My colleague and I work in the same cube. The main issue is that our cube is located in a high traffic area. There is a walking isle in front (blocked by front walls) and behind us is entirely open. Basically, people walk behind us (shorter path to the printer/kitchen) every 10-15 minutes causing distractions. All other cubes are against the wall and other colleagues have no issue because their wall is facing the walking isle.

Recently, my colleague made a request to temporary block the pathway (approved) due to distractions. Management also asked me if it is true. I said yes. Because the pathway is closer to my desk & is now blocked, it seems like some people are upset at me even though it was also a request from my colleague.

Why did we request this change?

  1. Distraction. People walking behind us every 10-15 mins
  2. No privacy (even though I have nothing to hide)

How should I handle fellow coworkers who seem upset over the change? Are there some positive steps that I can take to assure them I am a team player and not anti-social?

  • 4
    this is a very legitimate request. it falls in the realm of work conditions and accommodation. you cannot be expected to be productive if you are bombarded with sensory overloads of different sorts.
    – amphibient
    Feb 9 '14 at 4:21
  • 3
    You both made a legitimate request which was approved with good reason. My advice is don't concern yourself with the petty minded people - they exist in every office and worrying about them will do nothing for your career.
    – Dan
    Feb 9 '14 at 14:02
  • Three elements solve this where I work. 1. "Library rules" by default regarding noise. 2. Everyone has headphones as a backup. 3. There are empty offices w/doors where people can meet to have extended conversations without disturbing others. I like this mixed approach because it emphasizes the shared responsibility of having a workable workspace: it's not entirely other people's fault (I should put my headphones in if there are temporary distractions), and it's not entirely my fault (people should use offices for extended meetings). Helps a lot.
    – jefflunt
    Feb 10 '14 at 15:21
  • You are only looking at the problem from your side. How many people used that walkway? How many are now taking longer routes to do the same thing (wasting more time in the day?). How many people are now having to put up with the same issue you had because people have to change their walking route? How long were you in that desk position vs others who are in the same position but haven't gotten a change? Feb 11 '14 at 9:55
  • You are correct to look at this problem from the perspective that you give in your post. If a manager uses lame excuses, such as the tenure of other people who have not had workspace changes, you should begin looking for a new job because that is a bad manager and possibly a bad company. If you don't stick up for yourself, they surely won't. It's a basic workplace requirement to have a suitably quiet and private workspace. If the company invested poorly in office space, or created a costly, bad layout, that is the company's fault and it is the company's cost to bear, not yours.
    – ely
    Feb 11 '14 at 18:06

I faced a very similar situation. In my case talking with management seemed to provide no help at all and coworkers definitely treated me differently upon learning about requests to change seats or even to change the way seating policy works in the company.

I found a few things slightly helpful:

  1. Suggest policy changes to coworkers, but do so in a hypothetical, idea-focused way so that they feel part of the discussion and so management does not perceive it as a mutiny. I was able to get a few peers to read through the great book Peopleware and it changed their minds about open office layouts and some of the misinformation that employers often recite about the costs of office space for knowledge workers. There is a summary website linked here. I'm not saying that Peopleware applies to your situation, but it is a good book for knowledge workers even outside of the software industry. Some excerpts may be a good place to start.

  2. Bring up the idea of having seating rotation. Companies often do a very bad thing: they rank the respective attractiveness of workspaces (in terms of proximity to windows, access to privacy or quiet, etc.). This is a terrible idea since it takes things that are basic tools of the job, equally needed by all workers, and turns them into prizes that are won via tenure, promotion, or other means. With seat rotation, everyone spends some of the time enduring the bad seats and gains appreciation for the variety of experiences in the office. This works best when management are also part of the rotation. It's extremely hard to get managers to go for this, but when they do, you know you've found a good manager who deserves your hard work and loyalty.

  3. See if you can work from home. If you can telecommute, then perhaps enduring the distractions on other days is less costly? Maybe you can organize your schedule so that you are in the office for meeting-filled days when being at your workstation is less crucial or less extended, and work from another location for long sessions of work that requires the workstation.

  4. Place a sign about respecting quiet and privacy near by. Then you don't need to actually block the pathways and no one will be angry about that. You run the risk that they will ignore the sign or possibly resent the sign even more than the blocked paths.

Some things that should never be proposed as answers: Listen to music / pipe in muzak / earplugs / other symptom-treaters. Peopleware documents the failure of these methods well -- workers need to be given the ability to work in an environment where the ambient sounds are not much different in type or volume than the sounds they physically generate through the process of working. While listening to music might work for some people part of the time, it's definitely not a long term solution and many people find music even more distracting than the already-unacceptable ambient distractions.

A thoughtful discussion of how this same phenomenon happens with scheduling is linked here: Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule by Paul Graham. It's not specifically about noise distraction, but many of the same principles are equally as useful in this case.


It doesn't sound like you tried to work this out with everyone else. Before going to the boss, you could have ask people who frequent the printer, if they would like to trade cubes. The walk to the printer may be more of a time waster than the interruptions.

There are some people that wouldn't be bothered sitting next to the printer/high traffic area (I would not be one of them.). I've sat in the cubes next to sales people and wasn't bothered one bit. At another place, there was a very chatty person who did nothing but make personal phone calls all day and complain about the same thing to everyone. Very annoying.

If nobody else wants to sit in this location, what makes them think you want to? Maybe they have a better solution? Regardless of what happens, someone is probably going to hold this against you. Life is short. You've got work to do. They'll get over it.


You should be aware that there are companies and people who study how office desks are placed as a science. Your blocking is a good demonstration of why it is a non-trivial thing to do.

Before anything had been done, every employee should have been taken into account. Some questions you need to ask.

  • How many people go by in a day?
  • How many of those people are disruptive?
  • How many people are impacted by this disruption?
  • If you block the way, how many people are impacted by the change?
  • How many will suffer the same disruption from new foot traffic?

You should then see how best to change the traffic which disrupts as few as possible. Because these were not factored in, is why you are getting a negative response from co-workers.

Unless you can prove your change has not adversely disrupted everyone else, then you are not going to get buy in from others in your area.

Assuming that it is at it's optimum setup and you have to unblock the walkway, I'd recommend a "keep quiet" sign, or some kind of visual indicator to ask people to not loiter/talk near your desks.


You've initiated a change other people don't like. Assuming the office space won't change I'd use influence to make people feel involved. See a rough approach below.

Step one: identify people who dislike this new arrangement. Of those people, select a few who you can influence.

Step two: when appropriate (e.g. in a non-confrontational/private setting) label their reaction, e.g. "It seems the blocked pathway really caused a lot of frustration this afternoon" (notice I'm talking about the situation and I'm avoiding accusing them of being frustrated at me).

Step three: listen and validate, e.g. "I can see how annoying it must be now you can't just dash to the printer" (no need to agree/argue/disagree you're just repeating their reality back to them to make them comfortable).

Step four: label some bad things they could think about you (diffuses their frustration) and involve them in problem-solving, e.g. "you know you must think I'm a real jerk, I was one of the people who asked for the walk way to be blocked because I couldn't concentrate, but now I see how much it inconveniences you and I'm wondering what can we do such that I can work quietly and you can access the printer easily?"

Step five: listen. If they have a good solution offer to email your boss and cc them. Even if nothing comes of it, they come out of the conversation feeling listened too, validated and by asking them for a solution you've given them back the feeling of control over their environment.

Repeat this conversation with a few other "influencers" and you will find people who feel in control end up defending your decisions, but you used "working together" (even if only verbally) to get them to appreciate your experience.

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