September is career month! It’s such a coincidence that this month, the leading Etiquette and Protocol School – Washington School of Protocol declared 7th September 2018 to be the “Bring Your Manners to Work” Day. According to their website, this was a day to remind people of the importance of treating people with courtesy and respect in the workplace. Let’s extend that day to a whole month as we tackle the issue of open plan offices!

There’s more to building a successful career than having an impeccable CV. Think about the most successful people you know, they possibly don’t have the best qualifications or weren’t even the A students of the class: they have something no amount of degrees can give you – the best soft skills (aka a good attitude). One of the most important soft skills is; one’s ability to work and interact with others. These people understand the obvious, as well as the unspoken rules that drive interpersonal dynamics. One’s ability to not only understand but also apply them influences how well– or poorly – you work with other people. Nothing is set to challenge this skill more than working in an open plan office with introvert, extroverts and everything in between.

Before I continue, allow me to confess that at one point or the other in my career, I may have probably been part of the “problem” with open plan offices. I’m an extrovert with a loud voice and even louder laugh, throw the open space in the mix: could be a working catastrophe. If you’ve ever found yourself in an open plan office at one point all other in our career, you know what I mean. As lovely and modern as it looks, it can be a tad bit challenging.

To survive the open-plan office setup, it’s important to establish some ground rules. I actually think that all companies that have the open-plan floor plan MUST have the below rules as part of the welcoming kit for new employees, alongside earplugs and/or earphones. Additionally, they should be posted at a visible place for employees to regularly remind themselves of the good open-plan etiquette. The golden rule when it comes to the open plan office is to avoid creating a distraction. Remember that everyone around you is trying to get some work done.

Limit noise


Whether having a conversation with your neighbor in the next cubicle or desk, on the phone or listening to music, please keep noise levels down. When you’re on the phone, no matter how tempting it may be, avoid using the speakerphone and when listening to music always use your earphones (and still keep the volume down).





I think while we are still on the noise, we need to speak about ringtones and smartphones. We all have that 1 (or maybe more) colleague(s) whose ringtone is always the trending and possibly most annoying song. These days, we receive at least 50 notifications on a daily basis: phone calls, whatsapps, tweets, emails, etc. It’s easy for your smartphone (and computer) to be a distraction to others in the office. Please ensure that all of your devices are on the lowest volume better yet, on vibrate or silent.




This one is tricky because we’re speaking about both good and bad smells.


Be considerate what kind of food you eat at your desk. No one can dictate what you should “snack” at your desk or bring for lunch but surely food with strong smells, like tuna, eggs, curry, are to be consumed in designated eating areas.

Use of perfume

Many people are sensitive or even allergic to certain scents. So ensure that you keep the perfume or cologne to a minimum. Don’t drench yourself in your favorite Chanel so bad that we don’t need to see you: all we need is to smell you. Ideally, people should not be able to smell your scent unless they are standing directly beside you.



If you’re sick, stay home


When it comes to germs, caring is definitely not caring. So if you’re sick please stay away from the office. There’s nothing worse than sitting across someone that’s sneezing, coughing and sniffing the whole time and wondering when its going to be you. In some companies, coming into work-come rain or sunshine- is a sign of dedication and commitment but it’s really not worth it. So staying at home will not make you appear weak, lazy or undedicated, but rather respectful towards your coworkers.





Just because your co-worker is at his/her desk doesn’t mean they’re available to attend to you. Don’t just barge in and start having an impromptu “meeting”. Use your good judgment before you start engaging with someone. Always check if they’re available and if yes, keep your visits short.


 Keep your workspace tidy


Believe it or not, not only is a messy desk unprofessional it can also be a source of destruction. Ensure that you keep your workspace neat and tidy. If you share desks, be sure to clear all personal belongings when you’re done using the space.

Be open minded/tolerant/flexible


Lastly but not least, despite the fact that your co-works may be breaking the above etiquette rules repeatedly, please practice tolerance. Have a chat with your co-worker politely or have the human resources’ department deal with it. Common sense may not always be as common!


Don’t forget to Bring Your Manners to Work everyday!!


Want to listen to the podcast on Open Plan Office Etiquette! Press here

-Njekwa Mwamba | @Njekwa264

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