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Mothers’ Rooms, Private Offices, and Cell Phones in the Open Office

by Mary Isner / August 28, 2019

It’s time for some more friendly reminders from Miss Open Office Manners. I discuss nursing mothers’ rooms, private offices, and cell phone interruptions in this installment.

Keeping Employees from Hijacking the Mothers’ Room

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: I just started a new job as a manager. It is my first time working in an open office. The other day, I was shocked to find one of my employees who had recently had a baby pumping at her desk in front of everyone. I tried to be discreet and asked her to go to the nursing mother’s room. Even more shocking was her response that she couldn't because people were using it for private phone calls, and all the phone booths and conference rooms were taken. Seriously! I was horrified. How can I prevent this from happening in the future?

-- You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Dear Can’t Make This Stuff Up: You may have found it horrifying, but it is also illegal. The law requires that space be made available for nursing mothers when needed. The employees using the mother’s room for private phone calls when the nursing mother needed it technically violated the law. I am sure they did not realize this, and they probably just needed to make a phone call while the other spaces were occupied.

I think a company-wide announcement may be in order here. I would contact the appropriate manager and make them aware of the situation. They will need to make everyone aware that the mothers’ room must be available for nursing mothers at all times (and that not only is this the considerate thing to do, it is the law). Good luck with your new job!

Private vs. Open Offices and the Fairness of It All

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: I work in an office with open space in the middle and private offices around the perimeter. I have been with my company for ten years and am in what would be described as middle management. I work in an open office space. Upper management is, of course, in private offices, and I understand that, but I have a coworker who has only been with the company for about a year, is not in upper management, and just moved into a private office! How is that fair?

-- Miffed

Dear Miffed: Could they move your coworker into a private office? She needs to work closely with someone else in one of the private offices, or she works with sensitive information. This might be possible, as I’ve heard of similar cases. Regardless, your letter brings up one of the benefits of having a completely open office environment. The corner office has been eliminated, and there are no more questions of fairness over who gets private space.

My advice to you is twofold. First, consider whether there may be circumstances you are unaware of that make your coworker a better choice for the private office, like the ones I just mentioned. Second, since you are working in an open office, take advantage of some of the positives this type of space offers. For instance, you can pick the area of the open office you want to work in. You don’t have to work next to the guy who loudly blows his nose every half hour. You wouldn’t have that option in a private office next to the nose blower!

Also, unlike the private office dweller who may feel obligated to be in the office for appearance’s sake because she was granted this coveted space (or so that no one else squats in it while she’s gone!), you likely have more freedom to telework without guilt – and without the need to protect your territory. Keep your focus on the positives and make them work for you. Best of luck to you!

Silence Your Cell Phones Please

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: I work with the most annoying person ever in my open office! He gets texts every 30 seconds and always keeps his phone on silently. Then, you can hear the clickety-clack of him texting a response. Ugh! I have asked him twice to turn his phone on silent, which he does for that day. Then, the next day, it is back to the constant pings of his phone, then the typing. I am ready to lose my mind! What do I do?

-- Beyond Frustrated

Dear Frustrated: I get it. Not only is your coworker’s behavior distracting, but he is plain rude! I would not be able to work near that either. You said you have asked him twice. I would ask him a third time, and if he returned to normal the next day, I would ask him again immediately. Keep it lighthearted so it doesn’t feel confrontational, yet direct. If his phone is not silent the following day, I would contact a supervisor to inquire about a “Keep cell phones silenced” policy in the office. His direct supervisor may need to enforce the policy and create one if none exists! Here’s to a more quiet workplace for you!

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; for goodness sake, always keep your cell phone silent in the open office!


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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.