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modern ms manners: a note on office etiquette

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 37% of the Australian labour force were working as either professionals or in an administrative/clerical role as at August 2011. This means that about one in three Australian workers are operating within some sort of corporate office. I am one of those ‘one in three’.

Working in an office for a living, it can be hard at times to not feel like a drone. You go to the office in the morning, spend all day at your desk in your office within the office and at lunch time you head to the office staff room to speak with your office colleagues about all manners of office-based things. Then, at the end of a big office-confined day, you and your fellow colleagues leave the office for the day, ready to start it all again tomorrow.

I concede this is an oversimplification of many workplaces and I have no doubt that there is probably a lot more going on in people’s jobs. That said, I do feel there are certain office nuances that are universal across all corporate workplaces, irrespective of their profession. This inevitably means that there is a certain standard of behaviour that one should expect when working in an office. Having now been an office worker for approximately six years, I have some advice for those who might find themselves beginning to venture into an office career.

Your technology will almost always fail:

Computers can do wonderful things. You know this, I know this. However, there is something about having to rely on a computer in your office which will suddenly mean that this amazeballs piece of human ingenuity will stop functioning without reason. Be prepared for this to often happen in times of great emergency and/or stress. If you find yourself in this situation, do not panic. This is a great time to work out how to use that phone with all the crazy different extensions and attempt to contact your IT department.  Should your office fail to have an IT department on staff, I suggest asking one of your colleagues how to best deal with the situation. More often than not, they themselves have learnt the value of wiggling certain cables around that magical number of times which apparently fixes the problem.

Similarly, it is important to realise that your printer is predisposed to jamming. The sooner you accept this, the less stressed you will be when this happens every time you are rushing to get a brief in. Even if you work in a super fancy office which has been able to find money in the budget to invest in a flash, non-jamming printer, it will jam. Or at least it will think it is jammed, even though you have gone through all the troubleshooting screens several times and are yet to find the supposedly stuck piece of paper, despite now being covered in printer ink.

The reasons for this are unknown and subsequently provide great topics of conversation for water-cooler talk. It is important to try to keep your cool when confronted with these problems. Sure, there are times when we would all want to kick and scream and yell at our printer/computer/photocopier, but to people outside of the photocopy room, all this sounds like is that you are engaged in some sort of violent attack. Remember Natalie’s advice to Harry from In Bruges about getting frustrated over inanimate objects.

Develop a penchant for caffeinated drinks:

Not only will this help as you combat the increasingly unidentifiable mass of paper that is your in-tray, but it also provides an opportunity to get up out of your chair and stretch your legs. Use this time to mingle with any colleagues you see in the staff room. Take advantage of that earlier computer malfunction to strike up a conversation.

Avoid the temptation to swing on your office chair:

Remember, you are a grown up now and so it is important to maintain an element of professionalism in your day to day work. Besides, all you will end up doing is smashing your knees against the chest of drawers next to you. Trust me…

Keep the staff room clean:

I know you are really busy. I know the day has been hectic and that you are rushing to get things finished whilst the system is back online. But really, does that excuse you from failing to take that extra bit of effort in placing your dirty cup in the dishwasher, as opposed to just leaving it on the sink? Leaving melted food stuffs on the grill is also a no-no. You are not Jamie Oliver developing a delicious char on your gourmet barbecue.  What you are developing is an enticement for ants.

Sure, tidying up after yourself may not be a part of your job description, but I am pretty sure that unless you are actually working in a kitchen as a designated dish washer, it is not part of anyone’s job description. It is called being a courteous and fully functional human being who does not like mould.

Speaking of mould, you should probably not have any of this in your fridge unless you work with scientific specimens. A good rule of thumb is if something once was a solid and is now a liquid, it is probably okay to just throw it out.

By following the simple steps above, you will soon find yourself loving your office job as much as Michael Scott.

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