contributed by Jenny S. Rebholz [writer / marketing consultant / designer / instructor / mentor / networking machine]
What are some of your most embarrassing life moments” Toilet paper on the heel of your shoe” Forgetting someone’s name” As you embark on your design career, do you want to prevent embarrassing moments at work” The anticipation of a new job can be frightening and exciting. Aside from handling basic design duties, there is a lot to think about. Establishing a good reputation with your clients is important, but establishing a good reputation in the office with your employer and fellow employees is equally important.
When it comes to working in an office environment, your personal space will most likely be defined by cubicle walls. An 8’ x 8’ workstation will be your home for at least eight hours a day for a minimum of five days a week. That is a lot of time in a little space. Keep in mind that while you see it as yours, you do not own it. Your employer does.
Other community spaces will also be provided to enhance your work experience. Break rooms, conferences rooms, resource libraries, etc., are spaces that will support your work and well being on the job. The question is how you will interact with and react to the other people sharing those spaces. In an effort to lead you into this new home-away-from-home experience, here are some tips, insights, and other things to consider.
What Does Your Personal Space Say About You”
While you want to feel as comfortable as you can at work, realize that there may be corporate policies that restrict how you decorate your workstation. Even if there aren’t, this does not mean you should go nuts. Collections of troll dolls, Beanie Babies, or dirty dishes are all clutter factors you want to avoid. Think about how you want your fellow workers to think about you.
“Maybe it is just me, but I would say… Don’t display pictures of yourself when you were in Ibiza or Cancun if you’re wearing next to nothing. Use good judgment when displaying any personal photos — keep swimsuits, raunchy bachelorette, drunken nights and boyfriend or girlfriend snuggle photos at home where you can look at them all you want.”
– Design firm owner
Are you anal and organized, or do you use more of a piled method of organization” Understand that when someone comes to request information, the length of time it takes to find it or the simplicity of your organizational methods will leave an impression. People will translate the cleanliness of your desk space into how you will handle clients and projects. You will get labeled based on these skills, so think about how you organize.
Do you dust your space, keep you computer and keyboard clean, or at least occasionally sanitize your phone” Just like your home, there are chores to be done in your workstation.
Are you Pigpen in the office, the crazy collector, or the person whose every pencil has its place” Decide who you are and what you want to be known for — remember that first impressions can create labels, labels can stick, and reputations can form.
Did You Hear What I Heard”
An open office does provide a unique workspace and promote teamwork and collaboration; however, it does not support privacy for personal conversations. Cubicle walls are not soundproof and many aren’t very high, so sound will travel. Whether you like it or not, people can hear everything you have to say. You may even hear things you really do not want to hear.
“As my architect husband, who works in an open office concept, has said, he has learned more about the process of childbirth from listening to designers than he ever learned in our Lamaze classes! He even knew more about wedding planning than I did!”
– Designer/Design instructor
“No one likes to hear nail clippers in the office.”
– Senior level designer
“Personal phone calls are the worst! You hear about every make-up, every break-up, every fight, gift, and even every doctor appointment.”
– Designer/Design instructor
Aside from what others overhear, be careful of what you directly choose to share. It is natural to want to form bonds and friendships with coworkers, but beware of what to share and what not to share. If you wouldn’t tell your mom the story, then you may want to reconsider sharing it with a boss or a friend. People want to hear about vacations, families, and other fun stuff, but if you get too personal, understand that information can travel and will influence your work identity.
Last, but certainly not least, stay away from the gossip train. It is easy to hop on, and when the information is about someone else, it may not seem so bad. Just remember, it could be your name on the train the next time.
What’s Cooking In The Company Kitchen”
Everyone gets hungry. You need to fuel your mind and body, so eating in the workplace is inevitable. Believe it or not, there are food habits and preferences that can wreak havoc in the office.
Smells are crucial. If you are craving microwave popcorn, you better nuke it to perfection or you will suffer. Burnt popcorn will stink up the office for hours. Love fish” Well not everyone may be a fan, so beware of the tuna can. Some feel seafood should be outlawed in the office.
“CornNuts! Don’t eat CornNuts at your desk! They are loud and crunchy and smell like dirty feet.”
– Designer/Design instructor
Remember in grade school how your mom used to pack your lunch and write your name on it. I think it helped us remember which one was ours and helped other children not to take the wrong lunch. Or, do you know what it is like to crave your leftovers from last night only to find your roommate ate it before you got home” Well, as an adult, we do have the capacity to remember which lunch is ours, yet people will still eat other people’s food from the company fridge.
Don’t get caught with your hands in the cookie jar, so to speak. If someone brings something to share, they will leave a note or place it on the community counter. If you don’t want someone to touch it, you may need to take extra measures like writing your name on it… still, it may disappear. You have been warned, so help stop the insanity by not eating other peoples’ food.
Finally, don’t forget to clean up after yourself. Mom and dad didn’t like when you didn’t do it, and you can be sure your fellow employees won’t either. Don’t let food die in the fridge. If you aren’t going to eat it, then take it home or throw it away. Don’t leave your dirty dishes in the sink; someone will eventually have to load the dishwasher. Take care of your dishes, or the lipstick print on that coffee mug in your signature shade may give you away.
We must eat, and we must do other things… so bathroom etiquette is also a part of your work day. Don’t just leave puddles of water, empty toilet paper rolls, clogged toilets, or anything unsanitary. Keep it fresh and clean because the last one seen to leave will surely be blamed for the condition it is left in.
And as long as you are in there, double check your personal hygiene: fresh breath, clean teeth, combed hair — and make sure your skirt is not tucked into your pantyhose. You don’t want to give the office a show as you return to your desk.
On any given day you will occupy other spaces within the office. From the resource library to the conference room: Rule #1 — Clean up after yourself. Everyone is busy, so you have to take the time to put the samples back where you found them or to clear the soda cans after the big meeting. If everyone pitches in, then you will be back to your desk in a flash. If you are the one who never lends that helping hand, then everyone will know it.
Not Me, I Didn’t Do It.
When it comes to office supplies, the copy machine, printers, etc., don’t leave your fellow workers high and dry, cursing your name. If you use the last piece of paper in the printer or copy machine, go get more and fill it up. If you jam the printer, don’t leave it… get help to fix it. If you use the last highlighter, pen, binder, etc., make sure you follow company procedure to replenish the supplies. The key to not embarrassing yourself is to lend a helping hand.
Don’t get too big for your britches and think “That’s not my job. I don’t have time to worry about that right now. Someone else will take care of it…”
Be a leader and take the initiative to remedy the situation.
Dress To Impress
How you dress and function within the office environment go hand in hand. Dressing appropriately is a great way not to embarrass yourself. But with little money and high expectations, what do you do” The question really is, what don’t you do” Club clothes, tattoos, piercings, chipped nail polish, greasy hair, butt cracks, belly buttons, and cleavage top the list of what fellow employees and employers do NOT want to see. Enough said.
Don’t Embarrass Yourself
“Don’t engage in obviously inappropriate behavior: Don’t kick your feet up on your desk when you’re having a phone conversation unless you own the place. I worked with this guy who was an obnoxious rube. He would kick his boots up on his desk when he was having a phone call, would scream at people over the phone and cuss them out, would tell inappropriate jokes, arrived late and left early, and always had the sloppiest appearance. This guy was a complete %*#$@^ who was this crazy, living example of exactly how not to be in an office setting… and he was an architect.”
– Design firm owner
As you can see, there is a lot to think about when you are on the job that you may not think is related to the job. What you wear, what you eat, what you talk about, and how you clean up after yourself can all add up to an impression, a label, and a reputation. Be smart about how you interact with and react to your fellow officemates. A little thought can prevent life’s most embarrassing work moments.