I finished my last final exam for my Bachelor of Science degree on a Friday, and started my first full-time job on that Monday. Since then, I’ve worked every day (outside of most weekends and vacation days) and gone “into the office” most of those days. For the first 17 years or so of my career, I worked for one company. And, while I moved offices quite often – some moves to completely different states, and others to just different buildings in the same area – I always had an office.
The size and quality of the office varied by location. I worked for an oil refining company, so at some points, my office was in a control room building in the middle of the refinery. At other times, it was in a trailer that was parked in the middle of the refinery. At still other times, it was in a major office building in downtown Philadelphia.
The common factor was that it always had a door that I could close when I needed to. Whether that was when I needed to have a sensitive conversation with an employee, a contentious negotiation with a vendor, or just to have a few minutes of quiet while I ate my lunch.
In 2011, I got recruited by a new company. At the time, things with my current company weren’t going well, so the opportunity to start somewhere new – while scary – was appealing. I remember walking into the building for the first time for my interview and thinking – where are the offices? You see, this potential new company used the “open floor concept”. No one – not even the CEO – had an office. They simply had desks grouped together in pods. No walls. No cubicles. There were conference rooms that had doors, but outside of that, there was no privacy in the building.
To make a long story a bit shorter, I was offered the job at the new company and I accepted. So, for the first time in my career, I had no office. I had a desk and I had a locker. I had nowhere to hang all of my pictures. I had nowhere to get some quiet. I had nowhere to eat my lunch!
When I started the new job, it definitely took some adjusting to get used to the open floor concept. But, I did adjust, and it was easier than I thought it would be. Our building was big and not overcrowded, so even though there were no walls, you still felt like you had your own personal space.
Fast forward 6 years, and my company announced that we were moving to a new office building. The new office would be state of the art, and have lots of amenities like a game room and a café. It even has treadmill desks, so you can get some exercise while you’re on a conference call. But, we were also trying to optimize space. We were keeping the open workspace concept, but squeezing all of us into a much smaller square footage, with much smaller desks that were right on top of each other.
We’ve now been in the new space for a little over a month, and I have to admit that it is hard! It’s difficult to concentrate. It’s difficult to have private conversations when you need to. And, I feel like I’ve completely lost my personal space. I’ve turned to working from home a couple of days per week (which thankfully, we have the ability to do), because I’m much more productive, and I honestly just need a break from being right on top of everyone all day long.
Having said all of that, I’ve definitely learned some do’s and don’ts about working in this type of open workspace environment. Many of these tips apply even if you have a cubicle or an office. So, take a look and let me know what you think!
Tip #1 – Respect Your Co-Worker’s Privacy: Even if there aren’t walls separating you from your co-workers, you can still respect their privacy. Don’t walk up behind them and stand looking over their shoulder waiting to talk to them. Don’t touch things on their desk without being invited to do so. If they are heads down and working, don’t interrupt them. Think of everyone as having invisible walls around them.
Tip #2 – Personal Hygiene Should NEVER Happen at Your Desk: We had a person that used to work in our office, that had the habit of clipping his nails while he was on conference calls. Not only is this really gross, but it’s totally inappropriate. Clipping nails, flossing your teeth, painting your nails (yes, I’ve seen this too), are things that need to happen in the privacy of your own home.
Tip #3 – Don’t Eat at Your Desk: I have to admit, that I was a big offender on this one. I have a very bad habit of just working through my lunch, so I eat at my desk. When I started this blog, it got even worse, because I used a few minutes of my lunch every day to either write or check social media. In an open work space, if you have food with any kind of smell, it’s inconsiderate to eat at your desk. While you may be a huge fan of tuna fish, there may be someone around you that finds it repulsive. Even if your food doesn’t smell, the crunching associated with eating certain foods can be annoying. One of our office mates ate a bag of chips with her lunch every day. She was an open mouth chewer, so people could hear her crunching on those chips all the way to the other end of the building. We have a café area, so I just take my laptop and phone with me to the café, and eat there. I still get to work when I need to, but I don’t disrupt my office mates.
Tip #4 – Ask Before Chatting: I really do like to know my employees and co-workers on a personal level. However, there are days when I have a lot going on, and as much as I’d love to hear about how your kid scored a goal in their soccer game last night, I just don’t have time for a play by play description of it. Be respectful of people’s time.
Tip #5 – Turn Down the Volume: All of us get agitated from time to time – whether it’s on a call, or you just want to vent to your co-worker. However, be conscious of the volume of your voice. Bring the decibel level down.
Tip #6 – Keep Your Personal Conversations Private: The reality is, personal things happen during the day that you must take care of while at work. If possible, go to a private area to have personal conversations. I’ve even taken my cell phone and walked outside on a nice day. It’s not just calls with your spouse or your kid. I had to make an appointment for my annual mammogram recently, and I made the appointment on a day when I was working from home, so my co-workers didn’t have to hear me make the call.
Tip #7 – Don’t Engage in Political Conversations or Other Hot Topics: Just because you and the person sitting next to you agree on a political position, that doesn’t mean everyone around you does. Those conversations can be very sensitive and offensive to some people. Don’t have them in an environment where others can hear you.
Tip #8 – Keep Your Cell Phone on Silent: There is nothing worse than leaving your cell phone on your desk, and when you walk away it starts ringing at full volume. This is particularly true if your ringtone is a Justin Bieber song. Even if you don’t walk away from your phone, realize that every time it makes a noise, you might be annoying the people around you. There was someone that I used to sit by, and his phone “whistled” every time he got a notification. It whistled all day long. Non-stop. To the point that I wanted to grab his phone and step on it to smash it.
Tip #9 – Be Aware of Your Smells: This goes for both good and bad smells. I have worked around people that really go over the top with perfume/cologne. Again, while you may think it’s the greatest smell on the planet, others may be really bothered by it (or even allergic). On the flip side, personal hygiene is also key. There is nothing more uncomfortable than working close to someone who has bad body odor, and trying to figure out how to approach them about it. Years ago, there was a guy that worked in a cubicle right outside my office. He evidently had a pretty big gas problem, and “let it fly” all day long. Loud and smelly. How in the world are you supposed to politely ask your co-worker to stop farting all day????
Tip #10 – Be Conscious of the Leg Shakes: I mention leg shakes specifically, because there was someone that was on my team at one point, and he had a nervous habit of shaking his leg almost all day long. A couple of employees complained to me about it, because he was shaking the whole desk. It was a nervous habit and he didn’t even realize he was doing it. He actually appreciated me mentioning it to him, and asked his co-workers to tell him when he was doing it so he could consciously stop it. The nervous habit could be anything from nail biting, to sniffling, to tapping your finger on your desk to an imaginary beat. Try and be aware if you have one of those habits, and consciously try and stop yourself from doing them.
Tip #11 – Don’t be a Loud Typer: We’ve talked about loud eaters and loud talkers. In my office, we also have some loud typers. They pound on their keyboard like they are trying to kill it. It may be fine for short spurts of typing, but if you are typing out a novel, it can be very annoying.
Tip #12 – Do Unto Others….: The bottom line is to stay conscious of the things you do. If those are things that would annoy you if someone else was doing them, then stop. At the end of the day, a lot of us spend more time with our co-workers in the office, than we do with our families. Be respectful, and it will make for a much better work environment for everyone.
Do you have a story to share about bad work place etiquette? Do these tips resonate with you? Let’s hear your stories! Comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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