Guidelines for Sharing Your Workspace


Companies everywhere are moving to a more shared workspace approach to office space.  In these models the majority of the staff are flexible workers.  They don’t have a permanent physical office or cubicle but share these resources, checking into them like hotels.  The theory is that these kind of work environments are more productive.  Shared work environments often do away with cubicle walls (barriers) and sometimes even have highly mobile furniture to allow easier collaboration (as long as you collaborate directly over a power supply).  That’s the theory.  Personally I think it is a move to reduce real estate costs.

With the rise of virtual workers, sharing office space has become more important.  It is a parking spot for a virtual employee when they are forced or drawn into the office.  Like any new concept however, the corporate overlords are struggling to determine what defines good shared space, how it is managed, etc.  Curse you overlords!

Regardless of your thoughts about this kind of work environment; their implementation means you often get a desk in open workspace that has been used by dozens of people in the last few weeks.  So here are my real-life tips regarding sharing workspaces:

  • When you arrive, treat your office space as a crime scene after they have removed the body.  Pretend the police have just taken away the victim and you have to clean the place up.  Go CSI on the cubicle/office and clean it up with disinfectants.  Wipe down the desktop, the arm rests on the chair, the phone (buttons, receiver, everything).  I saw a phone once that had dirt and grime literally caked into the buttons.  One of my friends even sent photos of it around so we knew not to use that space.  It was as if this person had been working in dirt then placed a few hundred calls.  Ew…
  • Just because someone left something on your temporary desk, doesn’t give you the right to toss it.  Sometimes people resist sharing workspaces by leaving so much stuff there that no one is willing or able to use the desk.  It’s a passive resistance ploy that is incredibly lame.  While you shouldn’t toss that four months of invoices cluttering the desk, you do not have to leave them exactly where they lay.  I once just neatly put all of the stacks of paper on a desk I was using into a one pile (resisting the urge to shuffle them all) and dropped them in a drawer.
  • If you use the last of any desk supplies, replace them.  I know this sounds third grade, but common sense is a rarity these days.
  • You can adjust the workspace to fit your needs.  Adjust the chair or monitor as you deem appropriate.  The goal is that you are productive, not uncomfortable.
  • Keep your voice down.  Most of these transient/open floor plans don’t allow for privacy.  Often times you are sharing an office with multiple people.  If you are loud, you’re going to be hated by your colleagues.  You may be cool with being obnoxious and silently despised – or burned at the stake as a team building exercise.  Really, it can go either way.
  • It’s okay to tell someone when they are violating your space.  You don’t have to be mean about it.  But if someone is making it hard for you to work, politely say something.  Be courteous.  Glaring at them doesn’t work – it only serves to confuse some people (the slow learners).
  • If you are talking about something confidential, don’t do it where everywhere can hear you.  I actually shared a cubicle (a double-wide) with someone who was putting an employee on notice for an infraction.  That’s the kind of thing you need to do when no one can/will listen in.  Find a conference room or some quiet place where you can deliver bad news.
  • No speakerphone.  No.  No.  Only exception – if you hotel into a n enclosed office, period.
  • Everything is amplified in shared space.  If you make two personal calls in a day people will say things like, “He’s on the phone all day talking to his friends.”  Be aware of this and use it to generate the right image of yourself.
  • Shared spaces are not the best for meals.  No one wants to watch you eat.  And sometimes your choice of food, and its aroma, can be treated as chemical weapons.  Pungent foods in a shared community workspace don’t bring people together…they often lead to the locals breaking out torches and pitchforks.
  • If someone has left personal stuff in the shared workspace, leave it alone.  Some shared space is used 75% of the time by one person so you are apt to see family photos or company bric-a-brac on the desk.  Pretend it’s not there but don’t move these items or even touch them.  Show a little respect.
  • Don’t leave a note for the next person using the desk.  “To the Person Using My Desk – Hey, I was missing all of my paperclips. Thanks!”  As a point of order, I hadn’t used the desk before so I didn’t know who had used up or looted her paperclips.  If paperclips were such a hot issue, she should have sent that not back in time with a warning, “Don’t steal my paperclips.” Unless it’s a health/safety risk (Hey, there’s no caster on the chair and you may tip over!) don’t waste your time in leaving a note.  PS.  For the record, I added to the sticky-note left about the paperclips.  “Tomorrow I’m stealing all of your pens!”  That’s just how I roll.
  • Remember – your habits from home don’t translate well when you’re in the office sharing space.   At home you may put your feet up on the desk, put in earphones and relax to AC/DC at full volume, or spread out your work all over the place (including the floor).  In a shared space, this is just plain awkward and borderline rude.
  • The drawers are not a scavenger hunt.  If you don’t need to look in them, don’t.  And what you find there was not put there for your amusement, consumption, or outright theft.

One final thought you need to keep in mind – it’s not your space.  Sure you are using it for a day, but tomorrow someone else will.  Want to know more helpful corporate culture or career tips – check out my book:  Business Rules – The Cynic’s Guidebook to the Corporate Overlords.

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