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Analysis: PwC’s Open Workspace Etiquette

There's an intrepid story over at the Wall Street Journal from late yesterday that discusses the concept of shared or open workspaces. If you've worked in public accounting, particularly as an auditor, you're very familiar with this phenomenon (commonly known as "hoteling"), yet the Journal more or less presents this as some trailblazing in the realm of cube farms. 

Anyway, PwC gets a mention in the piece as one of the companies that are hip to this trend and it includes this image that shows some of the etiquette for open workspaces:

It's a brief list but let's start by examining these one at a time, shall we?

#1 No sneaking up – On the surface, this seems like a reasonable request. After all, people are working with delicate financial information in spreadsheets and this demands the highest level of concentration. If you fly in stealth mode and then suddenly tap someone on the shoulder, this could possibly result in cardiac arrest and/or the person soiling him/herself. Hours of lost productivity could result.

#2 No loitering – You know those people who just hang around the office with their Starbucks (aka corporate version of Big Gulps) talking to each other who never seem to be doing anything? Yeah, this one is for them. 

#3 Use your 'indoor voice' – This is problematic for certain people because their 'indoor' voices are equivalent to some people's 'bar' voices. I know this because I am one of them. And it takes a concerted effort to achieve a low enough volume to not disturb those people in the office who have Labrador-esque hearing. 

#4 Never eavesdrop – I don't care for this rule. It's quite impossible to not eavesdrop when the person you're eavesdropping on is shamelessly gossiping or not using (or not able to use [see #3]) his/her indoor voice. I suppose the best way to avoid eavesdropping is to insist that you be included in the conversation, no matter how awkward that particular request may be.  

#5 Limit chit-chat – Simply put: keep it professional. Share your weekend warrior adventures in the lavatories. 

#6 Use headphones – Frankly, this rule should be #1. If everyone followed this rule religiously, rules #3 and #4 wouldn't be necessary. However, the issue of excessive volume can be a concern. For whatever reason, some people insist that everyone around them know what is being pumped into their headphones by cranking the volume to unnecessary levels. This can be e

The Journal story also mentions that the firm encouraged people, "[to] not to leave uneaten food in someone else's office and […] to replace office supplies they used." The former being an especially egregious offense when you ate something out of the fridge that was clearly marked as belonging to someone else. As for the latter, keep in mind that we're dealing with accountants: people who are obsessed with details and who would never consider keeping an inventory of binder clips, pencil lead, and Post-its out of the ordinary. Loot drawers at your own risk.

This list may seem elementary by public accounting standards since, as we mentioned, the concept of shared space is not new to the world of public accounting. Kindly share your own rules so that you may educate those who are pleading ignorance on this stuff and for the reporters at the WSJ who will probably do a follow-up story at some point.