Proper Etiquette in an Open Workspace

Open Workspaces are becoming the norm. Everyone I’ve ever talked to about Open Workspaces was opposed to the idea; and people I know who work in Open Workspaces, hate it. While noise is the biggest complaint, the number of other distractions pales only by a circus marching through town.

However, thanks to some tech companies like Google and Facebook, the Corporate masses have decided this is the way to go. That said, there are so many pitfalls that come with an Open Workspace so if we can’t beat ‘em, proper etiquette should be considered.

No calls on speakerphone

Even people in offices are guilty of this one. I was an executive assistant for over 18 years and I will tell you, so many folks just open that line and dial and wait until someone picks up to pick up the phone. If they don’t pick up, then we get to listen to their voicemail followed by a shouted message.

Even if you are in an office, if your door is open, we can hear you and it is distracting. We can hear your sometimes personal and private conversations and it is a simple as picking up the receiver. This is three fold in an Open Workspace. If you are in a cubicle, get a headset or simply pick up the receiver before dialing.

Move loud conversations to the break room, hall, or conference room

The idea of an Open Workspace was to promote collaboration and sharing of ideas. That is great as long as your ideas aren’t next to the desk of someone that is trying to either take a call or read important documents to do their job.

If you feel the need to have a group pow wow, move to an outer lying area. If you work in a space like a call center or an area where you need to stay near your phone, then pull together a huddle and talk to each other at a lowered tone so you’re closer together and share your information and/or idea in a smaller space.

No profanity

At some point, it became acceptable behavior to cuss at work. I’m not talking about a simple H.E. double hockey sticks. I’m talking full on F bombs; from VPs no less. Now, I’m no prude. I even cuss but NOT AT WORK! It is beyond unprofessional and contrary to what they may think, your customers can hear your neighbors over the phone. There is no advice on this one except, if you don’t have a policy on this, write one and CUT IT OUT!

Be cognizant of the unnecessary noises, i.e, slamming of drawers and cabinets, tapping on the desk

To our gum poppers, our pen clickers, our leg tappers, and our pencil tappers…STOP IT! In an Open Workspace, we hear it all. I was told of one place where this guy has a broken drawer and he bangs it frequently and the fact that it is metallic makes it that much louder. While he has been advised to submit a repair ticket to facilities to have it fixed, he won’t do it and his manager, who sits in ear shot, won’t do anything except to say, “yeah – it’s loud.” Really!

While those of us who would like more quiet have to recognize that we are not the only ones in the room, more so, do the people who are the noise makers. Be considerate of the people around you and avoid banging your desk in laughter or anger, slamming doors and drawers, and just making extra noise. There is already plenty to contend with.

No Horse Play

There is a company in El Segundo, CA that will not hesitate to just throw stuff and chase each other around the floor. They have also been known to kick a beach ball around the floor or worse, toss it around like at a concert. If that wasn’t enough, they have Nerf Machine Gun fights on the call center floor during the holidays and had light sabers buzzing and fighting on May 4th (May the 4th be With You). This place is an HR nightmare, except, there are no rules on this and no one has called a stop to it. Beyond being a major distraction, it is a major hazard and that item that was meant to be playful, could veer off course and knock someone’s glasses off or scare them off balance and cause them to fall and hurt themselves.

To accommodate the energy that has become our youthful workplaces, some companies have reinstated recess. They have put basketball courts in their parking lot and they have games that people can play in the break room. This allows for a spirited workplace but not where people are trying to work. Perhaps those folks in El Segundo should take a lesson.

Food that is noisy or that smells

Lots of companies are supplying snacks for their workers. They are not always the healthiest choices but some are simply not appropriate at all times. Food like corn nuts or chips should not be eaten in a meeting or in a training class. It is extremely rude.

When in a group setting, if your stomach can’t wait, snack on something quiet, like soft cookies or pastries. And at any time in the office, avoid bringing food that has a strong aroma like fish, strawberries, and garlic to name a few. These smells permeate the office and can really cause headaches and in some cases nausea. Some companies have even outlawed microwave popcorn. Not because of the smell when it is cooked but because of the smell when it burns since so many people with start it and walk away and forget it.

This is also true for too much cologne. Even I love my Bath and Body Works lotion but some people may take offense to it. Save your gourmet experiments and all the smell good for your own home or environment.

Sharing audio or videos without a headset

I cannot tell you how many times I have walked into an open space like a break room or even a Starbucks and someone was playing their videos out loud. That’s right – no headphones. Parents do this with their kids in doctor’s offices now. I once asked a guy in line next to me at the bank who decided to take his call on speakerphone, “Do we all need to share in that call?” He quickly took it off speaker and spoke into the phone.

When you are in a common area and in an Open Workspace, that’s pretty much everywhere, do not play your music or videos out loud. Please use your headphones so that the people who can finally have a moment of peace on their lunch, can in fact do that.

Wear Headphones

So many articles recommend headphones to drown out the distracting noises of an open work place. However, having the headphones on for an extended period of time can cause headaches and you are just replacing one noise with another. The concentration level is still challenged because you can still hear the conversations going on around you and if you can’t…turn the music down because you will soon go deaf.

If you need to read, study, or concentrate on what you are doing, use headphones with abstract music or sounds playing, book a conference room, or go find a quiet place on a different floor of your office.

Take breaks alone – sit in your car (if it’s too hot or cold)

Sometimes the best thing is to isolate yourself. Take breaks and lunches in your car or go to a deserted part of your office building, if you can and if it is safe to do so. Maybe even sit in the stairwell to read for a little peace and quiet.

Have something that is soothing to you at your workspace

I have an app of a roaring fireplace that I play all day. Some days it is three burning candles, and some days it is a beautiful waterfall.

A word to the brilliant sadists that came up with this idea of an Open Workplace and the Corporate Execs who cosigned the idea from their quiet offices….

Don’t put thinking groups next to collaboration groups. Departments that often need high concentration like Accounting, HR, and Training should be together and departments like Customer Service, Quality Assurance, and Sales should be in the same space. Not just because of the noise factor but because you are putting like with like. If there must be open work spaces, then let there be a separation between extroverts and introverts.

Morale will increase and people who blend into either will adapt that much faster.

Two Kinds of Change

There are two kinds of change. The change you choose and change that is thrust upon you.

When I was about eight years old change was thrust upon me when my daddy dropped us off here in LA – at least that is how it seemed to me. No one explained what was happening and as a result, I grew into a very angry and spiteful child and later a very angry and resentful young adult. One minute we are living in Texas and the next, after a cross-country drive, we are being dropped off and my daddy is leaving us behind. I have since discovered, that moment was the catalyst to what became my quest for my happy.

When change is thrust upon you in the skin of a layoff, divorce, or for some of us, an elected president, we need to focus on the plans we already have in place. I hear so many people complaining about our president-elect that I just want to jam a pencil in my ear – it would hurt less.

First, that is wasted energy. Second, have your say. The day after the election, I wore black, I had my say on Facebook, go to, (November 9th post) and I kept it pushin’. On inauguration day, I will wear black and keep it pushin’. Here’s why…life goes on. That little eight year old girl was broken-hearted and confused in the moment, but she grew up to use that experience and the many others that followed to handle the events that happen in this human experience. Focus on all the things you have control over and choose how you want it to play out. When I got laid off, I started a business, when I got divorced, I remarried, when I lost all my money, I found a way to make more. When change is thrust upon you, it is never an ending; it is always the beginning to the next phase of your life growth. Show up and you will always win!

Then there is the change we choose. I chose both of my husbands but for sake of discussion I will focus on the second one, although the first one was a doozy too. I chose him with my eyes open but, unbeknownst to me, I was not in an emotional place to make a logical decision. I thought I was so clear that I was even able to convince other people that selling everything I own and moving to Wisconsin to marry a red-headed Mexican that I met online only two months prior was a good idea. I had people high fiving and applauding my courage. What they should have been saying is, “get the rope, we are gonna hog tie you because you are crazy and clearly a danger to yourself and others!”

Our choices are made from so many factors. I was at a place in my life when I just needed someone, anyone to love me. I was disconnected from my family, I was divorced, and in a city I loved but didn’t pick. After a string of men I used to get over my first husband, I found myself empty and alone. This person courted me from across the US. He did more for me from a distance than the jokers I was dating did face to face. Of course I thought I was in love.

No one makes a choice with the expectation of failure. That would be ridiculous. We always look for the win. When it goes south, we are thrown and ask, “why me?” especially, if this seems to be the pattern. Just know that you have to look deeper. Every choice is not going to be a winner but, it is vital to know who you are in that moment. The “H” in HAPPY represents “hear your truth.” Until you are honest with yourself about where you really are and how you really feel about the things in your life, you will continue to make plans on a false positive that can only end badly because it is not your true reality. You are trying to build a life on a distorted foundation. All the vision boarding and list making in the world is not going to help because you are writing on white paper with a white crayon. It’s there but you can’t see it because you really don’t want to…yet. When you are ready to face the beast that is your true reality, it’s like getting a shot. That initial prick hurts a bit but the rest is just procedure. Honor yourself enough to go through the steps. Really look at your choices right down to what you want for dinner. Is it what you REALLY want? If not, say no. Don’t worry about missing out on anything. This life is abundant. You will always be able to do that thing you want, when you are really ready for it.

I’ve talked a lot about the challenging choices but let’s be real for a second. While the good changes are easier to handle, even when you choose to grow your business or you finally get that thing you have worked toward, that change can still feel overwhelming.

What we often miss is that with every change that happens in our life, there is a loss or a passing away of a previous situation. Very often, we skip the mourning process of that thing that we have moved away from. It’s so much easier to spot when it is something traumatic or impacts you in a negative way. When the change is good, and suddenly you feel sad or you just want to shut down and don’t know why…it means you haven’t taken a second to mourn what you’ve moved on from. Take that moment. Again, honor you and don’t deny yourself the applause you’ve earned, especially if the people around you aren’t quite in their happy. Honor the work you’ve done to live your bestest life. You earned it!

Now Go! Be! Do!

You’re not Scarlet O’Hara – You’re Just a Little Black Girl

My second favorite movie of all time is Gone With the Wind and I often joke that I’m like Scarlet O’Hara. I often say, “I won’t think about that now, I’ll think about that tomorrow!” I never like to be uncomfortable, I always like to be the center of attention, and I’m used to getting my way and what I want. But like Scarlet, that can come with some ridicule.

However, if anyone that has seen Gone With the Wind paid attention, they saw that Scarlet was an amazingly strong woman. She always did what was necessary when it really counted. She took care of her family after the War and even after she was rich. She was true to her word, she was a savvy business woman, she always went after what she wanted even if she was in a little bit of danger, and she wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself; in the words of Ret Butler, “what a woman!”
But, because she is white and slaves are involved, most people of color look at me with the side eye when I make that comparison; most of which haven’t and won’t even see the movie.

Scarlet exemplifies a strong and brave woman, no matter what color. She survived war, starvation, displacement, personal attack, widowhood, poverty, ridicule, loss of a child, and what turned out to be the love of her life. She was a daughter, a sister, a wife, and a mother. She had a deep faith in God and love of the land, aka Tara. She was there for her friends and family and was never afraid to just be herself. That is why I identify with Scarlet O’Hara; plus the southern thang. I’m half city and half southern. I gotta say, I embrace my southern most of all. But I digress…..

When some people see others who are comfortable in their skin, they may try to project their own insecurities onto them. The name calling, the cutting digs, and the passive aggressive conversations are all a neon sign that you are dealing with someone that is not at your level. Depending on what you need to do, you may have to continue to deal with that person. If you don’t, they will fall away organically. However, like the first “P” in your HAPPY, give yourself permission to stay true to you and meet them where they are. In other words, you don’t need to cut them back, just extract what you need from the interaction and move on.

Most of all remember this – at the end of the day, it’s not what they call you, it’s what you answer to.

Now Go! Be! Do!