Sharing office space, be it large or small, is a fact of life for many workers, and it’s more tolerable if everyone follows some basic rules of office etiquette. These rules help to ensure a pleasant work environment that helps to maximize productivity.
Problems arise, however, when opinions differ on what is and is not appropriate in an office setting. Therefore, it is usually best to put some rules in writing in order to ward off potentially offending behavior before it occurs.
What are some of those rules? Workers are generally discouraged from showing a lot of skin in the office or looking sloppy. But what about general manners? Can you legislate topics of conversation, facial expressions or personal habits?
Probably not, and you would hope you wouldn’t have to. But it is likely that at some point you will encounter a gossipy worker, or one who microwaves fish every day, or another who wears baseball caps with campaign slogans on them.
So, what behaviors should be avoided in shared office space?
- Talking about touchy subjects — According to Miss Manners, this includes politics and religion. Politics has always been a thorny topic, but today it rises to the level of razor-sharpness. Other topics of conversation to be avoided are those involving the behavior of co-workers who are not present and — depending on where your office is located — how your local sports teams are doing and why.
- Behavior that may be considered gross — The smelly food conundrum fits into this category. Every so often someone will have some leftover scampi or they will leave the popcorn in the microwave too long and permeate the office with a bad smell. But if they do it on a regular basis, it’s a problem.
Not using deodorant or using lots of perfume or cologne also contributes to a smelly environment, and may be considered offensive. Other gross behaviors that have been documented in office spaces include toenail clipping, flossing and excessive nose-blowing. A good rule of thumb is, if it’s something you usually do in a bathroom, don’t do it in your cubicle.
- Being messy, sloppy or careless — If no one can see your workspace and you want to keep it in disarray, that’s your business. But if you work in an open office space and your piles of papers detract from everyone else’s tidy workspaces, it’s rude.
Moreover, if you are always leaving the paper tray empty, the stapler where you used it instead of where it goes, and dirty dishes in the sink, you are not acting like a responsible co-worker. Respect others’ time and space.
- Use good phone manners — Are you a salesperson who makes dozens of phone calls per day? Are you a reporter who conducts interviews and attends virtual press conferences? Then for goodness’ sake, don’t use speaker phone!
Some offices have designated areas for calls like these, and for many, phone calls are just part of the workday, and everyone must cope. But try to make it easy on others by not shouting during your calls or forcing them to listen to both sides of the conversation.
Do you make personal calls as well? There is nothing inherently wrong with this if your job permits it, but if you spend part of each day yakking away to friends and relatives about your weekend plans and the game you watched last night, your co-workers will be annoyed.
A related issue is listening to music. Since the invention of earbuds, fewer people have been subjected to the musical tastes of their office mates. However, most of us have been seated next to someone in an office or on public transportation who, despite the use of a headset, is playing music at a volume high enough for everyone to hear.
These are good rules to follow in any office environment, but even more so in shared office space because of the close physical proximity of other workers.
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