12 Things Not to Do in Communal Workplace Spaces

12 Things Not to Do in Communal Workplace Spaces

I’ve talked (gabbed) with you before about annoying workplace habits and toxic people personalities, but there are darker themes to explore in the workplace. I have no choice. The time is now. Behavior in the shared AKA “Communal” areas. I’m venturing into this territory. Here I’m talking about communal spaces where all are entitled to expect cleanliness and good (decent maybe even?) manners. Are you ready to go with me to the rest room, the closets and the kitchen?

Why go there, you may be wondering? Well, I was in a very so-called Kewl Software Ninja Company (No name dropping allowed) where the behavior was so “bad news” and the fallout among employees so severe it was obvious the topic would hit a nerve. Apparently some people were raised by wolves, and it’s time we talk about it. (Note to self: If you recognize something you’ve done here, you need to make some changes, STAT.) Remember: in the workplace, it’s not about you. It’s about the team. As the National Lampoon said, ‘You Are a Fluke of the Universe, You Have No Right to be Here.’ Hum along while we go where few have gone before.

In today’s less-formal “hipster” workplaces – especially small offices – it’s necessary to do a lot of sharing. Many of us still resent the fact that our parents made us share stuff as kids – Malibu Barbie, Legos, that favorite Teddy bear, Nintendo, our fav Apple iTunes. So we may resist sharing. We may decide to act as though we’re the only ones in the office. Um, bad move. Here are 12 things no one wants you to share. Take notes and discuss amongst yourselves. We’ll work from the relatively benign to the truly horrific to get you in the right frame of mind.

1. Dirty Clothes in the Wokplace Entry Closet

Many offices have a lobby for guests. The lobby has closets. DO NOT put your dirty clothes there. For example, the khakis you wore when a client came in and then shed in favor of shorts – take them home and wash them. Every wearing requires a wash. Don’t try to pretend that they were hardly worn; everyone in the office knows better. Why do you think you’re the only one who uses that closet? And while we’re at it: lose the shorts. Really.

2. Dirty Clothes in Your Office: Same deal. So just deal.

Keeping an old suit coat hanging behind the door may seem like a good idea, but think of the wearings that garment has seen between cleanings. Trust us, it does not smell fresh. Check the immediate area and count the number of Febreeze cans on co-workers’ desks – it’s time to take that sucker home.

3. Shoes: Same Book, Different Chapter.

It’s ok to have a pair of dress shoes for client emergencies, but gym sneakers or boat shoes not so much. Anything you wear a lot carries a bit of you around – what we call pong. This is not a good thing in any environment (why do you think your dog likes your sneakers so much?) Anything that carries eau de you shouldn’t be left in a shared space.

4. Slacker Slacks

While we’re on a wardrobe kick…Do you really think we’re all so stupid we don’t realize those black slacks are your only pair? So do the analysis: wearing them every day will be a problem for others (see #3 for pong.) Buy more or start doing wash every day. There are limits to the olfactory assault others can tolerate.

5. Using the Facilities

Kitchen first. In a shared space, you need to pick up after yourself. That translates to wash your own dishes. You might have your partner or spouse bamboozled at home but it won’t work here. Trust me, no one wants to share by washing your fork or greasy bowl, thank you very much.

6. Coffee-Maker Courtesy

Remember how excited everyone was when the company got the coffee pod machine? Now it’s a curse, because someone (I wonder who?) leaves a used pod in the machine. Throw the damn thing away. It’s used, and you should just not share some things.

7. Water Rationings

One thing I’ve noticed about the coffee machine water reservoir. Oddly enough, it doesn’t fill itself. There are no elves in the office. That means you should fill it when it’s getting low. Remember, many hands make light work.

8. Ah, the Workplace Kitchen Sink.

Let me guess: you had a macaroni and cheese micro-meal for lunch. So kind of you to share by leaving residue in the sink and a mucked-up sponge. This goes beyond bad manners into nauseating. Repeat after me: I must pick up after myself.

9. Wastebaskets

If they are full, dispose of them and get a new one. Again, no elves are there to take care of this.

IntermissionHere’s where things could get really ugly: the shared bathroom. If your office has an en suite bathroom, it’s a convenience – or it could be a Danger Zone, especially if it’s a unisex facility.

10. Stuff Left in the Sink

Preen all you want Rock Star, but clean up afterward please. Your face powder, dental floss, hair and toothpaste have no place in the bathroom once you’ve vacated. Wipe the sink out and while you’re at it wipe down the counter. Don’t squirt liquid soap all over everything and leave it there for someone else to deal with, either.

11. Stuff Left on the Sink

You may think you’re a swell kid for bringing in an industrial-size bag of dental floss picks, or a huge can of hairspray, but no.

These things are marketed as personal care products. Note the personal, it’s a key concept. By all means bring your grooming aids to work – just keep them in your desk when not in use.

12. No Way Around This: If You Use the Facilities, Make Sure They Are Clean

If you make a mess, clean it up. Be liberal with the Lysol spray and the Clorox wipes. They’re inexpensive. Don’t forget the floor, the mirror, the sink, and anything else you touched. Have a problem with this? Remember your mother lecturing you on this topic when you were 5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12 and 13, and the shame of it. Remember the day you finally clued in. This is really no different, except your Mom’s not there – your co-workers are.

Phew, I wasn’t sure how I was going to say that!

Seriously, people, you’re part of a team, and teams usually fall apart over the small stuff, not the big stuff. A little consideration and a lot of good manners will go a long way with your “so called” BFFs/friends/colleagues.

Any Thoughts?

Photo courtesy of Garry Knight, used under creative commons. Some rights reserved.

Meghan M. Biro


Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognized leader in talent strategy and a pioneer in building the business case for brand humanization. Founder of TalentCulture and a serial entrepreneur, Meghan creates successful ventures by navigating the complexities of career and workplace branding. In her practice as a social recruiter and strategist, Meghan has placed hundreds of individuals with clients ranging from Fortune 500s to the most innovative software start-up companies in the world, including Google, Microsoft and emerging companies in the social technology and media marketplace. Meghan is an accomplished consultant who has helped hundreds of individuals in all levels in the organization (V,C level executives, mid-career, mid-level managers, software architects and recent college graduates) and across generations (Gen Y to baby boomers), develop effective career strategies that propel them to achieve personal and professional success. Meghan is a speaker, practitioner, author, blogger and mentor who is passionate about the subjects of leadership, recruiting, workplace culture, social community, branding, and social media in HR. She is Founder and co-host of two Twitter Chats: "#TChat, The World of Work", a long-standing weekly chat and radio show and #HRTechChat, both communities dedicated to addressing the business needs of the rapidly evolving people-technology landscape. Meghan is an avid social community builder who is inspired by connecting the people and talent dots. Meghan is a regular columnist at Forbes and Glassdoor and her ideas are often quoted, featured on top publications such as CBS Moneywatch, Monster, Dice and various other HR, Social Media and Leadership hubs of your choice.

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