In my storied office worker past, I have held many roles, mostly administrative in nature and all involving helping others. In interviews, my favorite question is usually “What do you like least about your job” or “What do you not like to do?” My answer has held steady for over 15 years with “file.” It’s simple, relatable and though growing increasingly outdated, relevant. I haven’t met anyone who heard me say that and didn’t at least chortle. Honestly, who enjoys filing?
In my current role, I am the closest thing to an office manager my unit has, bestowing upon me all the fame and glory that goes with it. I am the giver of supplies, the counselor of dilemmas, the harasser for timesheets and the fount of all knowledge surrounding your time off balance. I am the Office Mom and I am in your face from onboarding to the day you win the lottery and don’t show up to work.
Unfortunately, I have also become the one who cleans out the desk of any of those aforementioned lottery winners and I am here to tell you that one of the most thankless jobs one can do is clean out a colleague’s desk.
I am the Laura Croft of desk space. I have found spare change, unwrapped candy, expired food, orphan earrings, moldy shoes, presumably used tissues, previously helpful band-aids, and mystery fluids. I have learned to use gloves.
I promise you I searched for a Lara Croft image for that, but I can assure you that was completely NSFW.
My opinion of my colleagues gets lower with each desk I clean. Admittedly, I am a neat person and I like to work in a neat environment. I take apart my desk and clean my workspace at least once a month. It would be more, but I don’t want my colleagues thinking I’m as nutty as I am. It’s not that time consuming because I don’t have mountains of paper, food containers, or random junk sprawling across the surface intended to be available for productive uses of my time. I honestly don’t know where people learn how to function like this, but I recognize we all have our own way.
We recently had an intern join us for the next six months. He is smart, well-mannered and just darling. <Not an HR-approved descriptor, btw. We’ve been throwing him random tips on how to navigate life in our office and joking about how he’ll learn all this once he’s become a cog in the almighty machine, but I have to wonder, does anyone actually learn how to be in an office?
Just today I was cleaning out yet another desk from a colleague who didn’t win the lottery, but did change units, affording her new digs elsewhere in the building. As I was cleaning out the files she indicated to be left in our unit, I came across a wad of tissue taped to a piece of paper in a file folder dated 2009.
Have you stopped gagging yet?
I wasted no time in sharing this with those in the area as well as a hearty, “Come on people!” This was the final tissue. I cannot sit idly by and watch another generation go without some basic office training.
I present to you now, my Best Practices for Office Life:
- Please do not eat your highly odiferous food at your desk unless you can close your door. None of us want your salmon mingling with his shwarma.
- Please do not handle important documents while eating. You WILL spill something. It WILL make a mark and it WILL be there five years later.
- Please do not file the Post-It your boss put on that document that asks you to “Please file.” Take it off and recycle it. “Please file” is not IRS worthy documentation.
- Please do not add more than three or four people to an email. We get that you want to cover your bum, but let’s be real. The other seven people you included don’t care and will probably use this as an example of how often you abuse the CC line. If you need more than that, schedule a meeting, conference call and video call.
- Limit your use of speakerphone. If you are in a cube environment or keep your office door open, PICK UP THE PHONE. None of us want to hear your call. None of it. Not even the .5 seconds it takes the other person to say “Hello?” from the other side.
- If the copier or networked printer is jammed, tell someone. Don’t just walk away and hope the repair fairies figure it out. Better yet, if it’s doing “something funny,” leave a sample of what it did so the repair technician can see it instead of listening to some third hand account of your foolishness.
- If you spilled it, you clean it. Your mama does not work here and she is not cleaning up after you. Unless she does, in which case, impress your mama and show her you listened all those years.
- Make another pot of coffee. Unless it is the last hour of the day your office is open or there are only two of you in that day, if you take the last cup of coffee you best start brewing another pot. If you don’t know how, impress the admin staff by asking them to teach you so you can pitch in. Everyone likes the guy who makes the coffee.
- Same goes for office supplies. If you took the second to last one of something, tell someone. Don’t leave some mystery note on the door hoping someone will find it, either. Find the person who either does the ordering or knows who does the ordering and tell them there are only X many left in the stash-o-supplies. Give them enough time to replenish so the next time you’re looking for something it’s actually there to find.
- Be kind to the administrative staff, whether they report to you or not. These people put up with things you would not believe and do it with grace. They see what you do and how you act. They talk. They are there to make you look good…or very, very bad, and you’ll never see it coming.