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I Have No Privacy in my Office. Help!

Tatum SavageLast Updated: April 28, 2020
In our new series, re:work, we tackle the tough situations that arise when working as a team. From appropriate use of shared space, to getting quick answers from remote teammates, we’re breaking down what troubles you, and helping you fix it.

“Dear re:work,

I’m a new, junior professor at a large University, and share an office with another, senior professor. Recently, the other prof has been letting her adult son hang out in the office. Every time I go to hold weekly office hours, her son is there watching youtube. I’ve told him I have office hours at that time each week, and hinted that maybe he should find somewhere else to hangout but he’s not getting the hint. I’ve had to relocate to the office next door a few times now. I don’t know what to do! Can you help?


Wanting Privacy”

Submissions may have been edited for length and/or clarity. Submission was made before current isolation orders were in place.

Dear Wanting Privacy,

The first year, sometimes two, after starting a new job can be tough. Learning new skills, getting comfortable in your new role, establishing relationships with your colleagues… there’s a lot going on. But don’t worry; I’m here to help with this issue, and get you your office back!

Address the Problem Early

We’ve all been the new person at work before. You don’t want to ruffle feathers, step on toes, or do anything that might sour the relationship between you and your colleague. I know I’ve backed away from conflict countless times because I was scared of potential fallout. But here’s the thing —  sometimes conflict is necessary. When handled respectfully, it can even be great for both parties involved.

Typically, we don’t set comfortable boundaries when in new, uncertain situations. Instead we opt for what makes the other party happy. Without boundaries relationships can (and usually do) get messy. It’s best to reassess the situation, and address those problems before they become routine.

Know What You Want

Your office is your professional space. Since it’s not just for you, but also acts as a safe space for students, it’s important we reclaim it! If the issue was with a kid or a teenager, you would need to speak to the parent first. In this case, because he’s an adult, try speaking with him directly.

Here’s a few things to consider: What result do you really want? Do you just need them out of your hair during office hours? Or would you be more comfortable if they were never there? Make sure you’re honest with yourself about your needs: if you don’t want a distraction in your office, it’s okay to say it. If you’re fine with him being there most of the time, then be explicit about the hours he can’t be there, and explain why. He may not know the importance of private office hours.

Come to the Table with a Solution

I bet there’s a great foyer with couches in your building, a cute coffee shop close by, or you know of a sweet library nook. Offer him suggestions for places he could spend his time, instead of being in your office. Most campuses offer free wi-fi across campus too, so he should be able to do what he’s doing in your office anywhere. 

Have a Plan B

If he isn’t receptive to your brilliant, well thought out suggestions, then it’s time to snitch to his mom. Ask to grab a coffee or tea with her, and explain the situation. Be clear, and confident: the office is your space. Having private office hours isn’t a silly frivolous ask, it’s something you need to do your job. As long as you’re respectful and clear with your needs, and she’s a reasonable person, you’ll come to an understanding that’s good for both of you.

Dealing with your own weird, frustrating, or downright awful work situation, and need a little help? Email for a chance to be the subject of our next re:work piece.