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Dear Miss Open Office Manners, Take 2

by Mary Isner / August 24, 2017

I had an interesting conversation last week with a friend who works in an open office. Her coworker apparently marinates herself in perfume that smells like buttered popcorn and coconut before coming into the office. So I decided that now is the time to follow up on my first workplace manners column, pronto. Here are some letters and my responses. Enjoy.

Employees Using Collaborative Spaces as Private Offices?

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: We had private offices for many years before converting to an open office layout. Like many open offices, we have a reservation system where we can reserve a workstation or collaborative space in advance. The problem is that we have one employee who reserves our conference room every day he’s in the office – not for conferences, but to use as his own private office space. Not only is this unfair to all the other employees who gave up their private offices, but it makes scheduling meetings difficult. What are we to do about this?

-- Don’t Stake Your Claim Here

Dear Don’t Stake Your Claim: This happens more often than you may think. One solution often suggested by managers is to simply add more collaboration rooms. But this doesn’t solve the problem of employees using these collaborative spaces as their own private offices. Instead, a more effective way to address this is with a well-planned change management program that begins before the project is underway and continues through construction and occupancy. Employees should be trained regarding open office etiquette and the proper uses of each type of space. This also sets the stage for the new culture of what constitutes “status” in the workplace (hint: it’s no longer the oversized corner office with the wall of family pictures and rows of windows). In your case, you are already in the occupancy stage. It will take a little back-pedaling, but your organization should still consider implementing a change management plan to help everyone become better acclimated to working in an open office. Good luck to you in eliminating such “land grabs”!

Dealing with Unsavory Smells in The Open Office

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: I work in an open office and everything is great except for one not-so-minor thing. I have a coworker who is constantly eating exceptionally smelly food at her workstation. Ugh...it is just awful. It’s fried fish one day and broccoli soup the next day. How am I supposed to get any work done with this olfactory distraction? Please help!

-- Do I Need To Work With Vapor Rub Under My Nose?!

Dear Working With Vapor Rub: Well, that’s certainly no fun for you. You have just discovered the importance of breakrooms in open office design! Not only are breakrooms helpful when you have a coworker with a penchant for egg salad sandwiches, but stepping away from your work for a few minutes can actually increase productivity. Your organization may want to consider making it policy that employees are not to eat at the workstations, you know, to protect the electronics (wink, wink). Hope it works out for you!

How to Silence an Open Office Loudmouth

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: In my open office, I frequently reserve an individual workstation. My job requires a lot of writing and I need to focus. There is one employee who also reserves an individual workstation, but he has private conversations on his phone half the day. As if that were not enough, he is LOUD. Not only am I struggling to get my work done, but I feel as if I know every detail about his life and his two kids’ lives, not to mention Scruffy and Mr. Jingles (his dog and cat).

-- Put A Sock In It Already!

Dear Put A Sock In It: My goodness. That is just plain bad open office manners! Does this person not realize that this is exactly what phone booths were designed for? Someone needs to tell him, “Look, I don’t know if you realize this, but I can hear everything you are talking about on the phone. Is one of the phone booths open?” You can also set a good example by demonstrating appropriate workplace etiquette and taking personal calls in the phone booth yourself. Eventually, this should help you regain your productivity.

I hope you have found this week’s tips both helpful and enjoyable. For the record, buttered popcorn and coconut perfume is never a good idea – open office or not! Keep the questions coming and here’s wishing everyone a productive and polite open office work environment! Never forget to mind your manners! 

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.