People Walk Behind My Receptionist Desk

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about invasion of work space:

I am the receptionist. People in the office use the back of my desk as a walk way. The back of my desk is not a walkway. How can I stop them from doing this?

Signed, Uncomfortable

Dear Uncomfortable:

I’m picturing your workspace and think you mean that employees use the space that is behind your desk and also behind your back, to walk from one part of the office to another, rather than walking in front of your desk and around. Talk to your manager about this concern and ask her (could be a him, but I’ll say “her” to make it easier to write) to do some thinking with you about how to stop the traffic behind your desk. Your workspace is part of her responsibility and your work effectiveness is as well. Have a few points about why you don’t like the traffic (it distracts you from work, it startles you on occasion, the noise disrupts phone calls, it allows people to see your computer screen, which may contain private information, etc.

I have noticed that the computer screen is the main reason people don’t like employees walking behind their desks, but the other reasons may be an issue as well and should be pointed out to your manager. The next thing to consider is if the area behind your desk looks like a walkway to most people. For example, if it’s a fairly clear area, doesn’t require them to brush up against your chair, and is a direct route to someplace, they may not see it as an issue to walk there. You may need to think of a way to make it less easy to use.

Your office configuration may be set to the point that you can’t easily make changes, but if you can, try a few:

1. Lengthen your desk (and the protection around your chair) by putting a bookcase or some other item there, thus requiring people to go around the bookcase or table if they want to walk in that area. If you can do that on both sides, it becomes obvious that the area is your working space, not a walkway.

2. Make it even more definite by making an L shape with the side and a partial back, extending into the area where they usually walk.

3. Move your desk area back, so there is more space in front than in back.

4. Position a plant or a chair in an artful way, to block part of the walkway.

5. Put a fan or file cabinet there, or use something else that will get people out of the habit of having that be a path. For example, if you put a few boxes of files there, to “work on”, they could probably stay there a long time and maybe break the habit. What you want to avoid is the petty way that some people handle it, where they don’t work with their managers, they just decide on their own that they’re going to change things. They usually end up having to change it back, lose face and don’t get what they wanted. In addition, if it’s not handled in a professionally respectful way, some people who are NOT professional or respectful will walk behind your desk just to prove they can. Work with your manager, don’t take this on yourself, unless you have no other choice. You’ll be much better off if others champion your cause. Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe