By Tali Arbel, AP Business Writer

KEEP OUT!: The open-plan office was meant to improve communication within a workplace. As cube-dwellers know, that can be true — but it also means you can hear everything and are subject to constant interruptions.

There have been a number of products throughout the years aimed at keeping out co-workers, from physical, lightweight doors and screens, colored signs that can be placed on top of those walls that don't reach the ceiling and "status" updates on internal messaging programs like AOL's instant messenger.

Now CubeGuard, a startup, is offering a 2.6-inch wide retractable banner that can read whatever you like — the company offers "Please Do Not Disturb," ''Out To Lunch," for example — or you can create your own message, such as "Get out, please, I hate you all."

That last one suggests the problems such a physical barrier could create.

"If there aren't behavioral expectations already in place, then some symbol like that could be misunderstood, misinterpreted, even misused," said Jacqueline Vischer, director of the interior design program at the University of Montreal in Canada. She often runs studies on how to improve work environments. And such a barrier wouldn't have any effect on the main barrier to concentration, which is noise level, she said.

"In some cultures, maybe this wouldn't be appropriate," conceded CubeGuard's CEO, John Stanton. "It could be considered rude in some environments." That's why the company included smiley faces on some of its preprinted banners, he said. Still, he said, the retractable barrier, which attaches to the cubicle's entry with magnets or Velcro, is a "lifesaver" for some office workers who have a couple of people constantly badgering them.

One user is Adam Wilson, 35, a customer relations manager at handset company Palm Inc. Without it, "I'd be telling people 20 to 30 times a day" to leave him be, he said, while on conference calls or in that post-lunch hour when everyone feels like chatting.

Each CubeGuard kit costs $19.99, and custom messages are available for $29.99.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.  All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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