News and advice on business etiquette — November 2014

Advice on how to decorate your cubicle while respecting office decorum. Plus: the latest twist to the wire transfer email scam and the wackiest requests received by administrative assistants.


Q: Should I decorate my cubicle?

A: With the trend of open-concept workspaces, most of us don’t have a big, luxurious Mad Men-style office (complete with a couch and bar). These days, it’s more likely that you are separated from your colleagues by nothing but a short partition — if that. Since we spend most of our waking hours at work, it’s nice to have personal things in our pods to make the space our own. But how much is too much?

"Whether you dock at a temporary workspace or have a plush corner office, your company still owns that space; you need to respect the office decorum. Any personal touches should be just that, not overhauls, as we’re essentially long-term leasers of our desks," says Karen Cleveland, an etiquette expert in Toronto. "When deciding what, or how much, to display, ask yourself if you’re comfortable telling the story that accompanies the item. Anything visible from your office space means that it isn’t yours — it’s part of the office aesthetic."

Cleveland’s best advice is to steer clear of loud or gaudy items — think posters of Brad Pitt, nearly nude pictures of you and your spouse on your island honeymoon (believe it or not, it’s been done) or your gag gift beer helmet. "A few tasteful photos or trinkets can make you more relatable and warm to colleagues, and give natural prompts for small talk when they swing by your workspace."

— Lisa van de Geyn


A fraudster in Nigeria is pretending to be your boss

A fraudster in Nigeria is pretending to be your boss 

Finance managers should be on alert for a new twist to the wire transfer email scam that originated in Nigeria, warns the FBI. In this latest incarnation of the scheme, company controllers or accountants receive an email that appears to be from their boss or another senior executive at the company who wants a wire transfer sent ASAP. But the message, which includes detailed instructions for the transfer and may even specify to which department the unsuspecting recipient should bill the transaction, is a fraud. Victims are conned because the sender’s email address looks similar enough to the real thing at a glance; for example, "" in place of "" Spot the difference? Good. Because according to the US Internet Crime Complaint Center, victims of these so-called "business email compromise" scams are generally companies located in the US, England or Canada, and the average loss is $55,000.

— Tamar Satov


Why we need professional help

Don’t you just heart administrative assistants? We always knew there was nothing these resourceful, friendly and ever-calm professionals wouldn’t do to save the day but, thanks to staffing service OfficeTeam, we now have a definitive list of the wackiest requests they have received at work. (Of course, none of you would ever ask for anything this weird, right?)

• Help land a helicopter on top of the building;

• Communicate between two executives who were not speaking to each other;

• Take samples of toilet paper from the office bathrooms and compare them;

• Take care of the office’s pet snails.

— Tamar Satov