The Washington Post

@Work Advice: A dispute over who controls the office space

(Deb Lindsey)

Reader: 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 anytime 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.

Karla: 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 Ober | Kaler.

Karla L. Miller is ready to hear your work dramas and traumas. Send your questions to You can also find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork, or Facebook.

Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. Miller, of South Riding, Va., was the winner of the 2011 @Work Advice Contest. E-mail your questions to Karla at



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