can you ask for your own office as part of negotiating a job offer?

A reader writes:

Is it okay to ask for an office when negotiating a job offer, and if so, how should I go about bringing it up? I can absolutely (and truthfully) justify needing one for work reasons, as my new job will be very very reading-heavy and the best way for me to maintain the speed and efficiency at which I typically read is to be able to shut the door on the office buzz for an hour or two a day.

For some background, it’s an early-to-mid-level professional position, I’d be relocating to the opposite coast, and I’ve got a decent (but not super great, as it’s a huge and competitive company) negotiating position as they’re looking for a specific skill and contact combination that not many have given how small the industry community is. What are your thoughts?

Sure, you can absolutely ask for that.

You might not get it, depending on the employer, but it’s completely reasonable to ask. If a spare office isn’t available, or if the next spare office is slated to someone with a greater need or more seniority, or if it would cause issues to give an office to you but not to others at your level, then they might tell you no …. but again, there’s nothing wrong with asking.

I’d start by asking, “Can you tell me about where I’d be working? Would I be in a private office or a shared space?” If they tell you it will be a shared space, you could then say, “Would it be possible to give me a private office? This type of work often requires concentration to read, and I’ve found that having a private, quiet space makes the job easier and lets me focus and get more done.”

Keep in mind, of course, that even if they say yes, things change … and it’s possible that after three months on the job, some sort of of horrible reorganization will occur and you’ll end up in a cube or other undesirable location anyway. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try this — plenty of the time it will work and it will be a permanent arrangement — but do be aware that this stuff is to some degree tenuous.

{ 29 comments… read them below }

  1. Joey

    I’ve seen people successfully negotiate for:

    A really nice leather office chair
    A huge computer monitor
    A Mac when everyone else has a pc
    Specific gadgets like an iPhone, an iPad, surface pro
    Better office furniture
    A take home vehicle
    Paid parking

    Of course the more difficult your position is to fill or the more you can justify a business need the more you can ask for.

  2. Runon

    You might also want to think about being able to work from home sometimes. Might be another option for those times when you need quiet to be able to read or work with significant focus. And I’d suggest trying to make sure it is an option even if they give you an office because that could change.

    1. NatalieR

      Definitely, this. If I have a complex budget or other project that requires uninterrupted concentration, I try to work on those at home. I can knock out in two hours the same work that would take me four or five at the office. Plus there is a French press and velvet couch at home.

  3. OliviaNOPE

    I agree with Runon, ask about some work from home options too. I’ve always had my own office in every job I’ve ever worked because I work in management and my new director just moved me into a cube office with other mid-level management staff and it is extremely difficult to get any quiet time.

    1. Windchime

      Cubicles are a drag. Managers at my place of work are only slightly sympathetic when we complain about noisy co-workers. I even had one say, “Oh, I know. I had to close my office door so I could hear myself think!”.

      I wanted to say, “Yeah. That must be rough. I feel bad for you.” But really I was just wishing that I had a door. Offices with doors are reserved for Managers on up. Everyone else is in cubes, programmers mixed in with chatty trainers and project managers. Good times.

  4. Polly Anna

    One thing to be aware of (though this shouldn’t discourage you from asking for the office!) is whether or not the previous person in the position had a private office and how it might impact your colleagues’ perception of you as a team player if you get one when your predecessor did not. I once worked in a place where all the employees were sat three and four to a room across three connected rooms. My manager sat in the open area with everyone else, which I think contributed to her having great relationships with her direct reports: she was sitting right there with us, easily accessible for our quick questions, and so on. We were a VERY quiet bunch who chatted very little because we understood that everyone around us was working (we would frequently use AIM to discuss things with a coworker two desks away to avoid disturbing others), but she was always a part of the limited social banter in the morning when folks were arriving or around lunchtime, etc.

    After she left, her successor (an external hire) requested a private office, and in order to accommodate his request, he was given a room that had previously housed four employees, and the three extra desks were crammed (somewhat uncomfortably) into the remaining rooms. It fostered a lot of resentment among the junior staff both for the inconvenience of being packed into smaller spaces, as well as the sentiment that this new manager wasn’t “one of us” or “on our team” the way the previous manager had been. We also didn’t quite buy that he needed the peace and quiet of the private office given how quiet our open office was, so we assumed he wanted the private office purely for the status and considered himself “too good” to sit with us.

    Looking back I’ve always regretted the way my coworkers and I handled the transition to the new manager, because we had loved our old manager so much that we really didn’t give the new manager much of a chance, and we resented him so much that we made his work a lot more difficult. At the same time, I think it would have gone a long way for the new manager to have had some kind of casual chat with us to make sure we felt like he was still part of our team, we could knock on his door whenever we needed him, and so on. He wouldn’t have had to actually DO much differently, but just having the informal chat could have potentially really changed our view of him and kept us from Othering him so much.

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      Totally off topic, but did you read Zenna Henderson in your childhood? Your phrase “kept us from Othering him so much” just strongly reminded me of her writing.

      1. FD

        OMG SOMEONE ELSE WHO KNOWS ZENNA HENDERSON’S BOOKS?!?!?

        (Othering is sort of a ‘hot topic’ word in the social sciences right now, though–roughly referring to the process of being seen as different or not part of the group, and often by extent, lesser. I believe it usually refers to how minorities become minorities.)

          1. FD

            Yes, I wish she’d written more! I wore out my grandfather’s old paperback copies (you know the kind, the one that was printed on that cheap rag paper that have the rough feel and that lovely *smell*) and have the reprinted collection. Ingathering, I think it’s called? Not sure, it isn’t handy. Nothing quite matches those old paperbacks though…

    2. Julie

      I’m not trying to criticize you or your team – I can completely understand feeling resentful, but as I was reading your post, I was thinking that the new manager may have asked for the private office without knowing that people would be crammed together in order to make it happen, and he might also not have known that your team was usually very quiet.

  5. Jamie

    Something to keep in mind if they say no, but you still want the job, is that there may be an empty conference room or other vacant quiet space you can use for a couple of hours per day.

    A lot of times this comes down to something a lot less interesting than politics or negotiating skills and it’s just limited by the open plans of most workplaces now. There may not be any to give.

    1. Chinook

      If you are going to use a conference room to work in, though, please book it through the required channels. I used to have to coordinate meeting rooms and there was nothing more annoying than someone showing up for a scheduled meeting to find that someone else had already camped out in the room for the day (it is doubly worse if they have a client with them). Even if you are cooperative and apologetic, there is still lost time for the person who followed the right procedures.

      Plus, if you ask the person who oversees the meeting room schedules nicely, they may be able to tell you which room is the least popular and/or coordinate it so that one room can be available for you all day when they are not needed. Brownies can help the process.

      1. Meg

        This feature is integrated with Outlook if you decide to use it. It allows us (500+ staffed in my center alone, and there’s 27 centers/institutions on campus) to see what rooms are taken and when, and we can block off conference rooms (and auditoriums) as they are available. Nifty feature.

        1. Chinook

          I agree that, if it is being used, the Outlook “schedule resources” feature is handy (just like so much of that program).

          On the downside, you can’t bribe it with brownies or cupcakes to rearrange a few bookings to free up a room for a large chunk of time. Instead you have to *oh no* talk to people *shudder*. Shifting that many meetings would require A LOT of brownies.

          1. the gold digger

            And even if you schedule an all-day appointment, unless you tell it otherwise, it shows you as “free.” Which kind of defeats the purpose of scheduling an all-day appointment.

  6. perrik

    If the employer cannot or will not provide you with a private office, invest in sound-canceling headphones or try out different pink noise/white noise generators (I’m partial to iPhone apps like SoundStream Pro and any of the AmbiScience offerings).

    Also bear in mind that a private office is not soundproof! My workgroup changed locations, from one with private offices to another with cubicles. It’s actually quieter in the cubicles most of the time because we’re off in a corner; the smaller, busier office area was noisy as heck even when my office door was closed.

    1. Anonicorn

      Also bear in mind that a private office is not soundproof!

      For sure! I’m in a private office but it’s also near an elevator, so I hear every unnecessarily loud thing people say as they get off and sometimes linger. It was my choice to be in this specific office for other perks, but getting what you want doesn’t always mean you won’t be annoyed by it from time to time.

      I certainly wouldn’t discount an otherwise “ideal” job.

  7. Beth

    Eh, I have worked at places where I really really needed some totally private work space, but it simply wasn’t the culture to provide offices to anyone except upper management. (I’m talking about wealthy institutions which put even middle management in cubicles.) Go ahead and ask but you may well not get an office, even if there are some empty ones.

    One thing to be aware of is that some companies have extremely strict and clearly defined (though not well-publicized) rules for work space, right down to cubicle size. I worked at one company in which everyone at a certain job grade (regardless of role) had the exact same size cubicle, down to the inch. Everyone with an office had the exact same model metal desk, until they were promoted to VP, at which time they were able to get another larger and more attractive desk, etc..

    Reading isn’t the only job task which requires concentration – most tasks require that. So keep in mind there may well be more senior people who really wish they could have an office but who aren’t given one.

    When I did finally get an office, there was serious hostility towards me if I ever shut the door, even though I often had to make important phone calls or do webinars, etc.. This was even from people who shut their own doors… the previous person in the position had never shut her door so I was viewed as “entitled.” Be careful.

    1. The gold digger

      Things I have seen allocated by position level:

      Phones with caller ID
      Offices
      Chairs with arms
      Cellphones

      At my org, if you are a lower-level person (customer service) who gets a lot of phone calls, you don’t have caller ID because you are not high enough.

      If you have to make and take a lot of phone calls, some of them in another language, don’t get an office. You are encouraged instead to take your computer to a conference room so you can call on Skype, which is free. Doesn’t matter that it’s a huge hassle to lug the laptop around.

      1. Jamie

        Chairs with arms? That’s a level thing? What next, the upper level people get the good candy (Recess and mini-Milky Ways) and entry level has to make due with the smarties and dum-dum suckers no one wants?

        That’s just wrong – armrests and caller ID should be standard issue.

        1. The gold digger

          Yeah. God forbid everyone have a comfy chair at work.

          Ever read the book “From Good to Great?”

          All the Glamor Don’ts in that book, my former employer did.

            1. the gold digger

              Every time I walk into a Walgreen’s, I think about their strategy and how impatient the execs got when being grilled over and over about their strategy and how it has (or has not) changed.

              And then I see the 60-point 2012 strategy, now just 19 (different) points for 2013, at my organization and sigh.

  8. Julie

    It’s inconvenient to share a small office with the people you manage. I had to book a conference room whenever I had to have a private meeting or make phone calls that were inappropriate for other people to overhear. It was a real pain in the neck. But there was no way I was going to get my own office. Everyone was being moved into shared offices and cubicles so the company could lower its real estate expenses.

  9. cncx

    In bigger companies, hardballing on office space in negotiations can backlash on the employee. I’ve seen it twice. I’ll tell one of the stories.

    A returning mom to the job market worked as an administrative assistant for six months and had the right to her own office as an assistant to a board member. When she got promoted into something more in keeping with her masters’ degree (the story of how people think being an admin assistant is just a stepping stone and not a separate skill set in itself being another story), she (“Mommy MA”) hardball negotiated to keep her office as grounds for accepting the job, despite being part-time, as part of the promotion instead of going out to the cubicle farm, because you know, she had a masters’ degree yadda yadda yadda. To add insult to injury, many emails were sent because despite being part time, she would flip if anyone took a phone call in her office when she was out, or sat at her visitor table to have some quiet. The end result of weak management giving in to the office space negotiation was that they were out of space, and her ex boss’ new full-time admin assistant had to sit in Mommy MA’s spot the farm, which pissed off all the other employees because of the phone time the new assistant spent organizing meetings and signatures and the like, it made the new assistant’s job harder in terms of confidential contracts and the like, which is why admin assistants to board members always got offices in the first place. Six months in it backfired because the whole floor hated and resented this woman, especially the other returning mothers in the cubicle farm, for thinking she was so much more worthy of an office, so no one asked her for input on projects, invited her to meetings, or included her in decisions and instead went straight to her boss. Who in turn got mad because she wasn’t being “proactive” about her new position and making her mark. After less than a year, the new admin burned out and the mommy MA left the company to start over somewhere fresh, and management went back to applying their office policy properly.

    I do think this is management’s fault for giving in to something so against the company culture and against their guidelines for office attribution- the mommy MA was just asking for what she wanted, can’t blame people for having high opinions of themselves and asking for what they want.

    What this taught me was that i would be wary of negotiating for stuff that doesn’t fit in with the company culture- it can make people seem aloof or not team players and cause morale problems if management doesn’t handle it well. Also, especially in a new job, you need to be around colleagues, if only to get a feel for how things work, and it is hard to do that from behind a shut door- collaboration is probably the only plus to open pace.

    In the OP’s case, if the job required a lot of phone time, or confidential document handling, I would ask for an office on those grounds, not on the “I work my best with a shut door” grounds, because who doesn’t work better not in a cubicle farm? Also, not all cubicles and offices are created equal- I have been able to have more quiet in a corner cubicle up against a wall than I have in an office next to the copy machine.

    1. Jessa

      I…am of two minds about this. And this is where I came out of the mental discussion I had. Anyone can and should be able to ask for anyTHING. The point where the rubber hits the road though is that management does not have to GIVE it to them.

      And really in the case of the former assistant, they should have KNOWN that the reason the assistants had offices was because they handled confidential information. If they didn’t have a spare office for the new assistant that should have trumped former assistant keeping the office. Companies do not have to be held hostage to things like this.

      Also, once they realised it was not working due to the new assistant being out of place in the cubicle farm. Then darn it they should have stuck it up and FIXED IT. Not let it go on so long it became a disaster.

  10. Jan Arzooman

    Interesting discussion. My initial reaction was to think the OP didn’t understand that many, many people have reading-heavy jobs that would be better with no interruptions and quiet, although that’s already been said. I agree that anyone can ask for anything as a negotiating point, but how can you be sure you really have that strong of a negotiating advantage? To me, if I were deciding between two equal jobs, I would definitely ask where you would be located in the office. I had one job where my desk was in a tiny corner space outside my bosses’ office. Awful. So many jobs I’ve interviewed for lately have “open floor plans”–even the managers are in the open.

    I think it’s much easier to negotiate for an office (if you don’t get one right away) after you’re at a company for a while and you get a feel for the situation. Like others have said, there might not be one available, or there may be senior staff “in line” for that office.

    At my last job I was promoted after my boss resigned, and the management (for reasons they never divulged) would not let me move into her office for more than 6 months — the room stayed vacant. I finally was allowed to move in, but it always made me wonder it this was some sort of secret power play the management had decided to put in place.

  11. JM Kane

    Office allocation is one of the most touchy subjects in the professional world, partially because of the historical concept that the quality of your work space = the status of your position. Unfortunately the simple fact is that almost everyone wants a private office and less than 10% of employees get one so there’s a pre-existing conflict for most organizations to face. I worked in a large company where the executives got tired of hearing people complain about it so they stated that unless you were at a specific grade level starting on the date of their decision, you couldn’t even request a private office.. I started with the team 6 months later and all of my peers had private offices while I had to sit in a cube which was directly across from an empty private office that remained unused for the two years that I worked in the group. The company employed a space manager and one of her duties was to regularly check the empty private offices to make sure that no one was using them who was not assigned.. a comical waste of time and resources. At another company, I started in a cube, three months later I was moved to a private office, three months after that I was moved to a shared office because the CEO (who was only on-site two or three times a month) wanted a private office when he arrived, so that one sat empty most of the time. He then said I could us it when he wasn’t there which would have entailed me moving my personal items out of the office whenever he showed up.. another ridiculous arrangement. My best advice to managers is this; don’t move anyone into an office if you’re going to have to move them out.. it will always be seen as a downgrade and employees always start wondering what they did wrong and about their future with the company. Finally don’t be hypocritical and say that private offices aren’t that important if you have one.. if you’re the boss there’s a reason that you keep your private workspace and everyone knows that.. and skip the dumb jokes about how you’re never in the office anyway because the followup question will always be “then why do you need one..?” There will never be an easy answer to this debate and there’s always a hierarchy in companies – corporate socialism doesn’t work. If private workspaces are important enough to someone’s sense of their worth to the company to impact their work then they’ll probably leave anyway if they don’t get one.

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