Thursday, April 3, 2008

Working Closely Can Have a Downside

Airlines are not the only ones cramming us together like a can of sardines these days. Chances are, your company also is squeezing your personal space as you’re plopped right next to everyone else in an effort to promote “teamwork.”

Certainly, it seems like a good idea. People who are positioned closer together will make it easier to share solutions and problems, and bosses no longer sit behind closed doors, aloof and unattainable. But the unpleasant reality is that often it also means that you hear every word the person next to you is saying to someone else, you get a front row seat to a co-worker smacking gum, snorting into a tissue, belching the spicy food devoured for lunch and clipping fingernails while on the telephone.

Suddenly, teamwork doesn’t seem like such a hot idea.

But it can be if everyone just takes a few minutes to consider how less physical space means we all need to give one another a little more “mental” or “spiritual” space. For example, think about your own pet peeves at work. Do you get angry when someone pilfers your stapler? If you do, then don’t go swiping someone else’s pen or message pad.

Or, if you cannot stand someone popping gum, then you shouldn’t go sucking on a throat lozenge like it’s the last one on earth.

The point is: being a good neighbor at work takes some awareness of those around you, some compromises that offer respect and good manners to those other sardines you work with every day.

Here are some issues to be aware of when you work in close proximity with others.
• Keep your voice down. It’s amazing how far technology has come. That means you don’t have to yell into a telephone to be heard by the other person. Keep you voice well modulated, and question others whether you need to tone it down a bit.
• Watch what you say. There’s nothing quite like being on the phone to an important customer when a nearby worker yells an obscenity. Don’t turn the air blue at work with bad language; it’s bad business. At the same time, keep the crude talk for the pub later — a nearby worker may have a client visiting.
• Mind your own business. It’s a fact of life that many workers have to have private telephone conversations at work. Kids coming home from school, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, and checking in with a spouse are all pretty routine stuff. You may not be able to help overhearing these talks, but it doesn’t mean you have the right to question a co-worker later about what was said. At the same time, keep private conversations to a minimum at work. Nobody wants to hear a 30-minute discourse on your bad bunions.
• Walk away. When you enter someone’s space and it’s clear that this person is having a bad moment, walk away. Let them gather their thoughts, then return. Do you want someone is your face when you’ve just lost a big account or had a spat with the boss?
• Sniff. Take a good smell around you. Is that a leftover chili cheese dog in your wastebasket? Maybe you should have showered after you worked out for an hour at the gym, huh? Remember that in smaller spaces, not only does sound travel, but so does smell. So leave the strong perfume or aftershave at home, and keep your personal space free of strong odors.
• No personal grooming. Brushing hair, applying makeup, clipping fingernails, flossing teeth, using nose spray and shaving at your desk is not okay. In an office with your door closed you might get by with this behavior, but nobody should have to witness your grooming habits unless it’s your mother.
• Honor mental space. Working in tight confines means that people try to find ways to tune everyone and everything out. So when it’s clear someone else is concentrating, perhaps on a deadline, simply drop a note on the desk that says “call me.” Just because you can butt into their lives doesn’t mean you should.


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1 comment:

Patricia Robb said...

These are great tips. I think we all work in cramped spaces and have to be mindful of our neighbours. A good neighbour can make our work life pleasant, a bad neighbour can cause unnecessary stress.

I was just talking to a friend about the idea of hearing our neighbours and one of the advantages I find is being aware of what projects we are each working on. She called it situational awareness. I find it helps knowing what your team is up to at work.