We’ve all seen them in the workplace… the co-workers who just have to flit from one cubicle to another to have their audience for whatever it is they need to interrupt you and others for, because what they have to say is always more important than any work you may be involved with. You unknowingly may be one or have been the victim of one.
Such on-the-job social butterflies rarely consider their sudden presence at your cube as an “interruption”—unless you specifically tell them that it is.
I am a morning person, and when I worked as a manager, I needed the quiet of early morning hours to write, edit, or plan out meetings and “to do” lists for myself and my team. I do my best work from early in the morning to about 2pm, and then I hit the doldrums.
Early in my career when cube crawlers interrupted my work, that’s time I didn’t get back, which sometimes forced me to work through lunch, work late, or take work home. I later learned the only way to prevent such occurrences is to politely nip it in the bud early before it becomes a habit. Once it’s a habit with such people, it becomes part of their—and your—routine.
Most people realize intuitively the opportunities for socializing during work hours: getting coffee at the community pot, in the lunchroom getting a snack or having lunch, at the networked printer or copier—wherever people naturally gather in “common” areas. Your cubicle/office should not be one of those places on a regular basis.
Once you allow a so-called cubicle crawler to establish a presence, don’t be surprised if it turns into an infestation. Other cubicle crawlers have this uncanny knack for discovering new feeding grounds and pretty soon you have a crowd gathering.
It’s not as though these folks don’t have work to do; it’s just that their daily need for social interaction early in the morning (or any other time during the day) seems to outweigh your need for arriving at work early—to get work done. While such inconsiderate behavior may be oblivious to the offending party, others may notice it for what it is. Your submitting to these interruptions could be perceived as willful cooperation by others, so the best approach is to tactfully explain your reasons for coming to work early or for just not being open to interruptions when you are at work in your cubicle or office.
If you think you may have such tendencies, please respect the work habits of others; their presence at work is not for your indulgence. If you are being bothered by such behavior, the sooner you initiate the request to stop the interruptions, the quicker the situation becomes a non-issue for everyone involved.
My first experience with a cube crawler was a former supervisor of mine when I worked in the oil business. He walked the hallways with a mouthful of chewing tobacco and spit cup in one hand, looking for an opportunity to park himself in someone’s office and become an unwelcome addition to the existing office furniture. His topic of conversation typically focused on off-color subjects. I discovered that the quickest way to have him to leave my office was to ask a geology- or geophysics-related question, or to spread out my geologic maps on the work table and show him what I’d been working on. You could almost feel the breeze from the wake he created while exiting my office. Too bad he rarely took his spit cup with him on the way out. Eventually, everyone in the group developed coping mechanisms to keep this supervisor out of their offices.
My last experience was with a hiring consultant who was the first one in the office every morning at 6 am; my mistake was being the second person in the office right after him. You’d think this person would know better or have caught on early through my polite hints that I was busy from the moment I sat down at my desk. But no, he barely gave me time to turn on the computer and check email before he was at my cube with “Whatcha got goin’ on today?”
If I simply acknowledged him without turning around at my desk, he would stand there looking out the office window and tell me what the weather was going to do for the next few days, putting the Weather Channel forecasts to shame. I either had to tell him I was too busy to chat or eventually he would get the message himself that I was in fact focusing on my work.
He got the nickname “coffee room troll” because as soon as anyone walked in the small coffee room near his cube, he was out of it in a flash trying to chat up another victim who only wanted some caffeine to kick-start his or her morning in solitude. He did cause some concern once when he would note when people arrived at work. He would corner them in the coffee room or hallway and say, “Looks like you got a late start this morning…you didn’t get your first cup of coffee until 8:35 when you usually get it at 8:17…” or “Are you keeping banker’s hours? You didn’t flip on the lights until 6:45 when you usually turn them on at 6:37…” That kind of attention was enough to warrant a conversation with upper management about that type of behavior. Soon after, his contract was terminated on the spot.
For the first few weeks, you’ll be under the microscope to see how well you fit into the team dynamic and the office or corporate culture. Focus on the criteria that helps you strengthen your personal brand and your place on the team.