I’m currently sitting in an open plan office. It’s not my normal location. I know most of the people here, but there are some people that I don’t. Of the people that I don’t know that well two of them are having a conversation about me and about the role that I perform.
By the tone of the conversation they haven’t realised that the person sitting within earshot of them is the person that they are talking about. They aren’t saying anything particularly controversial, or even personal but they are talking in a way that they wouldn’t be if they knew I was listening in.
I’ve had this happen on a few occasions at different places. It’s become a symptom of the modern working environment. Long gone are the days when you would be assigned a desk and live at that desk with the same set of individuals for the rest of your career. I have at least four regular working locations and every time i go to them the people that I sit with are proportionally different to the last time I sat there.
It got me thinking – What is the ‘done thing’ in this situation? What is the etiquette?
I’m not likely to enter a location in a morning and introduce myself to everyone who I don’t know just so they know I’m there.
Also, if feels a little awkward for me to interrupt someone else’s conversation and insert myself into it just because they are talking about me. But it also feels a bit sinister for me to be listening to their conversation without letting them know I’m here. Either way there is some embarrassment involved.
Even if they weren’t talking about me directly how should I respond if they were talking about something that I know about?
The reverse is also a quandary. How many times have I had a discussion in the presence of the people involved in an issue without realising they were there. Should I really check first? But that would be a very irregular thing to do.
Are we in need of some location systems in offices so that tell us who is close by so we can check?
I’m also in the middle of an IM conversation with someone who I suspect is not too far away from me. We would normally just have a chat over the coffee machine but we’ve never actually met. Again, it seems a bit eccentric to ask someone on IM to raise their hand so I can work out which one of the people I can see that they are.
Perhaps I’m over thinking it, but it does feel like we need some kind of new office etiquette.