Posted by: xplainblog | April 26, 2010

The Penguin Wars, Or Some Ideas of Etiquette for Open Office Spaces

Unfortunately, many of us who don’t work from home, find ourselves working in open office spaces. This means we are sharing space with 1 to 3 other writers or staff, if we are lucky, and up to ten or more, if we are not. This requires thought in how to take into account that “you are not alone.”

One of the biggest problems of the open space is the temperature of the room. There are some of us who like it cold, others warm to quite warm. I have worked with what I call the penguins. To them 23° was too warm. Other individuals like the temperature quite warm, where 25° is cold. What is the solution for the average person? The onion: dress in layers. Or if you know your environment, have that extra sweater, scarf, or even gloves in your drawer at work. Ladies please remember this is a workplace and not the beach. And if you complain that you are cold when you are half dressed, it becomes very annoying to the people who are dressed appropriately.

What about music? We all have different tastes in music, from hard rock to classical. Not everyone can work with music in the background either. I know that when I am doing some heavy duty editing, I need to read it carefully and I can’t manage it with music in the background. Fortunately, in the era of the mp3 players and earphones, everyone can pick the music of their choice. But there are some dos and don’t with this, too. Please keep your singing and humming at a low volume. Drumming along with the music, either with hands or feet is annoying to others.

Everyone comes to work wanting to share the movie they saw last night, the wedding they went to, or what the little one did when he got up this morning. Most of the time, everyone wants to hear it, too. But it may be easier to take it into the hallway for discussion. Realizing that often this is not possible, and no one I know can really not tell at least one joke, story, or personal anecdote each day; do it, but let’s not make a party out of it. And if you have figured out how to save the planet or need to have some other philosophical or political discussion, save it for coffee break or lunch.

What about sharing YouTube? Some of the best commercials, comedy routines, music take offs etc. are there and you’ve just got to share it. It can be anything from Abbott and Costello, to Weird Al, to that little Korean kid doing Hey Jude and accompanying himself on his air guitar. As with most of the best things in life, there is a time and a place. If you can, forward the link to your home email address and share it with the family.

This is a posting from a contributor who works as a technical communicator at a company in Haifa:

Last but not least, we can’t forget telephone calls. Personal phone calls at work can be a problem. We should be using our mobile phone and taking it into the hall, but not everyone does this. Also, all your friends and family know your work number and like to use it. So, what should you do? Keep it short and keep the number of calls at your desk to a minimum. Don’t plan your kid’s Bar Mitzvah or apartment hunt from your work phone. Doctor’s appointments are often necessary to make as the service is available only when you are at work. Try not to yell at your kids during work hours, for your sake and theirs. Emergencies, on the other hand, happen to all of us, and everyone should take those in stride.

What would be the take home message? “Everything in moderation.”
Don’t take advantage of your office mates, but don’t complain about everyone else all the time. Neither extreme helps you keep a pleasant office environment which we all need to get our work done.

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