If you have a career that at all requires you to work in an office building, chances are pretty good that you’ll be required to share many of your spaces with co-workers. For instance, in my current office there is a big open area right outside my office door that houses hundreds of desks. There aren’t cube walls or any other separating device. Everyone is just right out in the open. The West Wing – or perhaps just West Wing fan fiction – has taught me to call this area The Bullpen.
Before I was promoted and got my office, I sat out in The Bullpen. In general, I didn’t mind the set up because I spend a lot of my day running around and not sitting at my desk. There were times, though, that it made me crazy to have so many people sitting so close. Sometimes I felt as if everyone in the building was listening to all my phone conversations. And, in the occasional moment where I really did need to buckle down and focus on work, I found myself easily distracted by all the people walking by or having conversations of their own.
Being a person who believes that everything has its place, it’s no surprise that sharing space with others would make me a little crazy. Not everyone, for instance, feels it’s necessary to arrange his or her desktop items at right angles to each other as well as the surface of the desk. Not everyone feels it’s necessary to return half-empty coffee cups to the kitchen once the liquid is cold…or even once the liquid has started to grow a fuzzy blue hat. Not everyone utilizes binders or folders to organize themselves.
And, even though I do all these things, I recognize that everyone isn’t going to be like me.
That said, I do feel that there are some things that are just common courtesy when it comes to sharing facilities in an office building. Here are just a few behaviors you might want to modify, if you find they apply to you:
- Respect the leftovers.I don’t know what happens where you work, but in my office we deposit all food leftovers from meetings on the island of the big kitchen on the third floor. On any given day there will be muffins, fruit salad, sandwiches or cookies sitting out on the counter. Instead of taking one of the hundreds of paper plates that live just beneath the counter, people stand over the island and pick at the food. They’ll take a pinch of a cookie – not half of the cookie, but an actual pinch that looks like someone has taken a bite out of it – and leave the rest of the cookie on the plate. Sometimes someone will open a sandwich, eat the meat and cheese out of the middle, and leave the lettuce and tomatoes and bread. Someone else will come along later and eat the veggies and then someone will eat the bread, until the whole thing is gone. I’ve seen this happen, and it makes my stomach turn. (Not to mention that I’ve seen co-workers eat cream cheese that’s been sitting in our common area for at least ten hours, just because they must have a bite of food Right Now.)Since people are actually willing or desperate enough to eat food that has been pawed through by god only knows who, one might think perhaps I should just sit back and ignore the practice. No way. Please, I beg of you, in the name of tasty workplace treats everywhere, respect the snacks that are provided to you. Do not molest them and leave others to pick up the pieces.
- Pick up your messes.I am not on a crusade to achieve clean desks everywhere, and actually respect other people’s right to live in their own filth. I choose to keep my work area tidy, but that doesn’t mean I’ll shun the guy whose desk looks like a paper shredder exploded on it. I’m generous that way. The important thing here is to recognize which areas belong entirely to you, and which areas are shared with other people.Let’s start with the kitchen, since we were already there anyway. These are the things that make me want to lock myself in my office:
1) People who rinse off their dishes in the sink and don’t bother to rinse the debris down the drain. My extra favorite is when someone rinses off his or her own dish while simultaneously spraying all other dishes in the sink with the food detritus. I love seeing your mom’s macaroni surprise floating in those ten coffee cups half-filled with tepid brown water. Delicious!
2) People who spill all manner of liquids and foodstuffs onto the counter and never bother to wipe it down. As if it never dawned on them that the 15 rolls of paper towels sitting next to the sink could be useful. If I had a dollar for every time I leaned into a counter to reach for a cup and came away with my shirt/pants covered in water, I could retire. Just because it’s clear doesn’t mean it’s not annoying to get it on my suit before a meeting.
3) People who microwave their lunch to the point of explosion, and then never wipe up the fallout. One of our microwaves runs so hot that you can torch a can of soup in under a minute, and there is always soup residue on the glass carousel thingy. Have you ever smelled a microwave that has gone too long without cleaning? Not pleasant. What’s shocking is that people will continue to cook food in there, and never consider the fact that all the stuff stuck to the top of the microwave gets nice and gooey when warm and could potentially fall into whatever it is they’re cooking.
4) The refrigerator in my office smells like old yogurt all the time. I believe this is because everyone is always on a “diet” but never wants to eat the healthy food. They bring in nine cartons of Yoplait, and go out to the diner across the street for lunch each day while the live cultures in their strawberry low-fat extra-whipped yogurt reproduce happily. Stacked next to and on top of all the yogurt are reusable plastic tubs of all shapes and sizes, and squeezed in for good measure are all manner of paper and plastic bags – this is because, in my office, there is a theory that people will not steal your food if you hide it from view. (As someone who keeps her Lean Cuisines in the freezer inside a plastic bag from Target, I can say the theory isn’t unfounded.) The point here, if you haven’t gotten it, is that people cram our shared work refrigerator full of food and then leave it there to rot. If you’re the type of person who does bring your lunch with the intent to actually consume it, you’d better be prepared to reorganize the precariously tottering piles of other peoples’ crap while holding your breath.Lest you think all I can talk about is the foulness of my co-workers’ food habits, let’s move on to my other least favorite spot in the office: the shared printer. My entire team shares one black and white and one color printer. That seems like a lot of people for very little printer, but we’re all packed into a fairly compact space and no one has to walk very far across The Bullpen to pick up their printouts. Why is it, then, that there is always an entire ream of paper sitting in the output tray? If I get to my pages after they’ve cooled, I feel ashamed. But most of the people in my office never bother to pick things up at all. Not only is this wasteful – ink, toner, paper – but it makes me wonder how efficient these people are at their jobs. Obviously, they thought that whatever they printed was important enough to have in hard copy at one point in time. And yet, it wasn’t important enough for them to remember five minutes later. My most favorite part of the wasteland that is our printer cart is that all the garbage inevitably blocks the tray I need to use when I’m running late to a meeting and need to print three copies of a ten page document in two minutes or less.
And don’t get me started on special, hand-feed-required print jobs. Raise your hand if you’ve ever needed to print something on 8 1/2 x 11 paper only to find it sitting in the output tray sideways on a legal page. Or if half of your presentation came out on someone else’s pale pink resume paper. If you’ve changed the paper source for a special job, please fucking change it back. Oh! And lest I forget, every person who sees the “Fill Paper Tray” light blinking and walks blithely by without filling the paper tray should have hot pokers shoved in his or her eyes. Repeatedly.
- Don’t take your coffee to the bathroom, and other restroom faux paux.A couple of year’s ago, eiddy published the PopGurls Guide to Ladies’ Public Restroom Etiquette. There’s some great advice in there that can easily be applied to this article, but there are definitely some bathroom issues that only occur in office buildings.For instance, in all the bathrooms at my office, there is a small ledge at the end of the sink closest to the stalls. By the end of each day, this ledge is littered with half-full coffee mugs and bottles of water. It’s bad enough that the girls who place them there walk right by them on their way out the door and can’t remember what they’ve left. What really disturbs me is that they’ve brought beverages into the bathroom at all. Am I the only one who thinks it isn’t healthy to bring an open cup of coffee into a place teeming with nastiness? I have no idea whether or not coffee is consumed if it ever makes its way out of the bathroom, but ew. (The same ledge is also home to any number of discarded pens and notebooks, and again I ask how efficient a person can possibly be if they can’t remember where they’ve left their meeting notes?)I work in an industry where 12-hour days are not uncommon. Thus, it is not unusual to find two or more girls pressed up against the mirrors re-applying eye makeup or flat-ironing their hair in preparation for going out. Though I require a little less maintenance, I’ve certainly had to get ready in the bathroom a time or two in recent history. There’s no harm in that. The gross part is the debris that gets left behind, such as:
1) Loose powder that gets knocked into the air from a makeup brush and makes its way to the wet countertop, creating a muddy substance that will undoubtedly end up across the front of some poor co-worker’s pants when she washes her hands.
2) Gooey hairspray that speckles and smears the mirror. I’m a little flustered that there are still women using hairspray at all, but as a person who sometimes wears glasses, I can’t tell you how annoying it is to keep wiping at my lenses, only to learn that the mirror is gunky and not my glasses. The smell is also obnoxious, but I understand that it can’t be helped (same with reapplied perfume).
3) Blow driers, curling irons, flat-irons. The bathroom you use at work does not carry the same privileges as the one you use at home. It is not okay to leave electronic devices plugged in by the sink for indefinite periods of time.
On a completely different topic, I would also like to make a suggestion that, when you flush, you make sure that all waste is properly disposed of. Those of us who work in old buildings know that water pressure isn’t always what it should be, and it won’t take more than a couple of seconds to make sure everything is status quo.
- Keep the noise level down, bitches.I don’t require complete silence when I work. I’ve never worked from home for any length of time or been in an office that was super quiet, so I’m used to a low-level hum. There has to be a line drawn, though, when it comes to sharing space in an office and how loud one can talk or play music.In The Bullpen there are several people who play music from their computers. There’s some of it I love (The Guy Who Knows How To Party) and some of it that I like less (The Girl Who Likes NASCAR), but when it comes to music I can enjoy just about everything. What sucks is that sometimes there’s competing music coming from both sides, so that you’re getting Snoop Dogg in one ear and Martina McBride in the other – and then there’s the kid a couple of rows over who will randomly listen to Phish, and that’s just taking it too far. If your office allows it, I’ll always recommend headphones to keep this from happening. If headphones are a no-no, then for the love of all things holy, please make sure that your music isn’t combining with anyone else’s to drive your co-workers crazy.The same goes with carrying on conversations and goofiness. I used to sit between a girl and a boy who worked on a different team than I did, and who would always have conversations over me. I really enjoyed both of these people (who no longer work with me, which is sad), and so it never bothered me that I was always in the middle of the conversation. Had it been other people, though, I would have wanted to kill someone every single day.
To the left of me, there were two other guys who were always trying to score baskets in the small hoop hung in my neighbor’s space. Every day I would see small objects hurtling toward me while I was on conference calls or trying to type emails, and let me say that the success rate for landing on my desk was far better than the one for making the basket. I liked all of these guys a lot, but they never bothered to judge whether or not it was a good time for horsing around; if they were in the mood, it didn’t matter what the rest of us were doing. When you share space, you’ve got to remember that everyone isn’t going to be in the same mood every time, at the same time.
I probably sound like a curmudgeon with all these nit-picky suggestions. At 29, you’re all going to start calling me Grandma Willa or something. But I propose that work sucks hard enough without the added annoyances that come from sharing your space with dozens (or hundreds) of other people every day. It makes me want to put signs on everyone’s desk – “Leaves coffee in bathroom,” “Half-assed utensil rinser” – on the off chance that they’d feel shame. I mean, if everyone just changed one nasty habit, think about how much more enjoyable it would be to spend your life at the office.