should other people be allowed to use your office when you’re out? by Alison Green on June 5, 2013 A reader writes: I have a private office. When I am out on travel, I get back to find out that visitors were allowed to use my office. Yesterday, when I got back, the door was open, my keyboard was moved, my chair was adjusted, and a pen was left there. There was an email midweek canceling a staff meeting because of visitors, so I am speculating that could’ve been why. But we have a visitor cube available for that purpose. I’m extremely busy and I have sensitive information kept out. (I work for a large defense contractor and have been traveling a lot to support a “sensitive” project. Documents pertaining to that project were sitting on my desk.) I closed my door when I left and wasn’t expecting “visitors.” We do not have keys to our own offices, so I can’t lock it when I leave. What is the standard office etiquette? Are private offices “open” for others when out? Is it reasonable to expect private offices be “private”? I’m mainly interested in what the general etiquette is concerning usage of offices before I say anything. It really varies from workplace to workplace. In some workplaces, using someone’s office without their permission would be no big deal; in others, it would be tantamount to entering someone’s home while they were away, using their toothbrush, and sleeping in their bed. So, as is often the case, it really comes down to what the norm is at a particular workplace. However, in your case, the fact that you do sensitive work and might have sensitive documents around changes things — you have a legitimate reason for wanting to protect your space. I’d talk with your manager and say something like, “Is there any protocol for using offices when someone is out? It looks like someone used my office while I was away last week, and I’m concerned because I had a number of sensitive documents related to X out. Is there an alternative to that happening in the future?” (Of course, the answer might be to put your sensitive documents away when you leave work, which might be good practice regardless.) Alternately, if the issue wasn’t about confidential work material and instead was about just not wanting anyone in your space, then you’d approach it a little differently. You might say something like this: “How do we normally handle it when a visitor to the office needs a space to work? It looks like someone was using my desk while I was out last week, and I wasn’t sure if that was normal or not.” Then, if the response is, “Yeah, we needed a place to put them and the visitor cube was in use,” then generally you’d suck it up and accept that it’s reasonable for your employer to use their own resources — which include the physical space where you sit — when it’s needed and you’re not there. The exception to that would be if you have some legitimate reason for why they shouldn’t, like the example of confidential documents above, or allergies so sensitive that the visitor’s lingering perfume is making you ill, or so forth … and in that case, you’d explain that and see if it can be handled differently in the future. You may also like:internal visitors are booking up all our conference roomswhat’s the etiquette for closing your office door?can we ban smelly foods in the office microwave?