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

by Mary Isner / August 28, 2019

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

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 recently had a baby pumping at her desk in front of everyone. I tried to be as discreet as possible and asked her to go to the nursing mothers’ 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 Just 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 needs to be made available for nursing mothers when needed. The employees who are using the mother’s room for private phone calls when the nursing mother needed it were technically in violation of the law. Now, I am sure they did not realize this, and they probably just needed to make a phone call while the other spaces for doing so were occupied. I think a company-wide announcement may be in order here. I would reach out to the appropriate manager and make him or her 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 to you in your new job!

Private vs. Open Offices and the Fairness of It All

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: I work in an office that has open office space in the middle and private offices around the perimeter. I have been with my company for almost 10 years and am in what would probably be described as middle management. I work in the 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 they just moved her into a private office! How is that fair?

-- Miffed

Dear Miffed: Is it possible they moved your coworker into a private office because she needs to work closely with someone else in one of the private offices, or she works with sensitive information? I am thinking this might be a possibility as I’ve heard of similar cases. Regardless, your letter brings up one of the benefits to having a completely open office environment. The corner office is 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 offered by this type of space. 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 if you were 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 like every 30 seconds and he never turns his phone on silent. 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, he is being just 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 returns to normal the next day, I would ask him yet again, right away. You can keep it lighthearted so it doesn’t feel confrontational, yet direct. On the following day, if his phone is not on silent, I would reach out to a supervisor to inquire about a “Keep cell phones silenced” policy in the office. It may be that his direct supervisor needs 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, and for goodness sake, always keep your cell phone on 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.