Respecting a Co-worker's Personal Space

by Lisa McQuerrey

Today's open office environments often mean employees work in close proximity to each another. For some people, this is conducive to team work, while to others, it feels claustrophobic. To maintain good relationships with your colleagues, respect boundaries, personal space and privacy.

Physical Space

Respecting physical space means not encroaching into others’ work territory, particularly in cubicles or workstations that connect in some way. Keep your own space clean, clear and organized and situate yourself so you are physically in your own environment. Position your computer and telephone away from your colleague, not to ignore her, but rather, to help both of you avoid the distraction that another person can create. This allows you to respect personal space and it keeps you focused on your work.

Personal Space

Respect a person's personal space by not standing too close when you talk, which can make some people feel as if you're physically on top of them. Limit physical contact as well, remembering that a business handshake is appropriate, whereas a hug, an arm around the shoulder or a friendly punch in the shoulder is overly familiar and not appreciated by everyone. In meetings and seminars, maintain physical space at tables and in chair rows so the people around you have room to stretch and move without fear of bumping elbows and knees.

Air and Sound Space

While the air your officemates breathe and the sounds they hear may not constitute individual personal space, you can still respect the contribution you make to these intangible shared office assets. Be mindful about how aromatic your food and beverages are and be careful about the amount of perfume or cologne you wear. Likewise, pay attention to your volume when you speak, both in person and on the phone, to ensure you aren't interrupting your colleagues' work or concentration.


It can be difficult to maintain privacy in a small or open office. If you walk into a room and see two colleagues in private conversation, respectfully keep your distance or come back later. If you hear a co-worker on the phone, don't eavesdrop on her conversation, and if you do inadvertently overhear details of the discussion, keep them confidential.

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