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Career Q&A: Personal space at office

Q: An elite team was placed next to my office/lab. They are supposed to save the company by finding ways to streamline procedures. The people from the team recognize no boundaries. We lab rats try to be good neighbors, but those folks wander over any time and set up meetings in one of our offices —if it's empty, they think they can use it. They don't even ask, or say "Good morning."

It's becoming more intrusive. Today, they wanted to stash furniture in our space because they needed the room — and, oh, yes, they would retrieve it as soon as possible. They never did. I wanted to put all their stuff outside, but my colleagues advised against it. My question is how to enforce polite boundaries with people who think they are entitled to my space as well as their own. And, yes, the company thinks they are the greatest.

A: Strictly speaking, when it comes to the office, "my space" encompasses your epidermis and anything fastened thereto. The facilities, unless specifically restricted, are there for the use of everyone hired by the company. So forget about marking your territory; in terms of property ownership, you're a serf.

Granted, in practice, we all bristle when "our" workspace is invaded. Further, it's obnoxious of your neighbors to hold meetings in an assigned office without even the courtesy of a heads-up to the regular occupant. But instigating a border dispute, even politely, is not going to win you any points with management or the favored ones.

That's not to say that your only option is to sit and mutter helplessly as boxes are piled around you, like Milton in the movie Office Space. You can ask management to designate an unoccupied conference room as the elite team's HQ — you know, for their privacy and convenience. If the stored furniture is hampering your group's work, get management's permission to relocate it to another (indoor) location unless the Leets want to move it to their own preferred site. If you work with confidential files or sensitive information, ask to have a lock installed on your office door to protect the company's assets, not "your" space.

The common factor in these suggestions: securing support from the ones who have final say over how the space is used.

(There are less-professional deterrents — missing light bulb, "biohazard" sign on door, opened sardine tin in trash can — but it would be irresponsible of me even to suggest them.)

As for pleasantries, you can always lob the first "Good morning." When outside teams are brought in to "streamline" things, being on their good side isn't a bad idea.

Thanks to Sharon Snyder, of the Ober Kaler law firm.

Temp needs a few good references

Q: In several years of temping, I've unfortunately worked closely with people who would be risky or negative references. When I do find friendly people who know my work and are willing to be references, I can't find a full-time job opening for months, so the references never get used. The person in charge at my agency said I have up to a year before they go stale. How can I explain having few references?

A: Fill your Rolodex with anyone who can vouch for your skills and character. Just make sure you call the people first to remind them who you are, and make sure their offer still stands.

If any of those "risky" references try to shiv you somehow, your collection of positive reviews should make clear that the problem is with the naysayers, not you.

(Er … it is them and not you, right? Either way, you might want to come up with a non-defensive defense, in case an interviewer hears something negative from a detractor and asks you about it.)

Karla Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. She is on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork

Career Q&A: Personal space at office 04/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 7:49pm]

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