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"Space Invaders" in Your Open Office? Miss Manners to the Rescue!

by Mary Isner / November 8, 2018

It’s time for a few more friendly reminders from Miss Open Office Manners. In this installment, I discuss open office space invaders, being new to the open office environment, and having a sensitive nose in the open office. Enjoy.

Open Office Space Invaders

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: In my office, twelve people (including myself) work at one long desk on a regular basis. There is one coworker who keeps "invading" everyone's space by pushing his work papers over, putting his mug too close to the next person's keyboard, and placing his (rather large) arms up on the desk and practically jabbing his elbows into the coworkers next to him on either side. Yesterday, he pushed someone's coffee over to make room for his lunch bag and ended up dumping it all over. I get the impression that he is one of those people who sits in the center seat of an airplane and takes over both armrests. Anyway, it is causing a lot of friction and people race to make sure they are not seated by him. What can we do?

-- Trying to Zap This Space Invader

Dear Zapper: You know, I was talking to someone the other day about how aggressive behavior can come in two forms: passive aggressive and what I like to call “aggressive aggressive.” It sounds like this coworker’s behavior is aggressive aggressive, so you will need to be firm and direct. You can be nice about it, but you have to be very specific when voicing your concerns to this person – or else he won’t get it. For instance, try saying, “Can you please slide over a little? I think you are going to hit me with your elbow at any minute.” A lot of times, I find that people don’t even realize what they are doing and how it is affecting others. Once you point out clearly what the issues are, your coworker should respond. If not, there is clearly a lack of respect going on and you may need to raise the concerns with a manager. Best wishes to you on reclaiming your space!

A Question from an Open Office Newbie

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: I recently switched jobs from a firm where I had a private office to a firm with an open office layout. All of my new coworkers seem to be settled into the open office routine but I have no clue what on earth I am doing. I don’t want to come across as a rude coworker. Could you please provide me with a quick “cheat sheet?”

-- The New Girl

Dear New Girl: Welcome to the open office! Once you know the basics, I think you will find the transition to be a relatively easy one. My first rule of thumb is to be respectful of your coworkers’ need to work. If people are at workstations, a good rule is to act as if the workstation has a door, meaning if you need to interrupt, catch their gaze and ask if they have time to chat. Also, don’t sneak up behind someone in a cubicle. Make yourself known. Second, keep noise to a minimum. Use headphones when possible and try to remember that voices can carry in the open office. Third, clean up after yourself. Once you leave a shared workstation, wipe it down, throw away your coffee cup, etc. Those are my open office basics in a nutshell. See, that wasn’t too bad, was it?

Ahhh…The Smells of The Open Office

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: What is a polite way to tell my coworkers that I don’t like their perfume or that the smell of their microwave popcorn is making me nauseous?

-- My Nose Knows Best

Dear Nose Knows: It’s funny because this is one open office complaint that I hear a lot. In the open office, it is important to be cognizant of smells. I know that not everyone does this though, because like I said, I hear this a lot. You can’t really tell someone that you don’t like their perfume (or at least you shouldn’t) or that you don’t like the smell of popcorn in the microwave unless the smell is causing some type of medical reaction. But, Miss Open Office Manners is also sensitive to certain scents, and here is what helps me. Pick the one thing that is absolutely driving you nuts and work at a station as far away as possible from the offending odor. For instance, if you don’t like food smells, work away from the break room and if you don’t like Bob’s cologne, work on the opposite side of the room from Bob. You get the picture….good luck to you and your nose.

I hope you have found this week’s tips both helpful and enjoyable. Feel free to let me know your open office etiquette pet peeves in the comments below. Here’s wishing everyone a productive and polite open office work environment! Never forget to mind your manners, and for Pete’s sake, don’t be an open office space invader!

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.