I’ve noticed in our monthly stats that an old etiquette blog I wrote continues to get views so I thought I’d mention an etiquette topic that not every student will encounter during their time at university: working in the open plan office.
Since my first office job I’ve always worked in an open plan office ranging anywhere from two people to 10 people. Every group of people in a shared space have their own unwritten rules so there will always be a learning curve with every new organization you work for as you get to grips with these and the people who make them. Despite this, there are always common things to be mindful of so thinking back over my first few experiences here are my top 5 tips for working in an open plan office.
Making and receiving phone calls – in one of my jobs everyone in the office worked very silently and initially I felt uncomfortable every time I made or answered a call as I assumed they would all be listening and judging me. I shared my concerns with a colleague and discovered this was unfounded as they were used to blocking out external noise and focusing on their own issues. This helped me to relax but if you’re making a long or difficult phone call you may want to move to a meeting room (if possible) for some privacy or if you’ve been granted the use of a work cell phone you could make the call away from your desk.
Approaching colleagues and communicating – I remember hovering at the ‘entrance’ to a colleague’s work space wondering how I got their attention. Always announce yourself and ask if it’s a good time to chat rather than just assuming and launching right in (also, don’t be the colleague that silently appears out of nowhere, it’s scary). Be mindful of what you need to discuss, is it appropriate for others to hear and will it annoy other colleagues if you have 10 minutes worth of conversation rather than 2 minutes (hint: yes – move to a meeting room). Finally, be aware of the volume of your voice. Some people are naturally louder talkers so be mindful of how it impacts on others.
Eating at your desk or in the office – for your own mental health take your legally entitled lunch break and get away from the office. If you do ever eat at your desk (and I’d be lying if I said I’d never done that but I strongly discourage it) think about your food choices e.g. no smelly food, as it can be very distracting. Do clean up after yourself, no one wants to see a dirty workspace, and that includes doing your dishes if you have a shared kitchen. People often assume cleaning staff are paid to do this but I’m yet to work in an office where this happens.
Avoiding gossip and building relationships – in my first job I worked in an office with two others and they gossiped about everyone in the organisation. It was mainly good natured but I felt a bit out of my depth when they encouraged me to join in. I wanted them to like me as we shared the same space (and I couldn’t escape like in my retail job) but I didn’t want to get involved with giving opinions on colleagues, however good natured. Stay professional and diplomatic. It’s possible to be likeable without commenting. Try coming up with a few phrases that you feel comfortable with. Here’s a few to start you off:
Asking for help and feedback – this actually applies in any type of workplace but I want to make a point of it. You will need to ask a multitude of questions so don’t be afraid to do this, it’s normal and appropriate and your colleagues will expect this. What you want to watch is that you’re not asking the same questions over and over. Take notes to help you remember. I walked around with a notebook and pen for the first few weeks in several of my office jobs so I could try and retain everything. You will also make mistakes so learn from them and be proactive in asking for feedback from others next time.
Final note – I remember the first job I had I was really excited to be given a desk and a computer that was exclusively for my own use. Nowadays, individual laptops and tablets have taken away that excitement and in some office buildings you don’t even get your own desk, you ‘hot desk’. While I’ve never experienced hot desking it’s something to be aware of when going into an office based job.
Here’s some more links for you to check out: