The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The ways of ‘cubeland’

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 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.

Cube etiquette

Anyone who has lived 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’ve been reduced to wearing earplugs. Even then, someone’s voice manages to cut through.”

These complaints are common, says Hilka Klinkenberg, founder of Etiquette International, a New York City-based firm specialising in business etiquette. She gives these guidelines to make 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 symbolic) before speaking. Ask permission to enter someone’s cube.

• Your lunch, although appetising 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. If you need to discuss a sensitive matter, try to find a private area.

Cube atrophy

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 because of 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; and sluggish circulation in their legs from prolonged inactivity.

Pavlides recommends the following exercises:

• Get up and walk every half hour. This keeps your circulation going, gives your eyes a break from your monitor and lets your body move.

• Stand up and roll back and forth on your heels and toes. This stretches leg muscles that cramp from too much sitting.

• Make sure you have an ergonomic chair with armrests you can raise and lower to get the right fit.

Cube bliss

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 favourite 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.”

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