How to be the perfect open-plan worker
December 14, 2008 6:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to move to an organisation where I will be working open plan, after three years in the blissful solitude of my own office. If you could create the perfect workmate to sit at the desk next to you, what advice would you give? (Leaving aside the obvious things like no speakerphone, no music without headphones, etc.)
posted by impluvium to Work & Money (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you have to blow your nose, please blow it. Don't sniffle next to me for 8-9 hours. You may think this would go in the obvious category, but alas, I've found it a common issue.
posted by meerkatty at 6:20 PM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

Put your cell phone on vibrate and leave it in your pocket. If you can't do that, at least be sure to never leave it on your desk during meetings!
posted by pazazygeek at 6:29 PM on December 14, 2008

Bathe and brush your teeth regularly.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:32 PM on December 14, 2008

Not only no music without headphones, don't play your music so loud that I can still hear it through your headphones.

Turn off noises on your computer -- even the "new mail" indicator gets annoying, esp when everyone around you has the exact same notification sound.

Also, don't clip your fingernails at your desk. (Yes. This has happened around me.)
posted by olinerd at 6:36 PM on December 14, 2008

Avoid pungent foods if you eat lunch at your desk.
posted by asras at 6:36 PM on December 14, 2008

Best answer: Allow me to editorialize just a moment:


Ok, then. I would say, if I, your co-worker have my headphones in, that means something. If it's not really urgent, send an email. If it is important, maybe send an IM, or failing that, tap me on the shoulder. Don't just start talking, so I have to figure out whether you're talking to me, take my headphones out, say "What?," and make you repeat what you said.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:37 PM on December 14, 2008

Best answer: Also, don't make too much conversation first thing in the morning. Actually, don't make too much conversation period if your cage-mates aren't into it.

If I happen to be having lunch at my desk, consider me physically gone, for the purposes of asking me work-related stuff while I'm trying to eat. In other words, don't.

if I just came in, let me at least sit down before you start talking to me about work.

In summary: try to give your co-workers the basic human dignity that comes with privacy, in spite of your company's best efforts to strip it away with their moronic, offensive floorplan.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:41 PM on December 14, 2008

No cell phone near unshielded computer speakers; if the ringer for the phone is on, please, please take it with you when you leave your desk. You might only mean to be gone a minute, but oops, you got pulled into a meeting/watercooler discussion and your cell's been blaring the theme from The Empire Strikes Back every three minutes for 20 minutes, and your co-workers hate you.

My best next-door cubemate developed a psychic ability to distinguish my rhetorical mutterings (e.g. "Stupid shit [software] don't do this to me, goddammit"), which she would ignore and not comment on, from pleas for assistance ("Damn, where did we save that file, and what the hell did we call it?"), which she would answer, even if the volume and tone of the muttering was the same. I still miss her.
posted by rtha at 6:50 PM on December 14, 2008

if the ringer for the phone is on, please, please take it with you when you leave your desk.

Oh, god yes. Everyone around my office has funky loud ringtones and they all seem to be MIA whenever their phones go off.

Also: mouth noises. If you hum tunelessly, swallow loudly, grunt frequently, or snap gum at all, learn to control it now because I guarantee someone near you will be enraged by it if you don't.
posted by kittyprecious at 7:13 PM on December 14, 2008

Don't wear perfumes, cologne or any other heavily scented body product.

Don't spray air "fresheners" into the air or have any kind of potpourri on your desk.

Lots of folks, myself included, have allergies to some of the chemicals in these products and sitting next to someone who happens to be wearing something that triggers a person's allergies can make work-life hell.
posted by burntflowers at 7:18 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

If the chair grinds or squeaks, grease it. I don't need to hear every single moment when a body shifts or leans back. Please, a few quick shots of WD-40 or equivalent goes a long way!
posted by CancerMan at 7:21 PM on December 14, 2008

Do not go into fits of giggles about a website you're looking at and think is really funny, especially if there is any chance that a coworker is, like, *actually working* and she overhears you carrying on and so another coworker finally says "What's so funny?" and you say, inbetween your loud expressions of mirth, "Oh -- oh, I just found this website with pictures of dog weddings!!"

Oh, wait, one more. DO NOT READ WEBSITES OUT LOUD TO PEOPLE OVER THE PHONE. "OK, it says there is a small application fee, and to 'Click Here' to find out more information." ARRRRRRRRRGGH
posted by oldtimey at 7:25 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Keep personal phone calls to a minimum. I don't need to hear about any family problems, kissy kissy, or arguments over the phone. Same for personal business, grab a meeting room or take your cellphone someplace more private.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 7:52 PM on December 14, 2008

Refill the printer and copier. And the coffee pot.
posted by 26.2 at 8:23 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, if you insist on leaving your cell phone at your desk, to not have it set to notify you every 5 minutes that you missed a call. The only thing worse than being interrupted by another's unattended cell phone is being interrupted by the same cell phone reminding the world it's being neglected. Either that, or be prepared for me to throw your cell phone out the window.

My open-space-mate and I have an unspoken agreement. It mainly works because we have a lot of free space around the office. If you're on your cell phone with a personal call, get up and leave the area. Take it to the bathroom if you have to. I do not want to hear you discuss what you're having for dinner, or whether little Billy may or may not have a fever.
posted by cgg at 8:23 PM on December 14, 2008

Best answer: Lack of audible drama (see "keep personal phone calls to a minimum") would be much appreciated. This includes loud conversations about co-workers -- might feel nice to vent but can be uncomfortable for others. If you're going to criticize, keep it brief and quiet.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 8:29 PM on December 14, 2008

If you like using a particular fancy pen keep it in a drawer or your jacket. If you leave it on your desk somebody will take it. Don't be that guy.

Change your sounds, particularly the ringer on your phone and the mail notification on your computer to something different. It's a pain being in a room with lots of people who all have the same ringtone or beep, because it means everybody looks up when anybody's phone goes.

However don't change it to something long or cutesy. Choose your sounds on the basis that at some point they will go off loudly during a co-worker's Very Serious Conversation with the Grand High Poobah of the Universe. The unclefucker song from South Park is not acceptable.

Also, for the love of Cthulu, set your cellphone on silent or you will come back to your desk to find somebody has angrily flung it into a drawer to muffle the sound. Putting it on vibrate doesn't work if you leave it on a hard surface as it will be just as noisy.

Remember that your desk now has through traffic and revise your standards of confidentiality upwards. Documents left on your desk are now a lot more easy to read for that one guy who's dropped by to steal all your pens.

Find out early on what the protocol is for drinks regarding kitties, washing up, milk-buying rotas, not using other people's cups, taking turns to make the coffee, etc.

In temperature disputes over open windows, the majority rules unless somebody has Reynauds or Hayfever or something, in which case their vote has more weight.

Having a regularly stocked candy bowl on your desk and being generous with it can make up for anything. (Except for the constantly ringing cellphone, which is a hanging offence.)
posted by the latin mouse at 3:02 AM on December 15, 2008

WTF is wrong with some of you people?!

Don't talk to me in the morning?
Don't talk to me, period.
Don't talk to me, just IM.
Don't make me take my headphones out.

Jesus fucking Christ, but WTF?

Since when did social interaction become undesired? I'm guessing the holders of opinions such as those above are what is "affectionately" known as Gen-Y'ers.


Tips for working in an open plan office?

Don't talk loudly.
Don't hold "water cooler" or corridor conversations just outside someone else's cubicle.
Don't play music on speakers.

That's just about it.

And for your own sanity, avoid navel gazing, headphone wearing, morning-hating, social zombies. You don't really want to be their friends anyway (and be thankful they don't want to be yours either; they're probably too worried about the next evening's WoW quest...)
posted by Mephisto at 5:27 AM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mephisto - WTF is wrong with some of you people?! I believe that you are missing the point. It's not about being anti-social; it's about respecting someone's work. If a coworker is wearing their headphones and working at their desk, then consider that person unavailable for BS-ing. Bundle your requests into an email, instead of interrupting the person every few minutes to ask a question. When you see someone in the breakroom, then chat. If someone is engaged in their work, then respect that. When I close my office door, I expect people to honor that unless they have an urgent need. In return, I respect people's headphones as an indicator that they would like to work without interruption.

impluvium - Your cube is not a conference room. Don't hold meetings there. If you need to talk to a group of people for an extended conversation, then move to a conference room.
posted by 26.2 at 6:00 AM on December 15, 2008

Mephisto, your summary seems unnecessarily harsh given that the advice in question basically boiled down to 'There are times when your co-workers will be less friendly/chatty than normal, either because they're up against a deadline or because they're one of those people who isn't fully functional until their second cup of joe. Learn to recognise and respect those times'.

That's good advice and doesn't make them Gen Y social zombies.

The co-worker who totally ignores you and the co-worker who yammers incessantly when you're trying to concentrate are both rude. They're just rude in different ways.

And having worked with both, I can categorically say that I find the latter variety more annoying. If that means I'm a zombie, so be it.
posted by the latin mouse at 6:04 AM on December 15, 2008

When your desk is out there in the open, it's pretty easy to see when coworkers are consistently coming in late/leaving early/taking long breaks. Even people who try not to care about such things build up some resentment, so try to keep those occurrences to a minimum.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:07 AM on December 15, 2008

Agree with your co-workers some sign for when you're unavailable for chats about last night's Chuck and the Sarah Connorcles. Something on your monitor that says "Do Not Disturb".
posted by TrashyRambo at 2:44 PM on December 15, 2008

Don't file your nails.

Don't say the same cliched phrase over and over, like "shits and grins" or G-rated versions of same phrase. This is my number 1 pet peeve, due to current and ongoing personal experience. Sigh.

Don't suck on your fingers while you eat. It sounds gross. If your food is that messy, eat elsewhere.

Be aware of your computer equipment noises, such as modems. Turn off the volume.

Don't yell over the cube walls.

Knock when you approach a cube door. This is my crime, I never do this.

Don't get pissy about something and sigh heavily or mutter for hours. It justs creates drama and tension.

Be careful with heavy perfumes and air fresheners. Many are allergic to these smells, even if you're covering up a worse smell.
posted by ick at 10:05 PM on December 15, 2008

« Older Books/resources on running community groups   |   What do outgoing phone rings mean? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.