Working in an open plan office is not unlike sharing a house. Even with hot-desking, you'll most likely get to know your neighbours rather well, they may be physically closer than you would like and you learn to rub along with their charming peccadilloes. There are many beneficial features of communal working, not least the fact that humans are naturally social creatures, hard wired to promote our survival through community building. But the less palatable aspects, just like house sharing, will also rapidly surface as a result of being cooped up, at close quarters, in a confined space, with other representatives of our diverse species.
Cue,'Most Hated Office Habits', a recent UK survey which cited 'being regularly late' as the most reviled. Now this surprised me. I can see that this might be annoying if your work depended on the later comer. So in audit if you've a morning of back to backs and your first meeting of the day with the group FD is late, then it throws your schedule. Annoying, yes, but hated? I can come up with much worse; here's my top ten most abhorred contaminants of open plan working:
- Discernible conversations. You know the sort - social or business, these are the ones where you can follow the gist and can't help plugging into. Highly distracting, to the point of immobilisation, I'd like robust self-regulation around volume and duration.
- Ringing telephones. Even if they are not your business, it feels unprofessional to let a caller endure an unanswered call. And then there's the ubiquitous, unsilenced mobile with its disturbing array of quirky ring tones. Thankfully, we are blessed with a nifty little function called divert; I'd just like to see it utilised more circumspectly.
- Soup. Actually any desk-side potent-smelling food stuff has the potential for offence, but soup does seem to be the biggest culprit. I think the maxim 'one man's meat is another man's poison' is all I need to say here.
- Other people's visitors. Desks are for working not meeting. Visitors provide visual as well as audible disruption. Please fight for a meeting room like everyone else.
- Communal area disorder. This is where you can't get to your desk because of other people's belongings, both work-related and personal stuff. I'm talking boxes of files, stationary stores, umbrellas, shoes, bags, your bicycle and your enormous lunch bucket! Health & Safety have their own reasons for keeping the office neat, but for co-workers it's as much about aesthetics.
- Filthy fridge habits. We've all been guilty of this one at some time or other but it is universally revolting when you're adding a splash of milk to your tea, to be met by an almighty blast of fridge halitosis from the decaying slice of last week's lunch.
- Dirty desks. And while we are on the subject...I don't mind untidy personal space (that's yours) but mouldering coffee cups on your desk and rancid foodstuffs in your drawer turn messiness into a communal offence. We all need to take personal responsibility for sustenance related hygiene and etiquette, whether desk or fridge focussed. Hopefully, a code of doing the same in the office as what we do at home would suffice (I say hopefully...).
- Borrowing my stuff. Ask me, and anything of mine is yours but please don't rifle through my desk for my vital but irregularly used equipment. When I need a ruler, I need to put my hand on it straight away, and my spare charger is a lifeline that should not be violated.
- Headphones, devoid of. Yet another auditory niggle, but concentrating is a constant challenge in open plan, so no apologies proffered. We live in a multi-media age and whether indulging in a YouTube moment or a professional webinar, please keep the soundtrack to yourself. I'll let you know if I'd like to share.
- Using up the last one...You know who are. Teabags, A4 photocopier paper and toner, don't sidle away hoping we haven't noticed, do the decent thing and make a point of finding out how to replace the cache. We're under enough pressure as it is and it's just not cool to have to replace vital supplies when strung out meeting a crazy deadline.
So there you have it. As you can see, these are really not so different from the trials and tribulations of sharing a house whether with family, friends or strangers. I've bared my soul and put my top ten out there, now it's your turn. Let's compile an auditors' top ten of the Most Hated Office Habits. Looking forward to hearing from you...