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Boundaries in the Open Office and Open Office Tolerance

by Mary Isner / July 3, 2019

It’s time for some more friendly reminders from Miss Open Office Manners. In this installment, I discuss establishing boundaries and diversity in the open office.

Did You Really Just Follow Me Into the Bathroom?

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: My office recently switched over to an open office. I used to love my job, but not since we made the switch. It seems that many of my coworkers lost their sense of boundaries totally. I work as an office manager, so I am used to people dropping by my desk with questions and the like. But people now feel that they can just interrupt me no matter what I am doing. Earlier this week, a coworker followed me into the bathroom to discuss a work matter. Seriously! Is this normal?

-- Can I Get A Little Privacy Over Here

Dear Privacy: Well I certainly hope it’s not normal. But one thing’s for sure – it’s not acceptable. Usually when office walls are removed, people try to establish boundaries in other ways, like using headphones when they do not want to be disturbed. It seems like your coworkers have gone the opposite route. You have to stop them and let them know immediately that you will not tolerate this. I would do it this way: next time someone follows you into the bathroom, simply say, “I am using the bathroom right now. Please send me an email or drop by my desk with I return.” Do not let them get away with this behavior. When you do, you are only reinforcing it. Lots of luck and private bathroom breaks to you!

Open Office Punk Rock

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: I have a somewhat controversial question for you. A coworker in my department (who is a little older) is complaining because a new hire has facial piercings and it is making him nauseous to look at her. He also is offended by her bright purple hair. How am I supposed to respond to that? She is extremely good at her job and was hired with the piercings and purple hair.

-- Purple Hair Don’t Care

Dear Purple Hair: Oh, that is a bit controversial. Here’s the thing: I assume you are not working for an ultra-conservative company if they hired a person with facial piercings and bright hair. It is important to be accepting of diversity in the open office (just as long as that diversity is not violating the office dress code). I would suggest that you set a good example by being inclusive. For instance, you could say something like, “Our purple-haired co-worker is an efficient and respectful employee and that’s all that matters to me.” Does your workplace offer diversity training? If not, it sounds like that might be needed here. Other than that, your disgruntled coworker is probably going to have to learn to let it go (just as I have to let it go when I see someone wearing cargo shorts…I swear I will find the strength to let it go one day).

I hope you have found this week’s tips both helpful and enjoyable. Here’s wishing everyone a productive and polite open office work environment! Never forget to mind your manners, and don’t forget your boundaries, people!


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Tags: Open Office Design

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Mary Isner

Mary Isner

Mary has a master’s degree in public administration and has worked as a facility planning analyst for Fentress since 2003. In her free time, she enjoys baking, decorating, and spending time with her family.