Did you share a bedroom as a child or a dorm room in college? Think back. How many arguments resulted from sharing that one small, common space? Sharing an office can be equally as difficult. Read on for tips you can use to improve your relationship with your office mate, or make a good relationship even better!
How to organize and set up a shared office
Offices come in all shapes and sizes, but any space can be used efficiently with some planning, organizing, and communication. Here are some questions to consider.
- How big is the space? If possible, divide it evenly between the two of you. This could mean dividing the space using furniture (for example, placing a file cabinet or bookcase between your desks) or agreeing on who will use which areas of the room, and which areas will be shared space. My office mate and I share a large bookcase for our files, binders, and miscellaneous supplies, but we also each have our own separate file cabinet and a shelf above our desks.
- What seating arrangement will work best? Avoid a setup that has you and your office mate facing each other if possible. Whether your workspaces are in opposite corners or next to each other on the same wall, this creates a measure of privacy in a small space and minimizes the distraction of face to face contact.
- Is there a window? If so, how can you fairly decide who gets to soak up the natural light? Several years ago, I moved into an office with one window and three coworkers. Instead of squabbling over who got the desk in front of the window, we decided based upon seniority.
- Do you have control of the environment? Find ways to compromise on thermostat setting, lighting, and any other environmental factors. My office mate happens to run far more warm-blooded than I do, so instead of shivering away in my corner, I ask her if she’d mind my turning up the heat a degree or two. Most of the time, she’s completely fine with it.
- How can you make your space your own? Organize, decorate, and make it comfortable for you. Even if your office mate is an admitted slob, you can keep your space neat and organized.
How to manage conversations
Whether you’re paired with a chatterbox, a shy introvert, or someone in between, chances are, you will run into issues surrounding conversation in a shared office. Here are some common challenges and how to deal with them.
If you share an office with someone who has the gift of gab, it can be hard to focus and get your work done.
They serve as a deterrent to conversation, since you need to physically remove them from your ears and ask the talker to repeat herself each time she speaks to you. They also help to drown out the noise if your office mate is speaking with someone on the phone.
It can be frustrating when you are desperately trying to meet a deadline or finish a project and your office mate keeps interrupting to chat. In this situation, try saying something like “I really need to finish this, but I’d love to hear more about your dog’s birthday party later.”
If your office mate still doesn’t take the hint, ignore her. Work relationships are important, but so is your job.
Strong opinions and beliefs
Tread carefully if you find that you and your office mate disagree on politics, religion, or any other charged topic. Difficult as it may be, resist making your point or trying to convince your office mate of the error of her ways. It just isn’t worth the fallout.
Does your office mate seem to take pleasure in tearing you down or make comments that chip away at your confidence? Or perhaps she spends so much time complaining that it brings you down, too. In my experience, the best ways to deal with either of these issues are to ask direct questions (for example, “Why do you say that?” or “What can you do to make things better?) Ignore the comments as best you can. If necessary, involve a supervisor. No one deserves to work in a hostile environment.
How to build rapport
Building rapport is one of the quickest ways to forge a great relationship. The following are some fairly easy ways to bond with your office mate.
Find some common ground
I happen to share an office with someone who is almost thirty years my senior. Not only is there a fairly large age gap, but we have different religious beliefs and political leanings. One of the first things we bonded over; however, was our shared Norwegian heritage. From surnames to lutefisk, we had a lot to discuss! So ask questions and get to know each other. You never know what you might have in common.
Give genuine compliments
If your office mate has a natural gift for making people feel at ease, tell her so. If she runs marathons, tell her how impressed you are. Only rarely have I met someone who doesn’t appreciate, and often reciprocate, a genuine compliment.
Help out when you can
Doing a small favor for your office mate can go a long way toward building rapport. I’ve offered to take on small projects when my office mate is swamped, helped her with computer questions, and given her rides a few times. And she has more than returned these favors.
Laugh at yourself. Laugh at the job. Laugh at life! I once tripped and fell flat on my face while walking to the printer to retrieve some documents. I wasn’t hurt at all, and laughed so hard, one of my coworkers had to help me up. And then she started laughing! Even if your office mate doesn’t join in, you’ll lighten things up for yourself and probably feel better about the situation as a result.
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