May 1, 2014 8:52 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with increasing anxiety and distraction at work caused by someone behind you who can see your monitor and generally watch you work all day? I am not goofing off, but I do use my computer heavily and variously and feel as though they are often watching me. They have never commented on what's on my screen, but other people stopping by their desk have. It has me to where I concentrate my windows so my body blocks line of sight, and I am endlessly distracted by it.

I find it moderately easy to talk to this person away from our desks but not when I have to spin my chair to look at them. They find it easy to talk to me since they are already looking at the back of my head. There is no other seat available and the positions of the workstations are fixed. I have occasionally retreated to a conference room and immediately felt relief, but they're not always available and I do interact with my coworkers in the room for work.

I sometimes fantasize about our employer suddenly deciding everyone should have their own office or giving us desks that roll around so I can turn it. Since that is unlikely, I hope to at least learn how people who have experienced this have dealt with it.

I'm reachable at sittingbehindmeatwork@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Just get one of those monitor privacy screens. They make it difficult/impossible for someone to see the image on the screen at any angle other than where you'd be sitting.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2014 [22 favorites]

Would a privacy filter over your screen be an option, if throwing money at your anxiety is a possible answer? I was sitting next to someone using one earlier this week and I was surprised how effective it was at blocking me from seeing his screen.
posted by Stacey at 8:56 AM on May 1, 2014

This has happened to me twice. I couldn't handle it either. In one situation I requested that the desks be turned so that they were side-by-side rather than front/back. In another, I had to wait it out for about a year until another desk became available and I could move.

I don't think there's anything wrong with mentioning to your manager that you are distracted by having someone sitting behind you, and that it's affecting your productivity.
posted by vignettist at 8:57 AM on May 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you do use a monitor privacy screen, be prepared to deal with endless comments about THAT from the same people who are already commenting on what they can see on your screen now.

As for dealing with it, I was never able to get used to it and eventually got my own office which is bliss.
posted by elizardbits at 8:59 AM on May 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Privacy filter screen. Set up my monitor to catch light glare, then bought the glare blocker. Had to move, so I put up an "ambient light" lamp that does the same thing, and left the privacy blocker screen to avoid that glare. Also have a secondary monitor that is used for all work work as well, usually holding email or a doc I'm comparing rather than the doc I'm working on. No apologies. A few comments from people about "oh, your screen!" are answered simply with "the glare, it helps".
posted by tilde at 9:04 AM on May 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

A lot of people at my workplace use mirrors to deal with our dire cube setups, which allow for a lot of potential sidling. If the watcher knows you're watching them, it might help them mind their own business.
posted by Lardmitten at 9:06 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

At the very least, a rearview mirror meant for bicycles (costs a few dollars at your local Walmart/Target/whatever) will reduce the number of times you get startled by someone sneaking up behind you.
posted by theraflu at 9:07 AM on May 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Honestly, I quit. In my case, it was my manager behind me constantly criticising what was on my screen. "You taking too long entering information, you are making too many mistakes, that email [that someone else in the org sent me] is clearly personal so I guess you are taking your 15 min break right now, etc, etc."

I wonder if you had a digital picture frame beside you that was easily viewable to THEM with constantly rotating pictures it would make you feel them were less likely to look at your screen. Could you get a doctors note for a more supportive high-backed chair that blocks your screen?
posted by saucysault at 9:19 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Can you say you have a back issue and need a special chair? Then find the most high backed chair they make. Would help with them not seeing your monitor, but also with the feeling that you yourself were being stared at. It would be sort of a mobile wall.
posted by Vaike at 9:23 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm in the precise same situation - and the person who overlooks me guards her own desk with her life, because it's in a corner and no-one can see she's on YouTube and Twitter all day long.

Usually, I'm the first one in the office in the morning (I'm an early bird but work in the non-profit arena where rolling in at gone 10am is the norm) so one morning hours before anyone else turned up, I went and sat in her seat, and looked across at the line-of-sight to my desk from there. Then, I placed my bag on a filing cabinet between her and me and went back to her desk. When I'd got the bag positioned perfectly so it blocked her view of my screen, I put a subtle pen-mark on the filing cabinet. Now, every morning when I get into the office, my bag goes in the exact same spot, marked on the top of this filing cabinet.

Daft and slightly obsessive? Probably. But as other answerers have said, even though it sounds a bit silly, the feeling of constantly being overlooked can really impact on your day. I actually find myself more productive on days when she's not in, because I can just get on with everything I need to do, without feeling like I have to "look busy."

For me, the relief I feel when I leave the office, and I'm not feeling those eyes staring at my back, is actually palpable, it's almost physical. And when I get in and realise she's not coming in today, I feel elated.
posted by winterhill at 9:23 AM on May 1, 2014 [31 favorites]

My cubicle is at the 'front' of our department. My coworker's cube is behind me, facing me. The person across the aisle and behind me can also see my screens. This used to bug me but I'm 2 years into it and it doesn't affect me at all anymore.

I have dual monitors. Here is my setup right now. The tinier, "personal" windows are where it's harder for the people behind me to see. Not because they are going to judge me, but because I don't want to distract them with youtube playlists. (They're also busy doing their own work. I'm not the focus of their day.)

Basically, I know I'm getting my work done with good quality and on time. This is my biggest protective bubble against being anxious about people seeing what's on my screen and asking about it. If someone asks, I answer honestly - an ugly Excel report with a lil' BNL on the side. As long as the nosy person isn't my manager, and as long as I'm adhering to company Internet policy, I don't let them bother me.

Don't quit. Don't scam a doc note for a chair. Own it.

TLDR: Follow rules, do your work, repeat to yourself that you're not the center of their attention all day long.
posted by kimberussell at 9:29 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I like theraflu's suggestion of some kind of mirror. You can definitely say that it's because you get startled by people sneaking up on you.
posted by radioamy at 9:31 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

First, get yourself a Computer Rearview Mirrors. A few years ago, I gave these out as a thank you to a large project team (with the company and project name printed on the casing). Cheap as they are, I still see them in use. Probably the most successful project swag ever. The mirror helps you see who's creepin' up, but it's also a big visual to people that snooping is rude.

Next, and the real solution, is a privacy/glare screen. Even if you need to buy it yourself, buy it.
posted by 26.2 at 9:57 AM on May 1, 2014

A co-worker felt that he should have a screen privacy blocker as he said that he had data that not everyone should be able to see (we worked in IT and got advanced notice if someone would be leaving or getting walked out, etc).

Anyhow, it turned out that the HR person walked by one day and said why do you have that? HR doesn't even use those. Let's just say it didn't go well for him.

So if no one else has the filters, then I think it could cause issues for you.

Oh yeah, he also had those mirrors on the side of his monitor. They made him the laughing stock of the company as everyone started jokes about paranoia etc.
posted by gregjunior at 10:21 AM on May 1, 2014

Have you talked to your boss about it? If it were me a privacy screen or mirror wouldn't help, and it wouldn't matter if I were goofing off or not or who it was who was sitting behind me -- just the simple fact that there was a person sitting there, potentially looking over my shoulder, would distract me enough to affect my productivity. That's how I would approach the issue.

"The arrangement of my desk is hurting my productivity. Having someone sitting right behind me all day is unnerving and it makes it harder for me to concentrate on my work. Is there a way that I could get my desk rearranged or my workstation relocated so that I can feel a bit more relaxed? It's nothing personal against the person sitting behind me and really I'm not worried about what someone might see me doing, but it still bothers me and makes me feel nervous and distracted. I'm sure you understand; you wouldn't want someone sitting right behind you all day either, would you? What can we do to solve this problem so that I can do my best work?"

Not wanting someone looking over your shoulder all day long is totally reasonable. Many if not most people get creeped out by that, and nobody sane would expect you to be at your best under those circumstances. It's in the company's best interests as well as yours for you to have a small modicum of privacy, and they should work with you to provide an environment where you can do your best work. Adjusting your desk sounds like a totally reasonable request.
posted by Scientist at 10:30 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Would it be possible to convince management to set up a desk partition on the desk behind you? That might be an easier solution than getting them to relocate your workstation, and it might also cut down on distracting noise.
posted by Westringia F. at 10:49 AM on May 1, 2014

At our company, everyone sits with their backs to the cube entrance and their monitors facing out so that everyone walking by can see if they care to. I actually like it this way because facing the cube entry is pretty distracting with everyone walking by and all.

I think having two monitors may help. You can have several items opened at once across the two monitors so that a small window of something you don't want others to see won't likely be noticed.

I like the idea of putting a book shelf or table behind your area, too. I don't think that would be weird. Lots of people make their work areas very personal and more private, lots and lots of plants, many do well with fluorescent lighting.
posted by waving at 11:35 AM on May 1, 2014

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