my coworkers follow me into the bathroom with work questions

A reader writes:

I’ve worked IT help desk for seven years in this position, and ten years in total. Recently my company has converted to open space offices. This has changed the dynamic in my office, and now people want me to drop everything at any time to help them whenever they walk to my desk. I’ve been getting followed into the bathroom every single day since the move. Yesterday I got stopped every single trip.

It isn’t just the bathroom. Every single day I get stopped when I have my coat on and am leaving. People even interrupt me when I have headphones on and am not making eye contact. If I’m on the phone, people will wave and stand over me until I interrupt my call.

You might think the answer is to tell them to submit a help ticket since that’s a common solution to this problem in IT, but my CEO is against ticket systems. My job is always some level of triage, and I track items with email. This has been manageable for the past seven years. And, having done this work most of my career, I understand that some level of disruption and disturbance is part of the job.

However, since the move to open space, it’s gotten way worse. I don’t know how to create new boundaries. I want people to come to me, but I want them to use their common sense and social skills, and to understand that just because it is easier for them to drop by, that doesn’t mean it is easier for me.

Furthermore, the constant interrupting has made me need to work late every night. I used to love my job and now I dread coming to work.

The complicating factor is that my job IS some level of presence and availability, just not this much, and not to the point where people can expect immediate gratification. I do want people to come to me immediately if their computer isn’t working or they can’t do their job. But I don’t want iPhone backup questions while I’m peeing. There’s gotta be a middle ground!

You’re getting followed into the bathroom?! Multiple times a day?! Some work problems do have a way of feeling really urgent, but your co-workers have clearly lost of sight of reasonable boundaries.

I’m not surprised that moving to an open office is what triggered this — open offices, by definition, remove boundaries. Ideally, people would respond to that loss of privacy by becoming more considerate of the colleagues they’re sharing space with, but yours are just seeing you in their line of sight and assuming you’re available to them. And how frustrating that your CEO has prohibited the one thing that would solve this most efficiently: a ticketing system, which would require people to submit a help ticket instead of the current “whoever grabs Jane first gets her attention” setup. There’s a reason why most IT departments use ticketing systems to track incoming jobs, and it’s bizarre that your CEO won’t allow it.

But there are other ways to solve this, and anyone in this kind of situation at work can try them. It means retraining people in how to communicate with you, and it might feel awkward to do that for a while, but it should eventually work if you’re vigilant about it.

The key: When people interrupt you at obviously inappropriate times, you need to firmly redirect them. If you allow people to interrupt you, you’re teaching them that their behavior works, and maybe even that you don’t mind it. So, for example, when someone follows you into the bathroom, you should say, “I’m using the bathroom right now, so I can’t take work questions, but you’re welcome to email me or come by when I’m back at my desk.” If the person resists, you should say, “I need to stop you. Please don’t follow me to the bathroom with work questions! I need you to email me or come by when I’m at my desk.” (A little bit of shaming is okay at this point! This is someone who not only followed you to the bathroom but ignored your first request to stop. Don’t be rude, but you can be direct.)

Similarly, if someone stops you when you have your coat on and you’re clearly leaving, you can say, “I’m about to leave for the day, but put this in an email and I’ll look first thing in the morning when I’m back at work.” If the person keeps going, repeat your message: “I don’t have much time now and need to leave, but I’ll check on this in the morning when I get your message.”

And if someone is standing over you while you’re on the phone (!), tell them, “I’m on the phone. Please come by when I’m done.” You can even turn your chair around to more definitively signal “I’m unavailable right now.”

You might feel rude doing this at first. But it’s not rude for you to calmly, matter-of-factly state what your availability is. In fact, your interrupting colleagues are being rude, not you.

For the next month or so, while people are getting used to this, you might even experiment with making actual, physical signs, or writing on a small whiteboard. If you know you’re about to be on a 45-minute call, you could write, “On call — unavailable until 2:30 — please come back then” and hold it up to any interrupters. Or if you’re working with headphones and need to concentrate, you could put up a sign at your desk that says, “Focusing hard from 12 to 2 — interrupt for emergencies only.” This might seem like overkill, but it might help during this interim period where you’re retraining people who need help in remembering how boundaries work.

With your most frequent offenders, it might be worth having individual conversations. You could say to them directly, “Since we moved to an open office, I’ve been getting interrupted constantly — even when I go to the bathroom or am on the phone. It’s making it difficult to get things done, and it’s actually causing me to have to work much later than I used to. Can I ask for your help in this? Of course, if something is truly urgent, like if your computer isn’t working, I want you to grab me, but if it can wait even 30 minutes, can you send me a message instead?” You could add, “I think you know I’ll always follow up on your requests. But with everyone grabbing me whenever they have a question, that makes it much harder.” And then, if/when the person does it again, you can remind them of that conversation: “Actually, this is the kind of thing I was talking about! Can you put that in an email to me since I’m right in the middle of something?”

If you’re vigilant about doing this consistently for several weeks, it really is likely to get through to people. Even if they don’t get the message the first time, being consistently redirected will eventually retrain them in how to get what they need. It has to be consistent, though, or you’ll just teach them that interrupting you still works.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 176 comments… read them below }

  1. Harvey 6-3.5*

    I wonder if the OP could have a sign up sheet at their desk with 15 minute open times for consultations (even if they can’t have a ticketing system), and direct people to sign up for a particular available time?

    1. Colette*

      That’s a reasonable approach, and I’d suggest she pre-block some of the slots. So she’ll take questions from 9 – 10, 1-2, and then 4-5. The rest of the time is for other work, as well as for dealing with emergencies.

    2. Antilles*

      Good suggestion, though it’s worth noting that OP is still going to have to be willing to push back firmly and set boundaries. Anybody who thinks it’s appropriate to follow the IT person into the bathroom (!) isn’t going to be deterred by a little sign-in sheet unless OP is willing to hold firm that “no, this is not an emergency, this is what the consultation sheet is for”.

    3. Phoenix Programmer*

      I’ve been in this situation before and signs did not work. People just started complaining about the signs or ignored them.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Yeah, when I tried this at an old job, I got so many “I know it’s not your ‘open office’ time, but this will be super quick!” (Spoiler: it was rarely super quick).

        I found that the irritation I felt towards people who thought that the rules applied to everyone else but not them really exacerbated the irritation I was already feeling about being constantly interrupted, and I was worse off than if I’d never tried it. Someone else posted below about an admin for whom this strategy really worked, though, so clearly miles may vary.

    4. Bathroom OP*

      I love this- i will probably try to start a combination of this and office hours.

  2. Princess prissypants*

    Guess what? This is a common problem faced by faculty members too. Students like to pester profs with questions whenever they encounter them in the wild.

    Answer: “Please ask me about this later when I’m back at my desk.”

    1. JoJo*

      There is a widely accepted systematic way of handling IT issues, though, which is a bit different than the comparison you are making; it would be like the university not allowing you to enter grades into the computer system for some reason and THEN dealing with students pestering you about this mechanical aspect of your job on top of all the pestering they already do.

      1. Princess prissypants*

        This isn’t about the task though. This is about rude people being obnoxious when you’re not available, to which the correct answer is to remind them that people aren’t generally available while using the restroom.

        1. Czhorat*

          True, but the absence of a ticketing system removes the usual means of dealing with this. It also makes tracking and prioritizing much more manual and time-consuming.

          I don’t like to jump to this, but “no ticket system” is at least one argument for updating the resume and looking around elsewhere. Places with poor systemic structure don’t often improve, and can add unneeded stressors.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            + 1

            Yah, I was going to suggest pushing back on the ticket system since the environment has completely changed and therefore the dynamic requires more structure, not less. I would definitely inform my leadership about how much more time I have to work at night now that folks are interrupting during the day with non-urgent tasks. And then I would double down on the need for a ticketing system since folks aren’t even emailing anymore.

            I wonder if OP could claim needing a quieter environment to concentrate and maybe getting moved? But either way, the CEO is not making it easy on the OP.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        But you’re just piling even more work on the OP, not less. Because even if OP consults, OP still needs to fix those issues. I have to assume these questions are like ‘hey, do you know why my outlook doesn’t work?’ to which the OP verbally troubleshoots only to find out when the person gets back to their desk that it still doesn’t work.

        None of this is sustainable long term.

    2. krysb*

      I mean, in students’ defense, if you’re paying $5,000+ a semester, you expect a little white glove service.

      1. Princess prissypants*


        Let’s do the math on that:
        I’m paid $2,800 to teach one course which consists of two hours of lecture and two hours of lab. Add about four hours per week for prep, grading, lab set up, administrivia like answering emails and making copies, etc. I work eight hours per week for 15 weeks. I have 18 students.

        $2,800/8/15/18 = $1.29 per student per hour.

        Keep your dollar, I have to pee.

        1. Princess prissypants*

          Add the two hours of office hours that no one ever uses instead of pestering me in the bathroom and it comes down to $1.03.

          1. NotaPirate*

            But the students are paying way more than a dollar to the university. And they have jobs and classes with weird schedules and professors can be intimidating to where it can be hard to say “hey my chem class is during your office hour can i arrange a separate meeting time with you?” I know my first year of uni I was 17 (shy) and working 2 jobs and taking 19 credits. I loved my professors who were reachable by email. I know rumors had it our old ochem prof deliberately had his only office hours 8 to 9am because he didnt want us to come. Obviously not okay to follow to bathrooms. But yeah i give students more flexibility if i can. They can have weird hours compared to a 9 to 5 where everyone is in the office.

            1. bleh*

              You make a great point. Use this energy and logic to lobby state governments to fund Unis at level that allow Universities to start hiring more tenure track faculty and/or pay and treat contingent faculty better = problem solved.

    3. Bunny Girl*

      You know what’s funny – I actually have a problem with faculty members doing the same thing to me- an hourly staff member. I have to either leave the campus or hide in the basement to take my lunch and I have to physically run out the door at the end of the day because I have salaried faculty members who don’t think I deserve a break or get to leave at the end of the business day. To be clear – I’m very firm about people leaving me alone when I’m not on the clock, but it never seems to sink in for some.

      1. Samwise*

        They don’t have the same hours you do — not an excuse, of course, but they don’t have to be anywhere at a set time except when in class teaching. They work at odd times. So they are not remembering…or not trying to remember…that you don’t work that way.

  3. CmdrShepard4ever*

    I think the obvious response to when people follow you to the bathroom with a request is to immediately help them after you are finished doing your business and DO NOT WASH YOUR HANDS (their request is so important you do not have time to waste washing your hands) then head over to their work station and touch as many of their surfaces as you can, keyboards, mouse, monitor, desk, coffee cups.

  4. noahwynn*

    Sounds like email has become the defacto ticket system. I’d ask them to send you an email. If they keep pestering you, keep asking them to put it in an email, or even write out the email and send it to yourself CCing them. Eventually people will figure out the best way to get what they want is to just email you to begin with.

    I also like Harvey 6-3.5’s suggestion of office hours. Maybe a few hours every afternoon if it is important to the company culture or CEO that you remain available for face-to-face questions like that.

    1. Peachkins*

      Yes, I was going to comment on the email as well. I would direct everyone to email, letting them know that it’s necessary to help you stay organized.

      1. Clorinda*

        And if someone’s computer problem is so severe that they can’t get online or use email, then THAT is an emergency. Otherwise, emails, less urgent cases answered in order received, more urgent cases bumped to the front.

    2. straws*

      Agreed. We do use tickets, so when I get stopped (which is frequent), I will ask the person to submit a ticket with the details so I don’t forget or lose information we discussed. This could convert from “please submit a ticket” to “please send me this information in an email”.

      1. TootsNYC*

        “so I don’t forget or lose information we discussed”

        And OP should always point out, “that way I won’t forget it when someone else tries to waylay me in the hall.”

        Also, always do the email stuff first. When someone walks over, say “I can’t help you now–I have to do the ones that came by email first. Then I can take walk-ins.”

      2. Grapey*

        I do this too, with the side effect of more than half of people don’t follow up with an actual ticket! Less work for me to do.

      3. boo bot*

        Yes, and I think the OP could actually just say, “I track requests via email,” when she’s telling people to email her, making it clear that it’s about the process and not the person or specific situation.

        “The process is email” is harder to push back on than, “Please don’t follow me to the bathroom… Or the kitchen… No, I didn’t mention it before, but please don’t follow me home…”

    3. DataGirl*

      My defacto answer is ’email me or I will forget’. Because a) I have a terrible memory and really will forget what you wanted by the time I get back to my desk and b) That way I have a paper trail.

    4. sacados*

      I agree. In addition to Alison’s scripts, I think this is the best option for OP to create a workflow.
      The boss may not like “tickets” but you can certainly set up rules for how people make requests to you via email in a way that it operates exactly the same way a ticketing system would.
      For example, certain keywords to add in the email header, Low/Mid/High priorities, etc.
      And another good rule is that even in the case where someone comes to explain a problem to you in person, you can hear them out and have a chat about it if time allows but then redirect to “OK, now please send me an email for official documentation and then I will add the task to my to-do list.”
      The idea being that you will hear them out/give advice, but can’t actually do whatever work is requested unless you receive an email.

  5. Antilles*

    If OP reads these comments (I don’t know if people who submit to Alison’s other sources do or not), I’d love to hear more about the CEO’s rationale against ticketing systems. There’s a reason that IT departments use them – it’s because they really are the best option.
    A ticketing system allows IT to prioritize certain issues and make sure the truly critical items are addressed first rather than ending up behind several low-priority things. It makes a very easy means of tracking what’s been done and what hasn’t. And counter-intuitively, a ticket-based system can often make it easier for end users to make requests, because they aren’t limited to just whenever they can physically track OP down.

    1. goducks*

      As the person who manages IT in my org, I think the LW needs to try to sell the CEO on ticketing systems, and why they’re a great management tool. When employees come to me to complain about IT issues (I’m non-technical, I can’t fix them), I always, always ask if they submitted a ticket. I explain that a ticket allows me to ensure that my IT guy is accountable. It’s a great management tool. It also allows me to give my IT guy top cover when someone is griping but not bothering to submit a ticket.

      I too would love to see why the CEO hates them. I’m guessing because he personally doesn’t want to use the system.

      1. Emily K*

        My guess would be he’s emotionally attached to his idea of the company as a small, “family-like” environment where everyone can handle things without bureaucratic red tape getting involved. As you point out, there’s a reason companies become more bureaucratic as they grow – it’s usually actually the best way to ensure everyone’s needs are met efficiency in a very large system. But there are definitely some people who have a negative emotional response to formalized systems and procedures as somehow sucking the soul out of workers and turning them into robot-cogs, and then refuse to implement systems that could help things run better because they want people to “just talk to each other, like humans!”

        1. TootsNYC*

          rename it a “to-do list.”

          Point out that being able to write their problem on IT’s to-do list is helpful to the person w/ the problem–they can move on with their day, secure in the knowledge that the OP will come to them very soon to help them.

          I used to eat at Bishop’s Buffet at the Merle Hay Mall when I went shopping as a kid with my mom. The thing I loved about it was that there was an electric candle in the center of the table. If you dropped your fork or needed salt, you could push the button and turn it on, and then you could continue to focus on eating, or on your conversation. The server would see the light and come by to see what you needed.
          In every other restaurant I’ve ever been in, if you want a server, you have to keep scanning to see if they come by where you are, and hope that their eyes come in your direction. It means you are completely distracted from your companions, from your meal…

          That’s what a ticketing system can do for the REST of the staff.

          1. WeirdlyQualified*

            Hello from another Bishop’s at Merle Hay fan! I loved the electric candles almost as much as their custard pie…

          2. Autumnheart*

            ZOMG. Bishop’s Buffet. I haven’t thought about that place in years. Different mall, but this just brought up the most vivid memories.

          3. Vemasi*

            We have a pizza chain in my area that has big old phones at each table, and when you pick it up it rings in the kitchen. You state your table number (written on the phone) and then you can order or request things. They do still have waitstaff who check on you, but it is much more convenient to be able to ask promptly when you want something and then stop worrying about it. They also have pay at the till, so you don’t have to wait on your check.

        2. Washi*

          He may also just not have the spine for all of the complaints that would likely follow.

          My org was trying recently to cut down on this exact problem and a lot of emails went out reminding people to submit tickets rather than cornering IT in the hallway. I could not believe the amount of grumbling and entitlement! A lot of “whyyy” and “it will take too long” and “that’s too hard.” Yep, it would take too long/be too hard to send 2 sentences to

          Once people get used to instant gratification, taking that away will feel like a punishment. I like the suggestions of making everyone send you an email, but be prepared for some pushback!

          1. Yorick*

            Our ticketing system is awful. You have to enter all this information from drop-down menus in order to submit it, but the categories are nonsensical. Nowadays, the new guy who manages the system will assign someone to a ticket but not check the box that notifies them, so it never gets worked on. Also, our IT guy defaults to “submit a ticket” even when the issue is that the computer won’t turn on or connect to the network. How do I submit an online ticket, exactly?

            1. Mongrel*

              Our company uses a system like that, weird & irrelevant drop downs.
              What they have changed recently is that you can e-mail to and it’ll auto generate a low detail ticket that the IT person will fill out when they get to it.
              Apparently too many people were mucking up the categorising so that had to be changed they found it’s easier if they do it themselves.
              (and yes the best solution would be a good ticket system but that costs money)

              1. Emily K*

                One relatively small aspect of my marketing team’s work is occasionally acting as an internal service provider to other teams who have an occasional need for a marketing push that’s specific to something their team is doing individually, as opposed to the general marketing we do for the company as a whole. Since we handle requests for so many people but so infrequently, rather than trying to teach a large/constantly changing group of people a system they will not use often enough to remember it well, we just have a standard set of questions we copy and paste in reply to any request we get – “Great, we’re happy to help – here’s everything we’ll need from you: ” Once we get the information from the external requesters, we transfer the information into our preferred format/system ourselves. Much easier than trying to get other people to use our system.

                And maybe a parallel to people choosing the wrong answers on a ticket system, we also learned early on the importance of not asking people to answer questions they really aren’t knowledgeable enough to answer. For instance, instead of asking a product team to provide an invite criteria list for product launch event, we ask them only for the location and cost of the event, how many seats they’re trying to fill, and if the event is audience should be restricted in any way (such as members only or professionals only). Then, using our deeper knowledge of typical response rates for different types of contacts and events, how far people are willing to drive, and which relationships are the highest priority to nurture, we generate an invite list that we are reasonably confident will get them the headcount they want (or as close to it as possible). Less confusion, less time spent explaining, and less opportunity for the other team to make a bad call.

      2. Grapey*

        Might have been burned by a poorly managed ticketing system in the past…if they’re not managed to actually represent the different departments/request types etc it can become a huge nightmare.

      1. Ophelia*

        Yes – with ours, you can either send an email to a “support” address, or fill out an online ticket; both route to the same system.

    2. Carlie*

      I agree and think asking for emails is one way to try to argue for this – if you tell everyone “please send me your request by email, I need to keep track of how many issues I fix each day” , that might get them to do so. And then you have hard numbers for your own boss indicating how often you’re being interrupted from other work with the requests, and how the volume justifies a ticketing system.

    3. RandomU...*

      I have a love hate relationship with trouble ticketing systems and prioritization. As I would suspect most people do. It usually comes down to who’s making the priority call and how rigid it is.

      The two biggest issues I’ve experienced is not critical problems keep getting pushed down the list and never get fixed. The second is the person making the call doesn’t understand the priority.

      My favorite prioritization call gone wrong was when I opened a ticket and brought in my laptop that was having a bit of a weird but critical failure. My IT dept doesn’t necessarily see a non-working laptop as critical and as this was being explained to me. I just sort of nodded along until he was finished and then said, “Ok I understand. Is that the same message you want me to give to the CTO tomorrow who I’m supposed to be presenting to?” Suddenly my laptop problem became a much higher priority. But that just goes to show that sometimes a ticket doesn’t exactly explain the full story.

      But I agree the LW needs to figure out what the objections are and sell the idea from the user/company perspective.

        1. RandomU...*

          Or I could be trusted that my problem is important :)

          I mean at some point if someone’s laptop is doing a brick impression, it stands to reason that there are important things that can’t get done, especially after a certain level/job title.

          Like I said… it’s a love hate relationship with trouble ticketing systems. I love that I have a record of when the problem was reported. And I know they are key to work management for the IT team. But I hate the ‘black hole’ syndrome and the fact that nobody seems to read the information that is included in the tickets. Or there seems to be no lumping of similar problems together to give the IT person a clue that this could be a bigger problem.*

          *This was a recent example… I couldn’t connect to our wireless work network from my home office I was traveling the next week to our main campus so I thought I’d wait to find out if it was a local problem. Turns out it wasn’t so I opened an IT ticket. The person did some trouble shooting and declared it was the first time they’d seen the problem. Except that I happened to see another ticket pending in the void for the same issue. I did manage to track someone down to fix the problem, then mentioned there was at least one other ticket (that I referenced in the comments of my ticket) for the same problem if he wanted to help them since he had the fix.

          1. fposte*

            “Or I could be trusted that my problem is important :) ”

            I get that, but no, they really can’t just trust that. First off, everybody’s problem is important, so trusting that wouldn’t get you any faster service anyway. Secondly, “important” here really means “important enough to jump in front of people who have been waiting longer for help,” and while that definitely exists, that’s not something to be taken on trust.

            I do understand your pain–my unit does most of the frontline troubleshooting itself, so if we’re asking for IT we’ve moved beyond the “reboot” level of service, and it’s frustrating that we still have to go through it. But IT really can’t be expected to personalize their response protocols to people’s different styles of asking; the whole point of the ticketing system is to regularize things.

            1. Res Admin*

              Yeah, my spouse is in IT. EVERY problem is of vital importance to someone–even if it involves driving over 30 miles each way to change paper in a printer because the people in that location don’t want to do it. (So they literally put in a ticket that the printer “isn’t working”). So while you may actually be good at evaluating the real importance of your problem, most people aren’t and therefore none can be fully trusted.

              1. Free Meercats*

                The proper action for the IT person there is to load a couple of sheets of paper to ensure the printer works, then tell them that it just needs paper and drive back to the office.

            2. Aerin*

              Dear god, this. We’ll get people on weekends who are up against deadlines and having huge, catastrophic issues. And that sucks for them, but something that’s just impacting one person doesn’t meet the threshold of something I’m gonna call someone on their day off to fix. I need them not to ignore my calls when it’s something that does meet that bar. That’s why our ticketing system measures both urgency and impact, because something can have critical urgency, but if its impact (on the system as a whole) is minimal it’s never going to be the highest priority.

              Or you get the people who are having issues during a larger outage, and seem to think that if I know how big a headache this is for them personally, it’ll get fixed faster. Honestly, it’s the same attitude I got from people at The Mouse who were offended when a ride was down. Oh, sorry sir, I didn’t realize that *you specifically* had paid admission because, you know, the other 45,000 people here today must not have done. Please, let me go in there myself and push the vehicle back onto the track just for you.

              If someone does have information that changes our default handling, I trust them to say that up front instead of waiting to be cute about it after we treat them exactly as we treat everyone else.

              1. Paulina*

                “If someone does have information that changes our default handling, I trust them to say that up front instead of waiting to be cute about it after we treat them exactly as we treat everyone else.”

                Yes, this! If someone has an emergency, they should treat it as an emergency themselves instead of as an opportunity to try to “teach” support personnel to treat all of their requests as if they’re emergencies.

      1. Em*

        My fave was when my headset wasn’t working, so I literally couldn’t make calls. I sent IT an email, opening a ticket. IT’s response was to call me.

        Not once, but 3 times. Then sent an email “tried to call you to fix your issue, no answer. Ticket closed.”

        The ticket specifically said that I couldn’t make or receive calls.

        1. PersephoneUnderground*

          Bahaha – totally have had this kind of thing. Usually “couldn’t reproduce issue, ticket closed” when I was still having the issue. But that one is special.

    4. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      My department uses a ticket system too so I’m totally on board with them, but it can be a hassle. If a computer is totally down then telling someone to email or submit an online ticket can be very frustrating. I literally just had an IT issue this morning where at startup my Mac suddenly couldn’t find the OS and I got a death screen of code. IT swears they don’t push OS updates to Macs on the network, but …I’m suspicious…they updated SOMETHING and broke everything. Anyway, I had to use my phone to go online to dig through our website to track down the link, which is usually bookmarked, to login remotely, which I don’t normally need to do when I’m on a networked computer, in order to submit a ticket — my frustration level increasing with each second that my computer wasn’t booting up and my coffee was getting cold. My coworker even suggested I “just call Fergus” but I reminded him of how much we hate it when people try to dodge our own ticketing system.

      1. dealing with dragons*

        I think that situation is when calling is warranted. Our IT system includes both tickets and a phone line to call for exact instances like this – when you can’t easily make a ticket.

        1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

          I’m at a university so there isn’t really an IT Person so much as there are about 30 or more IT people, and some of them don’t do Macs, and some are hardware people and some are software people. The ticketing system is definitely the fastest way to get help here.

          1. Jen*

            In that situation, I usually ask my coworker if I can quickly send an email/create a ticket on their computer.

    5. Bathroom OP*

      Hi, I mentioned this in my blanket comment downthread but it’s complicated. it’s a combination of money, already having a external ticket system we might jump on in the medium term, and fears around it devolving into metrics.
      The other issue is it’s a struggle for me to get them to send an email most of the time, so i don’t know how painful getting them to log their own tickets will be. The medium term jump to the external queue won’t help me in the short term, so one of my coworkers likes the idea of me throwing my emails into a freeware ticket queue, just to justify my time, or even something like freeware billing software some IT people use use (i’m salaried so i don’t even internally bill hours).

    6. Tom*

      I second Antilles question.
      A ticket system helps you track issues, common causes, and when budgetting time comes, you can use it to justify that because server X is generating Y amount of issues – it really should be replaced. Oh, and did i mention it`s out of warranty since 2015?

      If the manager thinks it`s too expensive – there are interesing ticket systems out there (spiceworks for one) that are free (for basic functions). Worth looking into, and if suitable, you`ll be the office hero for getting it free.

      Once implemented: no ticket, no service.

      And to those that follow you into the toilet – any chance you can switch to a bean rich diet for a few weeks .. if that doesn`t embarrass them – well, polish up the old CV again.

  6. Wads*

    Uuugh, I get this too. I swear people wait to ask me their questions until they see me walk by on my way to the bathroom. And I can’t return to my office from the bathroom without being socked with another question or two. (They think they’re helping by waiting until I get back!)

    I don’t think I’d mind so much if these people acted like I exist when they DON’T need something. I’m called upon all the time for help, but god forbid anyone say good morning or how are you.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Good morning Wads! I saw the Training Department put out the muffins from yesterday’s client class. They’re up for grabs…and the locust swarms are forming so I figured I’d let you know as long as I’m on my way past. Cheers!

  7. LaDeeDa*

    In one of my company’s locations, there is an admin who sits right in the middle of the open concept area. She officially supports 3 VPs, but she is one of those gems that knows everything and everyone. She can help with anything and everything you can possibly imagine. She has posted “open office” hours. During those times people can walk up to ask her questions, and people will even get in a line to wait. During that time she will work on things she can work on that stopping in the middle of, to solve our silly problems, won’t kill her productivity. On her posted sign it asks that you send your problem via email, and if it can’t be solved in an email, please come back during the open time.
    When I asked her about how it was working she said it was great! She said no one interrupts her phone calls anymore, and most people reach out via email, which she can often answer while she is joining into a conference call.
    Since she started this a couple of years ago I have noticed that other support personnel in multiple locations have adopted this method. It seems to really be working and helping people manage life in open spaces.

    Good luck!
    PS. I would have zero problems being rude to anyone who followed me into the bathroom or who interrupted my phone call.

    1. Sleepytime Tea*

      This. So much this. I’ve personally never had to do it, but I’ve been at points where I’ve seriously considered it.

    2. Dionne*

      It’s not a numbered ticket system, but handle request in the order of HOW people submitted them.
      “I handle emailed requests first, then voice mails, then in person requests.” They will know that emails get sent to the front of the line. For the in person requests, I would recommend a form they have to fill out. Then when lurkers are standing at your desk, or interrupting you as you are on the way to the “loo” or out the door, say “Great. Grab a form and leave it for me.” Rinse and Repeat. It’s not a formal ticket system, but does allow you to control how you handle the requests.

      1. Batgirl*

        This is genius! I love how it rewards politeness. Something like this would even work on my 11yo students and they have zero boundaries.

      2. Mephyle*

        In effect, OP can institute her own ticketing system without (and this is crucial), mentioning the word “tickets”.

    3. Bathroom OP*

      i really really like this and would love to implement it. A topic for my next 1 on 1 with the boss.

      1. Checkert*

        For the record, I’m not certain I would ask for permission on this. Your boss really shouldn’t be in control of every minute of your time, YOU are. If this is how you need approach taking one off requests to ensure you are productive and getting work done, the boss ‘should’ be satisfied with this (barring the sign being rude or something of that nature). If they do have a problem, that’s when you beg forgiveness and permission, but I just don’t think you automatically need to create another burning hoop for yourself in this case.

  8. Scott M.*

    FYI – if you want to play a joke on I.T. support, just randomly ask them in the hallway “Is it fixed yet?” There’s that brief moment of panic while they try to figure out what they forgot to fix.
    I always let them off the hook after a few seconds.
    And they always get me back – so its all good :)

    1. Sleepytime Tea*

      Please don’t send me into a panic like that. It’s actually not funny at all. I take a lot of pride in my job and staying on top of things, and even if it’s only a few moments of panic, panic is not a positive feeling. It’s a negative feeling that you’re purposefully trying to impose on someone because you think watching them being uncomfortable is entertaining? Seriously, that’s rude. Don’t be that guy. Chances are the reason your IT people always get back to you is because they care about their jobs and treat everyone equally, and they won’t discriminate against you for your poor joke on them. You’re lucky, because I’ve worked places where IT would blacklist you for that and you would go to the bottom of the pile.

      Don’t be that guy.

      1. L.S. Cooper*

        Hey, don’t you know that nothing is funnier than scaring people and trying to convince them that they’ve made a mistake? It’s absolutely hilarious to prey on someone’s good will and overall desire to be competent. Just a barrel of laughs.

      2. Alianora*

        I agree it’s asshole behavior, but I assumed he meant the IT people “get him back” as in they play a similar joke on him.

        1. TooTiredToThink*

          Yeah; it sounds like he may have a different type of relationship with his IT staff than others typically have – but yeah; even my most liked people, if they pulled this on me I’d be pretty frustrated.

    2. Violet Fox*

      “tee hee.. you have professional pride, tee hee.”

      Not funny, not cool. If it seems okay it’s because your IT people are professional enough to not put your tickets in the “45th of never” box for behavior like that.

    3. goducks*

      Oh yay! Panic is fun! /s

      Stop doing this. It’s dickish behavior. Don’t be that guy.

    4. Workerbee*

      We’ve got one of those types. It was neither original nor welcome the first time, nor has that magically changed in the umpteenth time. This person is also a wanderer, and we speculate that his department lets him spend more time wandering than working because they don’t want him around, either.

      I add my “Please don’t be that person” request to the crowd.

    5. Tinybutfierce*

      Please stop doing this. It’s not actually fun to be on the receiving end of.

    6. Mr. Tyzik*

      OMG I suffer from panic attacks and that could trigger one.

      Don’t be an asshole. Stop it.

    7. Jennifer*

      It sounds like there’s more of a jokey environment at your job than in other places. So putting it in that context, I think that’s pretty funny.

    8. Aerin*

      After that happened once, my default response to that would be “Nope” and keep walking.

    9. Tom*

      You do that to me (IT support person here) – my reply will be “what`s your ticket ID” ?
      And if one then sputters about a joke – sure – i`ll remember how you treated me when you ask for help.
      I will throw the book at you – follow policy to the letter.

      And yes, I am that petty – I do not handle ‘jokes’ like this well.

    1. Violet Fox*

      Yup. We call a lot of the above behavior userjacking where I work. Sometimes it’s okay, sometimes really not.

      People often treat any issue they have like it is the most urgent thing in the world and that IT folks have nothing else to do but help them in the moment. A lot of it is training people that this is a working with relationship, not a working for relationship.

      A lot of it is, as Allison said, having scrips:
      “Please send me/us an email so I/we can send you written directions that you can refer to whenever you need”
      “I’m on my way to the bathroom but if you send an email I will be happy to help as soon as I can”
      “I’m on the way to the bathroom, come find me when I’m back at my desk”
      “Give me 5/10/15minutes and I’ll come help you”
      “I’m on my way out for the day but I’ll be happy to help you tomorrow”
      “I’m on my way out for today, but if you send an email I’ll get to it as soon as I can tomorow”

      Also a sign to hold up saying “I’m on the phone – email me!”

      Some of it is tone, to make sure you sound like you are being friendly and helpful but just not at this very minute unless the person really can’t work (well except for in the bathroom, everything gets to wait for after that).

      For us it also helped to chat with people some in more casual settings at work and let them know some of the types of thing we actually do when we aren’t directly helping them — as in that we have a job outside of first line support.

      If the company will let you, setting up essentially drop-in hours for things that are not emergencies is a good idea, though so is defining what an emergency is. For instance, if someone cannot log in, or their computer really did die, then sending an email is often a bit more tricky.

      The real trick is to basically to learn to say no, or not right now in a friendly way that actually goes get people to understand that you really aren’t available when you are leaving or peeing or whatever.

      1. TootsNYC*

        My IT people always love me because I’m always really clear about priority:

        “I have a freelancer who can’t function at all because of X. So it’s pretty important–not CEO-level important, but I’m paying her to do nothing, and I need her.”

        “I’d like to get this fixed before the end of the day; I have a workaround, so it’s not urgent, but it’s a big productivity cost and I’d hate to still have to cope with it tomorrow.”

        “This is really not high priority, but maybe by the end of the week?”

        “Someday when we all have time, it would be so much more efficient if I could do X.”

        “Yesterday I said it could wait, but things have changed/I’ve realized it’s a bigger problem, can you move me up?”

        1. Grapey*

          + a million, I wish people would say WHY this is important and WHAT they’ve done already to try to fix the problem.

          1. RandomU...*

            We would, but when we do we get asked if we’ve tried X :)

            Me: Opens ticket “X is not working, I’ve tried A, B, and C. Screenshots attached”
            My first conversation with IT: “Have you tried B?”
            Me: “Yep, I first tried A, but when that didn’t work I went to B. If you look at my screenshot you’ll see the results”
            IT: “So let me try A…and if that doesn’t work, I’ll go ahead and try B, as a last resort we’ll do C”
            Me: “But…sigh..ok”
            Some time later…
            IT: “Ok, all fixed, A, B, and C didn’t work so I had to move on to D”

            1. Burned Out Supervisor*

              Ugh…”Yes I have seen IT Crowd and I have tried turning it off and on again.”

            2. Antilles*

              In fairness to IT, the reason they doubt you is because everybody in IT regularly has encounters like this:
              IT: Did you try X?
              User: Yes, totally already tried that, it was the first thing I tried in fact. Didn’t work!
              IT: Can you humor me and just try X again, just in case? That almost always fixes it.
              User: Like I said, I already tried that, but sure I’ll do it again. (waits 30 seconds), nope still the same. Can you please just come over and fix it?
              IT: Okay, sure, I’ll be right over. (IT person walks over)
              IT: Okay, I know you said you tried X already, but just for fun, I’m going to try it myself, just to see what happens. (IT person does the same X suggested before; problem resolves immediately.)
              User (awkwardly): Oh, uh, yeah, that’s totally what I tried that didn’t work. I’m uh, not sure why it worked now when it didn’t work before. Weird, huh?
              IT (mentally to self): Did you actually try that? Really? Reeeeeaaaaaalllllyyyy?

              1. Koala dreams*

                That happens to me with a lot of things! Some things only work when someone else is watching you do it. I don’t know why, it’s one of those mysteries in life.

                1. Lalaith*

                  My coworker used to joke that he had put facial recognition into his code, because whenever we’d ask him to come look at something it would work!

          2. TootsNYC*

            I also never cry wolf, so when I say, “I don’t often ask for this, but I need this to be a high priority,” I tend to get it.

        2. Violet Fox*

          So so much is good communication! From the IT side of things, it also helps us figure out what needs to be done first if we’re busy. For some places, that’s all the time, for where I work first line support is a very small amount of what we do.

      2. Jennifer*

        I’d walk around in a black veil.

        In our ticket system, there is a rating system. Urgent = an entire team or department can’t work. High = One person can’t work. Medium = team/department inconvenienced. Low = one person inconvenienced.

        Some people don’t understand what an emergency is. This helps, but still, some don’t know what an inconvenience is.

        1. Violet Fox*

          Some people tend to think that everything is the utmost urgent and important because they are the ones having the problem. They also usually end up being the people with the most minor of problems.

      3. Bathroom OP*

        you hit the nail on the head- people don’t understand that i have other tasks besides telling them what iphone to buy. I’m totally going to use the sign and one of the scripts i haven’t used yet, which is the “give me 5 minutes” one. Also, I have repeat offenders so i like the idea of grabbing coffee with them and talking about what i actually do in a day. Thank you!

    2. Dahlia*

      I don’t really think following the fast food worker into the bathroom makes your burger come any faster lol.

  9. Kat*

    I feel like OP should also have a conversation about this with their manager to flag the issue in case anyone complains- just like a heads-up “By the way, I’ve been having this issue since we moved to the new office plan and these are the steps I’m taking to resolve it so I can do my job more effectively”.

  10. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Annnd this is why I’ve recently implemented a “no talking in the bathroom” policy. Not even with the few people I knew before I worked here. Those are people I’ve happily chatted with in locker rooms and hosted in my guest room when they were going to an event near me — but I’ve explained that my new policy is because I was getting project-related questions _through the stall doors_. They got it.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      A person really shouldn’t have to explain to a grown up that the only emergency that justifies bothering someone *while they’re peeing* is that the building they’re standing in is on fire.

      But, all too often, we do.

  11. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Oh good call! That way if anyone complains up the food chain, the manager can say it was manager’s idea.

  12. Phoenix Programmer*

    OP I highly recommend running these plans of action across your boss first. Yes they are reasonable but your office has shown itself to be unreasonable with IT.

    I strongly suspect that if you just implement these plans you will get complaints of not helping people.

    CYA and talk to your boss about your plans first.

  13. LQ*

    Have I said, “Can’t think, have to pee.” when someone did this? Yes…yes I did. I’m not proud but it was effective and that person never followed me into the bathroom with IT questions again.

  14. Hiya*

    I would go back to the CEO again and outline exactly why you need a ticketing system. Give the examples you are giving here. Maybe he had a bad experience in the past and that is his issue. Explain exactly how it would be helpful and try to alleviate the concerns he had. Maybe ask for a trial period of a few months to see if it works out for him.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I’ve said this a couple of other places–but it’s really freeing for your USERS to be able to drop their concerns in a ticketing system and move on, secure in the knowledge that you actually WILL get to them as soon as you can.

      1. techPerson*

        Agree, a transparent ticketing system (where at least the reporter can see the status and all changes in status for the ticket) is a huge plus when I’m a user/requester in a system like this. Emails, forms, etc can all be lost pretty easily but a good ticketing system makes those much harder to use.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I’d follow the CEO into the bathroom and plead your case while he tries to use facilities. Bonus points if OP is a woman and yells through the door.

    3. Angwyshaunce*

      I have found that management may respond better when it’s framed in terms of cost (“We can save $X with this better system”) rather than reasoned logic.

  15. Sleepytime Tea*

    Our office isn’t “open”, but we have low cubicle walls and people absolutely walk right up to IT, or any other team, and stare them down as a way to ask for help. They have these great things now that hook up to your phone and have a light on them. When the light is on, that means you’re on the phone, and unavailable. People are pretty respectful of the light.

    At another job they had one that actually was connected to both the phone and your IM system and it had a stop light type thing on it. If you were on the phone or your IM was set to “unavailable” (which was connected to your outlook calendar so it synced with meetings and such) then it was red. Yellow was away, green was available. Respect the light.

    But in lieu of that, god yes please put up a sign when you’re unavailable, then just point at it and smile when people try to bombard you with work! You’ll still have some asshats, but people respect something that is slightly official for some reason, and that includes signs.

  16. copier queen*

    I don’t work in IT but people often stop me in the hallway to tell me something related to a project, meeting, etc. I always ask them to email me the info, since I’m not at my desk and can’t write it down. I make a joke about not being able to remember something if I don’t write it down, like “Haha, my memory is not great, I will probably forget what you said by the time I get back to my desk, can you email that to me?

    1. WorldsOkayestAssistant*

      That happens to me a lot, too. I’ve found though that my insistence on writing it down has sometimes backfired; like, people look down on me because I need that tool. Somehow I’m supposed to be able to catch it all on the fly, hang on to it and run with it to a successful finish line. When I try the “my memory is not great” line, it feels like I’m apologizing for a shortage of bandwidth that is in fact a painfully honest comment on my executive function. With a disability (ADHD) which some people at work know about and some do not, I feel like I’m being forced by others’ insistence to throw stuff at me on the fly to constantly publically remind them of my cognitive handicaps by reminding people to give me time to write it down. It’s upsetting. I’d really, really like to be the elegant and glossy assistance who glides down the hall with easy and can catch anything you throw at her backwards and in heels, but I’m not that person no matter how hard I try.

      1. WorldsOkayestAssistant*

        Ugh, forgive the typos. I meant to write, “elegant and glossy assistant,” not “assistance” who glides down the hall “with ease.” As the typos affirm, I’m not that assistant — yet. ; – )

  17. RandomU...*

    I’m curious why the uptick and differences from your former setup to open office. Is this a new change? Were you located in an out of the way place before? It could be that this settles down when people get used to seeing you. Are you getting different or more questions/problems than you did when you weren’t visible? I call those proximity questions.

    I think for the short term I’d ask people who stop you/follow you/interrupt you to schedule some time on your calendars so that you can give them focus.

    I know you said that your CEO is against tickets, so that may need to be a no-go. But I like the ‘office hours’ sign up. You may need to sell this a bit by telling your boss/CEO how this would benefit the users. Explain that the office change means that you are busier with the proximity questions and users are frustrated with your availability to the point they are following you to the bathroom and out the door at the end of the day to try and get your attention, also trying to wave you down as you are on a call. You’d like to try a daily sign up sheet/calendar entry to let them choose a time to talk to you that is convenient for them and will assure them of your attention. It will also help to track some of the issues for potential further actions, like training/retraining, or upgrades.

    That’s the longer term. The short term is to set boundaries around your time.

    Heading in to the bathroom and someone stops you… “Can’t talk right now, heading to the restroom”
    Putting your coat on at the end of the day… “Sure Bob, I can check that out… send me an email describing the details and I’ll look at it tomorrow”
    Waving at while on the phone… “Write a note: ‘Sorry… can’t talk on the phone. I’ll find you later'” or “Shrug, point to phone, make some random gesture to indicate you’ll find them later”
    Standing while you have headphones on … hmm I’m not sure about this one. You may have to suck this one up and help them.

    1. Bathroom OP*

      Hi, I thought about this too- at the old office, i was near the canteen, so people generally saw me, i don’t think my presence issues have changed significantly enough to make people scared that if they don’t grab me they loose. I think most of us haven’t worked in open space before (we’re not in the US) and like you said, i’m hoping people settle down in a couple of months.

      I’m definitely going to talk to my boss about a) setting office hours and b) i have some time sensitive hard weekly deadlines that i’m going to block out and communicate that those times are no gos unless the server room is literally exploding.

  18. straws*

    I’ve known people who used a visual cue to indicate if they’re available or not. For example, a sign that flips from red to green to indicate availability. I’m not sure that people who stop you on the way to the bathroom will respect such a sign, but it may be worth a shot. I also suggested this above, but if you can’t use a real ticketing system then lean harder on your email taking the place of one. If someone has a problem, direct them to send you an email with all the details. If they seem unwilling, you can point out that having all the details in one location and written out will make you less likely to forget something. If your CEO isn’t against keeping records too, you can lean on that as a reason for an email.

  19. Lupe*

    Fellow IT-without-ticketing-system here. I like telling people where they are in the queue, and *always* asking for emailed requests. It mostly goes “I’ve got x and y’s requests to get to first, can you email me”

    I think it breaks the immediate gratification bit, which is sort of what causes this loss of boundries. By having a small queue, it also encourages people to Google and fix stuff themselves.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I like this, that “I’ve got X and Y requests to do first,” because it reminds people that there are many demands on your time; it’s not all about them.

      1. Lupe*

        There’s also a informal triage system, based on problem severity, rank in the org, likelyhood of user fixing it if left to their own devices, and if the user has done anything to annoy me that week.

        Also, users who put “URGENT” at the top of their emails when it isn’t are sent to the back of the queue

    2. 5 Leaf Clover*

      Yes, this is what I was going to suggest also – especially if the LW lives in a place where lines/queues are really respected. People will likely be a lot more likely to understand a delay once they are reminded that someone else got there first.

    3. Bathroom OP*

      I absolutely adore the “i’ve got this and this first” line because i think the real problem is my coworkers don’t understand i have other tasks, this is really perfect, thank you!

  20. TootsNYC*

    I guess the CEO thinks a ticketing system is impersonal, but as a person who needs IT help, I WANT somewhere to put my question.

    So I can stop thinking about it, and get on with some tasks, trusting that the IT folks will get to me as soon as they can.

    That’s the power of a to-do list: You don’t have to use brainpower to remember things, and you can see all that there is to do in front of you and prioritize it.

    I once had a job where everybody interrupted me, and I was really stressed.
    (We covered a study at that same time that had found: people who cannot control the pace of their work suffer the most stress.)

    So I got a clearly labeled InBox and I made people write down their name and two or three words and put it in the in box. “I’m afraid you won’t recognize that it’s important,” they’d say. “What if it gets buried?” So I would assure them that every time I went to the InBox, I went ALL the way through every piece of paper, and reordered if necessary. And I reminded them that many times, they’d come in my office and find that the box was empty, or nearly so.

    Eventually it worked.

    So that might be a thing–get an in box, and maybe even make up a form (their name, their extension, an a scale of importance from “I can’t work at all” through “I need help within an hour” and “I could wait about half a day” and “Sometime this week–not urgent.” (Note that there isn’t a “tomorrow”–because it’s either done within half a day, or it’s one of those “would be good for the future” things.)

    And promise people (make a production of it) that you’ll sort the in box all the time, and even that you might say to people, “I saw your note in the box, but Joe can’t print and the CEO needs his report–I’ll be to you soon!”

    Also, I bet a lot of those people can fix their own problems; it’s just easier and more fun to speak to you in person–but that’s not a good use of your time. If you make them fill out a brief form (really, your own ticketing system), it might make them figure it out.

    It might also be a time to go to the CEO and say, “NOW, now that we are in this new office space, I need a ticketing system. And so does everyone else, so they can get on my to-do list without having to remember, or having to find me wherever I am.”

    The other one is just boundaries. Never let people tell you in person: “I’m on my way to pee–I can’t think about this now. Email me/put a form in my box.” And repeat, repeat, repeat.

    or, “I’m on the phone, it’s really distracting to have you hover. Go away and email me.”

    1. Bathroom OP*

      Not being able/trusted to set my own priorities/push back when stuff is not urgent is the biggest thing upsetting me now. My boss has my back but he’s remote.

      Also thank you for validating and giving a script for something i was thinking about but didn’t have the words for- i do want to talk to the CEO and say, ok now that everyone is settled in, this needs to change and here is what i propose.

  21. BRR*

    Alison’s answer includes the wording but I’m adding on, those add ons for the actions your coworkers need to do for help are really important. I respond to internal requests sort of like IT and I know how people like us can get dinged for not “being helpful.” Bonus points if you can word these responses so that it sounds like it benefits the other person. “can you send me an email so I have all of the information about the issue? This will hopefully make it easier/quicker for me to solve.” Something like that but worded better.

  22. staceyizme*

    A ticket system would help so much! But your boss who is opposed to them should help set up expectations for outcomes that are sustainable. I’d stop addressing issues on the fly and return to email with a standard protocol for the subject line. No more open access. If you feel you must have some open access, specify days and hours when you will entertain general questions. Everything else should flow through email. Emergency access should be reserved for “the whole system went down and a bad agent is using ransomware to extort us”. Everything else should flow through a uniform channel. (Or you should “flow”right to another job…)

  23. Leah*

    as an IT support myself, I knew the OP was also working at IT support as soon as I finished reading the title :’) he’s got it way worse than I do, but it’s the classic “oh hi! I know you’re rushing to the toilet/having lunch/brushing your teeth, but let me ask you just this quick thing?” that everyone who’s ever worked support has suffered before. I sometimes do a long pause and go “…sure,” without smiling so people catch on the next time they think of doing it. not sure if it actually works yet.

    1. Bathroom OP*

      Yeah, i had to write to Alison because i wound up snapping at someone, i had walked in with my hands full, coat still on and they shoved their phone in my face and asked if I was busy…body language cues are not enough and i was like “i don’t know what do you think?” and then i felt bad.

      1. CM*

        I want to encourage both of you to practice! It really does get easier to say no to this kind of request after you get used to doing it. It can help to think of the person asking you an actual question that you’re entitled to say no to, rather than making a demand. Like if they asked, “Do you like pie?” you could say yes or no and it wouldn’t feel like you were doing something wrong by saying no. Saying in a cheery tone, “I can’t take requests right now but if you’ll email me, I promise to get back to you,” and repeating as needed, is a great skill to develop.

        I’m also in a position where people like to drop by and call with incredibly complicated “quick questions,” so I’ve learned to do this — but I have to agree with others insisting that ticketing is the way to go. I have a “request portal” where people can fill out a quick form online (name, contact info, description of their issue) and then it gets sent to me. It helps immensely to be able to say, “OK, please fill out this form so your request can get into my queue.”

    2. Paulina*

      I find that people who try to ask me questions as I walk by are asking them right then (and not previously) in large part because they’ve forgotten about them until they see me. They had the “I need to ask / tell Paulina this” thought filed in the back of their head, got distracted with something else, and seeing me reminds them that they wanted to talk to me, so they try to do it right then. I catch myself reacting like that too sometimes, but I try not to act on it. I push back these interrupts by asking for email with more details and insisting that I can’t be expected to remember things completely otherwise; I have a senior enough position that I can push back pretty hard, though, if it’s needed.

  24. Eponymous*

    “Pee time is me time.” It’s a lighter way to say it, at least. Then absolutely refuse to answer any questions asked while (and immediately before and after) you’re using the facilities.

    I’m not in IT but I’ve become a go-to in my office for a bunch of things. I always ask for people to email me because that way both the requestor and I have documentation of the request (particularly if something is forgotten), and I have documentation if my supervisor asks where I’m spending my time.

    1. Noah*

      Yes, but then “poo time is you time” comes back to bite you in the…um…butt.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        And constipation allows negotiation…well, you’re not doing anything right now!

      2. Grapey*

        The annoying person would be saying this as a rebuttal, which still works in OP’s favor!

  25. lnelson in Tysons*

    I get interrupted a lot.
    However as I become more and more of a curmudgeon to the person interrupting my phone call I would probably have some answer that would get me into trouble like: “interrupt me on the phone one more time, unless you really are dying, your request will automatically go to the last spot.” Or if they followed me into the bathroom. “I wouldn’t hesitate to yell “I’m changing my tampon. Go away.” Granted if OP is a guy that might not work as well.

  26. Noah*

    I have so many suggestions here, but almost none of them are PG (or, probably, at all appropriate).

  27. Jennifer Juniper*

    EEEEEWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!! What kind of disgusting people follow other people to the bathroom???

    1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      The same people who use their cell phone while they’re on the toilet in a public restroom. Because whomever is one the other end really needs to hear other people flushing.

  28. Catsaber*

    The first thoughts that come to my mind re: against ticketing systems are:
    – cost
    – implementation

    They already have email, so is the CEO figuring why not just use that? That was the rationale of a former boss of mine – she didn’t want to license a system for us (an app support group). Also, I’ve been through enough IT implementations (including multiple systems like ticketing systems, CMS, etc) to know that it can be hell. People get SO BOGGED DOWN in the details and often the implementation will just fall down dead because no one can agree on anything.

    Anyway, those are just some reasons as to why the CEO might be against it – I myself am 100% in favor a ticketing system. As for the OP – I think your best bet is to redirect people, whether it’s “come back at this time,” or sending you an email, or setting up a knowledge base (if you don’t already have one). I used to work with a team that had some big-time interruption offenders, and I had to spend a little while constantly redirecting them, but it paid off.

    1. Bathroom OP*

      ding ding ding, cost and implementation :) A KB is one of the workarounds, we also have an internal bug tracker that i could use for known issues (phone set up, printer toner)…

      1. CM*

        Ooh, I just saw this. So I mentioned above I have a “request portal” rather than a true ticketing system. It’s just a web form. The person gets an auto-reply saying their request has been submitted. The advantage of using a form is that the emails are uniform. You can put information in the subject line or headers and set filters in your email to sort the emails automatically. Quick and easy implementation and no cost.

  29. Lurking Tom*

    Yikes, I really feel for you, OP. I had this exact scenario as well & ended up leaving IT altogether when it did inevitably spiral out of control and the stress was very negatively affecting my health (we had all of the following as ways of submitting issues: ticket system, email, instant messenger, Skype, phone & I was the only support person. By the time I left I was thousands of issues behind).

    1. RandomU...*

      That sounds less of a process issue and more of a coverage/resource issue. That’s too bad and I don’t blame you for getting away from it.

      1. Lurking Tom*

        Thank you, it was definitely a resource issue as well, but the process didn’t help. I’d log into the ticket system in the morning and start with the urgent tickets, get through a few before the first instant messages started, each of which took priority. Skype, phone & email usually came from the west coast, but by the time they started up I was already neck deep in other requests as the size of the ticket queue continued to grow. For the last year-plus I was there, I never had a day where the ticket queue was smaller at the end of the day than it was at the beginning. I would not wish that on anyone. I was doing 12 hour days 5-6 days a week for over a year and falling further behind daily. I quite literally just snapped one day, yelled at someone who was just trying to do their job, felt awful about it & quit the next day.

  30. Amethystmoon*

    The only trouble with trying to be firm about boundaries is that it only works if OP’s manager accepts being able to say no at times like say, when leaving at the end of the day. I’ve had jobs where it was expected to drop everything for such a request, and where I would have been fired for saying no.

  31. Rainy days*

    It’s crazy that there is no ticketing system, but as others commented, it sounds like you need to build a defacto one via email.

    With that said, I think it is important to build trust that when people submit a request via new system, it *will* get addressed. I worked in school where the lone IT person completely ignored the ticketing system but was very responsive to in-person requests, so guess how everyone got his attention?

    I’m sure it’s also very difficult to address issues while you’re being harassed constantly to solve everyone’s problems instantly–but stay firm and hopefully people will gain trust in a new system when they see you solving their problems.

  32. greenbeanies*

    OP, I feel you. I did IT helpdesk at performing arts non-profits for 10+ years. Great places to work, but I was often working with actors and musicians who often didn’t want to follow formal business procedures and rules, and upper management were theater directors who also didn’t care about IT processes.

    I also had the constant stream of requests wherever I was in the building, plus people calling me at home on the evenings and weekends (though we didn’t provide after-hours support). I had someone send me a Messenger message on Christmas Eve (someone I wasn’t even FB friends with) because they couldn’t remember the webmail URL and thought bothering me that night for a trivial request was somehow ok.

    Frankly, I don’t see how you can continue to manage things without some kind of ticketing system. We had to do it after the same thing happened to our team–managing requests via email was just untenable and stressful. It’s such a common IT practice these days that I really question any manager who is “against” such a system.

    We had pushback when we first implemented a system from our Managing Director (who is like a CEO), but we eventually got buy-in after explaining how it would help users more, not hinder them. I think the common complaint is that it’s too much of a time burden to ask users to submit tickets. But the benefits far outweigh the few minutes users have to take to complete a ticket. Your users can see the status of their ticket to know whether you’re working on it. You’re able to triage better, which means users with the most urgent issues can be assured you’ll get to them first.

    Management will have metrics to justify paying IT staff. A few months after we launched our ticketing system, we announced at an All Hands that we had closed over 1,000 tickets. It surprised people and I think our department was viewed differently after that.

    But most of all, your management should *care* that your current system isn’t working and is causing you stress, and they should accept that there is an industry-standard solution for this. If this isn’t happening, I’d really question my employment there, because there are other IT helpdesk jobs in orgs that care about successful helpdesk management.

  33. That One Person*

    I like a lot of the suggested solutions. I will admit if I were in OP’s position I might mistake the waving as a “hello” and smile n wave back…as to bathroom I probably also wouldn’t be very tactful as I probably couldn’t help calling them out on the fact they’re asking about issues while I’m having one of my own at the time. And then sometimes I imagine they’d vacate after a few minutes anyways.

  34. animaniactoo*

    Honestly, I’d toss some humor in too, particularly as you’re going to be calling people out on the fact that they’re rude and have completely lost sight of the boundaries.

    “I’ll be happy to help you with that – just as soon as I’m done peeing.” [wink] [enter stall]

    If they attempt to talk to you while peeing “la la la la, I’m PEEING, I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” and then address it calmly afterwards “I get that we’re all a lot more available to each other, but please understand that talking to people when I’m in the bathroom is really uncomfortable for me.”

    Also: “I’m really sorry but I have to leave right now or I’m going to lose my entire evening to people asking me to look into just one more thing. Leave me a note please and I’ll take a look in the morning.” and then keep walking. The key here is that you don’t actually need their agreement to walk away and end the conversation. You can just… make a statement and act on it.

    However – it also sounds like maybe your company is either at or close to the level of needing an addition IT/help desk person. It might be worth bringing this up to your boss/CEO as “People seem to be feeling like their issues aren’t being resolved quickly enough. A ticketing system might help this, but maybe we’ve grown enough that what we really need is another body to help tackle these promptly.”

  35. Triplestep*

    Facilities professionals have this problem, too. In one former job, we all piled into our conference room for lunch since no one could go to the cafeteria without being accosted by people for whom the sight of us was a reminder of something they needed to ask/tell/update/be updated on.

    Unfortunately, OP, I think a CEO who eschews a ticketing system would not take kindly to signs, signup sheets, or limiting hours of the day to certain tasks and conversations. I used to employ a technique I’ve seen Alison suggest which was to make it seem like a quirk about me: “Oh, I have a terrible memory, could you please e-mail me? I’ll forget as soon as I get back to my desk and get involved in something else.” Or “Oh, I’m in the middle of something, can you please e-mail me? With all the balls I have in the air, I just want to make sure I don’t forget.”

  36. TexasThunder*

    I think this is an opportune moment to use my favorite popular quotation “DUDE! WTF?”

  37. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    And now we can all see why IT tends to be grouchy AF, they have to deal with not being able to even take a bathroom break without someone tugging on their arm for assistance! I’m glad you haven’t burnt out yet, OP but it’s sure coming at this rate =(

    You will have to start putting your foot down. This happens with all positions on some level when you support a major function. I’ve had it happen a lot over the years as my duties have included a lot of things so if someone sees me it’s “Oh oh oh can we talk about this right now?!” kind of thing. Usually if I have time, naturally I assist in the moment. However I have had to become comfortable saying “I can’t right now. As you see, I’m going to the restroom…email me adn I’ll check it when I get back to my desk after my break/in the morning when I arrive.” And stick to it.

  38. Koala dreams*

    I’m in the middle of something right now, can you come back in 5/10/30 minutes?

    Or the classic:
    I’m sorry, I’m not sitting at my computer at the moment, so I can’t help you. Can you come to my desk later?

    For the toilet or lunch room: I didn’t bring my computer so I can’t help you.
    For when you’re leaving: I already shut off my computer so it’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

    1. virago*

      And the problem with training cats is that you have to start when they’re kittens! (As I’ve surmised from friends who’ve succeeded in training their felines to walk on a leash, sit still for having their teeth brushed, and enjoy traveling.)

      1. Flash Bristow*

        Nah you don’t! I adopted Matilda from a few years old, and she will sit, stand, paw, other paw, softly bip me on the nose, etc. She was called by a different name before, too.

        You just need determination, decent bribes, and a cat that isn’t stupid :)

        1. Jessen*

          But you do have to be thoroughly consistent at only rewarding the behavior you want and ignoring them when you get the behavior you don’t want. If you give in every once in a while they’ll just keep pestering you. Kind of like the coworkers here.

  39. Be Positive*

    I had a coworker who did this to people. I was 8 months pregnant and just wasn’t having it. I just loudly said “your request will be reviewed after my quarterly hour need to pee”

    Stopped following me to the bathroom after that.

  40. Rachel*

    This is horrifying. I hope Alison’s suggestions help and you can retrain your coworkers!

    If not, maybe set off a Weasley-style Decoy Detonator and run out the door while everyone’s distracted…

  41. Bathroom OP*

    Hi all,

    I’m late to the comments game because of time zones (I’m not in the US). If i don’t respond to all of you directly, thank you! My biggest take aways are a combination of Alison’s and your advice, especially

    * office hours- i was toying with this and in the comments i got ideas how to enforce. I have two days a week with hard deadlines and i will also do better at spelling those times out.
    * i love Alison’s idea of a piece of paper for conference calls!
    * we do have a IM system i can set to busy- this works well with people trying to reach my boss, so i’m going to start that today.

    More generally, the ticketing issue is complicated- one reason is that we have one for external requests and highers up are afraid of stuff i should do getting sent elsewhere AND we might be merging with this system in the medium term so it’s a money issue; the second is there is a fear, even with freeware, it will devolve into a metrics game, a fear i also share. Also my boss is an angel and looping boss in is not a problem- i will have support in my choices, it was the how that was messing me up because my boss is remote.

    I’m going to respond inline to some of you but i really wanted to thank Alison and everyone for kind and helpful advice.

  42. Documentor*

    OP – I am empathetic to this, having done this type of work in the front half of the career. This type of setup will eat a person alive, and even in the best of setups is zero-sum due to the never-done nature of this type of work. Respectfully, the open workplace setup and lack of ticketing system are symptoms vs causes. Most long-runnning tech support providers have a pleaser personality, and this has festered to way past unhealthy. That you are taking issue with the current state is good, but hopefully you have a supportive boss that will help you buffer what will be seen as as ‘unrespsonive’ when suddenly people just can’t have complete and total access to you.

    This is really about self-respect, and unfortunately in a work context people feel justified with their approach, figuring you are paid to deal with it. It’s going to take backbone to make a change, but this should also be on your manager who has likely let you bear the brunt so he/she doesn’t have to. That person needs to understand that this will fall on them if/when you hit your limit, and be ready to intercept people who will complain because they can’t treat you as poorly. I can’t emphasize enough that this is a personally toxic environment, and it should be treated as such if you can’t get any support to make this better.

    Good luck, and please write back with what happens. It will take 3-6 months easily to either make it better there or make it better for you somewhere else.

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