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Tips for working harmoniously in a shared office environment – just in case you’ve forgotten

So, we’re going to be working together again… or, for some of us, for the first time ever. While the majority will have distant memories of what office working used to be like pre‑COVID, there is a whole generation out there who have yet to step foot in a physical office space. And – let’s face it – a lot of things that were acceptable when working from home (pyjamas as workwear, blaring out your favourite choons at top volume and experimenting with those new Korean face masks you ordered from Amazon), just aren’t going to cut it when sharing an office space with your colleagues. So, peel off that sheet mask and dust off your smart-casual attire; here are some tips for returning to (and thriving in) a shared office environment.

Know when to speak and when not to speak

It’s probably safe to say that one thing almost everyone will have missed about the office is the general banter. While it’s understandable that you and your work mates have some catching up to do, there’s a time and a place. Indulging in a chinwag about banana bread recipes over a morning coffee? Absolutely. Comparing home schooling horror stories during your lunch break? Go for it! Shouting out Line of Duty conspiracy theories across a quiet office? Maybe not. Similarly, while it’s totally fine and expected to take business calls at your desk, you may wish to step away for calls of a more personal nature (nobody really wants to hear a discussion with your other half about whether to go with the salmon or chicken for dinner, unless you plan on inviting the rest of the team over too).

Bring some earphones

Did you know that earphones are actually your best friend and serve multiple functions in the office? 1) They allow you to listen to your favourite music without forcing everyone else to do the same. Slipknot, Swedish House Mafia or Spice Girls; whatever your preference, earphones mean you can listen at your own leisure without getting anyone’s back up. 2) Depending on the quality, earphones also offer noise cancellation – for those aforementioned ‘office banter’ sessions that you don’t particularly want to participate in. 3) Having your earphones in automatically acts as an unofficial ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. How many times have you thought about going up to someone but then reconsidered once you saw they had their earphones plugged in? Earphones automatically deter anyone wishing to interrupt you for an idle chat – and hopefully you’ll think twice before doing the same to anyone else.

Be considerate with your food

This is a tricky one, and something that everyone will undoubtedly have an opinion on. Yes, you should be free to eat whatever you want wherever you want, but please be mindful of other people’s sensitive noses. Really fancy that seafood risotto or blue cheese sandwich for lunch (no judgment here)? Spare a thought for your poor neighbour who may be too polite to mention their aversion to the smell. Such foods are probably best kept to the designated kitchen area (if you’re lucky enough to have one). And if that isn’t an option, then at the very least, give your neighbours a heads up and – for Pete’s sake – open a window. They’ll definitely appreciate it.

Respect the office space

This is a simple one: don’t leave your crap everywhere. It’s your right to have whatever you like on your desk, but do try to limit it to your desk/locker. People don’t want to be tripping over your bags or coat, and while you may be a devoted Belieber (if you know, you know), it’s probably best to limit your obsession to a screensaver on your monitor rather than an A1-sized poster on the wall.

Be responsible for what you use

A shared office space means exactly that – shared. This means sharing everything from office supplies to kitchen utensils. Once you’re done using something, put it back where it belongs. There’s nothing worse than going on a hunt for a pair of scissors only to find all three pairs stashed away on Timmy’s desk. Same goes for mugs. And here’s a thought – if you happen to use the last staple in the stapler, why not refill it before putting it back in the cupboard? These simple niceties can go a long way in winning your colleagues over.

So, while there’s sadly no alternative for being able to work in your pyjamas, small acts of consideration towards one another will hopefully make venturing back into the office a smoother transition for all. As for the commute? Well, I’m afraid you’re on your own for that one.