It is amazing what you pick up from your neighbours. I work in a cubicle and hear things going on around me all the time. Most things I tune out, but when it’s something I need to know I seem to tune right in and it is really helpful.
If my co-worker in the next cubicle is away and someone comes looking for her I usually know where she has gone as we regularly call out to each other where we are going as we rush off to do a photocopying job or send a fax.
It is especially helpful to know what your neighbour was doing before they leave on vacation or take a sick day. You hear conversations throughout the day and they help you to know where they are at on a project so you can step in and help out. You won’t be completely up to speed, but normally you have some idea of what the person was doing.
There is a negative aspect to hearing what your neighbours are up to. You can’t help overhearing personal conversations as well and that can be distracting. Sometimes co-workers have conversations right outside your cubicle which can also be very distracting when you are on a phone call with a client or are trying to transcribe a tape or even concentrate on a task that needs all your attention.
There are advantages and disadvantages to hearing your neighbours in a work environment. I think the most important thing is to be respectful of each other and mindful that your neighbours are listening.