Friday, January 31, 2014

The Importance of (Personal) Office Space

I work a desk-like job at a **** Public Library.
And if you’ve never worked in one, there isn’t a great deal of personal space to go around.
Other things like to occupy your space. For instance
  • carts of books
  • shelves of books
  • busy people sorting and mending things to be put away
  • paperwork you just don’t know what to do with
  • projects that have yet to be completed or are in various stages of sorting and organization
  • things other people put there that you have no clue how to store/organize/where it goes.

So any personal space that you can achieve on your own is amazing. It means that you have a place define as “Yours”, separate from everyone else, that you can personalize and fill with the little things that make you happy. As can be the case often, if you don’t have a desk to call your own (are deskless, sadly) or share a desk, making a space your own can be somewhat difficult. Filling it with things that are yours, that you personally bought and don’t feel inclined to share, is even more of a task.

While achieving your own desk may or may not denote the kind of landmark achievement you were looking for, to me, it was and is, important.
And as a general policy, if it’s not my desk or I haven’t been instructed to look in a particular draw for office supplies, I ‘m not going to bother being around your desk, i.e. if I don’t need the stamps now, then on the shelf tucked away they will remain and I have no business there otherwise.

However, this rule is not hard and fast with more open desk areas, like the front desk, which is open to every staff member if they are looking for tape, scissors, band aids, etc.

It is if it is someone else’s personal desk. And I get a bit touchy about my things on my desk being moved, used, or taken without my permission.
Perhaps it looks like a mess to you (it is, but I know where 95% of everything is, so don’t touch) but it’s my mess, my clutter, and my way of organizing things.

And here is my rub:

Yesterday a coworker walked up to my desk, opened one of my desk drawers, and in front of me, started to take out a piece of candy that was my personal stash that someone else had given to me/I’d been collecting. She had done this before a few times in the past, and while it irritated me, I hadn’t said anything. Actually, I mentally took a note and kept focusing on my work and then forgot because I had more important things to worry about.

But I got upset because it finally occurred to me that this woman had no sense of my personal space or privacy and I’d not dealt with it accordingly. That was my property. She hadn’t asked if she could – she never had. Perhaps the woman who’d occupied that desk and position in the past had never minded; but now I did. It had been several weeks since she’d done it, so I’d forgotten about the action. But boy, I moved fast when I saw her moving towards my Werther’s caramel chews, and I said, “Don’t take that. This is candy that I personally bought and I’d prefer if you didn’t do that.” I could have been nicer, but I was firm and tough about it, or I could have been snotty and said, “If you want free candy, you can get it from the front desk.”

Immediately it was like she’d gotten caught with her hand in the cookie jar. I was angry. Yes I should have stopped her actions before; but honestly, you would hope people know better than to just stick their hand in your drawer and take something out. And this morning I dreamt about her doing that again; which now casts doubt, fuzzily, into whether the event actually happened. (I’m fairly certain it did; I’m just too tired to remember for sure.)

Other people have been caught doing this with things on my desk – rulers, pens – and I have politely in the past asked them to ask me first before going in – incidentally I lost and later found my favorite pen because someone was using my desk without asking or me volunteering; all my papers got rearranged and I found it shoved into the pen can at the Children’s Desk. What was ridiculously funny about it was that the pen had my name on it that I’d typed out on a label maker. Kind of obvious, but some people are oblivious.

That may seem funny to you, but we lose pens all the time; most of the staff with permanent desks put their name on their favorite pen of choice so that if it gets misplaced, it will end up where it’s supposed to be or is less likely to be stolen by an unthinking staff member. But I digress.

That was how I was taught – you ask first before going into someone’s personal space. It’s polite because it’s considerate of their feelings.

But in an office environment, is there any expectation of privacy?

For me, having my own work desk, not needing to share it with anyone else, was a Godsend. I wasn’t cramped anymore; I could put things where I liked, organize them in the most efficient way to my needs; hell, I could leave my desk an utter mess and no one would come along to screw with it! Lord, it’s wonderful. Still not the most ideal since there’s construction going on inside the building that makes it near impossible to work sometimes; but it’s my desk. Daily I have to pull out a little disposable napkin to clean off the plaster dust I can see. I can keep what I want how and where I want without worry, nine times out of ten, about someone else using it and forgetting to put it back or damage the item.

As a matter of courtesy, I generally don’t go poking around other people’s desks – I ask first.

It may seem a small thing to those who don’t have their own personal space in a workplace environment, but I believe that others probably feel the same way. Hopefully, the problem has been dealt with and I won’t be seeing someone else messing with my candy stash again. Although if asked, I would share.


So if you’re in an office and you see something you need or want to use please ask. It’s a small thing, but it will show you have manners. 

1 comment:

  1. So very true! I always ask. I currently work at a public library as well, & when I replace the other worker 2 afternoons a week, she is so respectful as the space now being mine. She requests putting her name badge away before she leaves! Unfortunately, such politeness is no longer the norm.

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