friendly:
- -Give your cube mates a sense of control over their space. Knock on cube walls (even if this gesture is only a symbolic knock on a foam wall) before speaking. Ask permission to enter someone’s cube, instead of barging in.
- -Don’t loiter. Your conversations float freely among people trying to make phone calls, read or write important documents and concentrate on their work.
- -Realize that odors know no boundaries. Your lunch, although appetizing to you, may make someone else’s stomach turn. If you eat at your desk, take out your trash promptly.
- -Be aware of what you say and how loudly you say it. Assume everyone within a four-cube radius can hear you. If you need to discuss a sensitive matter, try to find an empty office or private area.
Another common complaint among cube dwellers is the feeling that they’re getting “cube body.” What kind of effect does long-term sitting have on you? Mary Ann Pavlides, a registered nurse and massage therapist, says her clients have experienced:
- -Lower-back strain due to poor posture and sitting too long.
- -Upper-back strain from scrunching neck and shoulder together while talking on the phone.
- -Shortened pectoral muscles from leaning into a desk to type on a computer.
- -Sluggish circulation in their legs from prolonged inactivity.
Fortunately, combating these problems is easy. Pavlides recommends the following exercises for relief:
- -Get up and walk every half hour. This keeps your circulation going, gives your eyes a break from your monitor and lets your whole body move.
- -Stretch your arms back over your head and arch your body into a “C.” This helps reverse the hunched-over posture you may sit in.
- -Stand up and roll back and forth on your heels and toes. This stretches leg muscles that cramp from too much sitting.
- -Find a doorway and place your forearms against the frame. Lean into the doorway to stretch your pec muscles. Don’t hold this position too long, though, or you might strain yourself.
Make sure you have an ergonomic chair with armrests you can raise and lower to get the right fit. Adjust your desk or table to a comfortable level.
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Even if your cube mates are a bunch of annoying Neanderthals and your boss thinks ergonomic chairs are for wimps, cube nirvana is still possible. Angela Holton, a communications administrator and resident of Cubeland for 11 years, says existing happily in a cube requires a “bloom where you’re planted” philosophy.
“I keep lots of framed photographs on my desk of friends and favorite places I’ve visited,” she says. “I also am referred to as the ‘Plant Lady’ because of all the greenery at my desk. I’m even considering a small Persian-type rug to place at the entrance of my cube to cozy things up a bit. The way I see it is, if you have to live in a cube, you might as well make it comfortable.”
Discussion: What’s in/on Your Desk?