updates: how can I pull back on a friendship with a coworker, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day — there’s more to come today.

1. How can I pull back on a friendship with a coworker? (#2 at the link)

It certainly has been a learning experience and implementing some of your suggestions has worked in a lot of ways. I greatly appreciate your help. I think I needed permission to not be as nice as I was and it was helpful that other folks had similar experiences in the comments.

Shortly after receiving your initial advice, this person and I disagreed on a work policy and they blew up at me. They also were having similar interactions with other coworkers on different floors and in different departments. I decided then and there to put your steps into action and also take it a bit further to protect myself and my sanity! I realized I needed to follow my gut and give myself the green light to limit friendships in the office, starting with this one.

What’s worked:

I stopped answering calls and texts from them on my personal devices. If they talk to me about work, it has to be via traditional company channels so I can keep a paper trail. I muted their messages in my cell phone so I am not alerted to their attempts to contact me outside of work hours. If they ask, I just say that I didn’t get it or I was busy and saw it too late. I am busy outside of work so it passes muster.

I have ended my open door policy completely. I used to keep my door to my office open all the time. I do not anymore. If I know that the person in question is on site, I will close my door, lock it and mark that I am in a meeting or busy. It sucks because it restricts my own movement in our building but, it helps discourage them from coming to my space. I have asked if anyone needs me, to message me and ask if I have the time. This gives me the option to say no.

I also stopped speaking to them about any issues or information I have about work or people at work. This means no gossip or information is shared unless about a specific joint project. If they try to come vent to me I say, “I have only a few minutes before my next meeting” to cut the interaction short. If they ask my opinion, I don’t have one. I also do not ask follow-up questions.

As a result, we do not hang out in or out of the office anymore. We do not spend much time speaking other than to go over project details or if they have a question. It is still hard. There is a definitive shift in the energy when we interact. We are still polite, but they are hot and cold with me. Because of the incident mentioned earlier, I am sometimes on edge but the restricted engagement has helped me manage.

2. A disgruntled fired employee says he’s coming to a work event I’m planning (#3 at the link)

I spoke to our human resources person, and she told me that she and the director had already reached out to the local police about coming to the event, and Sam was notified that he is barred from attending it.

They’re still waiting to hear back from the police, so I will be checking in regularly until I hear that they’ve actually agreed to come, and if they don’t, I’ll look into hiring private security or canceling the event.

On the urging of the commenters, I also contacted local law enforcement about Sam, because a) I don’t know exactly what upper management told them and b) I realized that my concerns about Sam won’t end even if this event goes smoothly.

3. My husband and I share a home office — how do we make this work?

Thanks for running this Ask the Readers question last year! I had a busy day when it ran and didn’t participate in the comments at all. It sure was interesting to look back and see all the assumptions people were making! As I expected, the most useful feedback we received was from people who actually do share successfully home offices. Thank you to all those who shared their experience!

What we took away was the most important thing is to be sure we’re not on calls at the same time to avoid audio interference. So we set up an alternative call space in our bedroom (aka I cleaned off my vanity), and then every morning we compare schedules and decide who’s going to take calls where. We set up the shared office the month before I went on maternity leave, and we’ve been loving it ever since! We both always use headsets and virtual/blurred backgrounds for calls so this works perfectly for us. We also have a clearly defined workspace space away from the baby (who is taken care of by someone else in the house during the day), which was important to us.

So with some good communication we have a super easy solution … no need for my husband to do an hour long commute everyday, share our bedroom with a baby for a year (he moved into his own bedroom at four months and everyone slept 100% better), or my favorite ridiculous suggestion: build a freestanding wired office shed in our tiny backyard. Maybe if we have another kid!

4. Can my younger coworkers read cursive? (#4 at the link)

The commenters helped me realize I could ask my 20-something direct report, who was the one I was most worried about, especially since the power differential would have made it harder for her to speak up. She delightedly said that she loves cursive, but that her same-aged family members who grew up in this area generally can’t read it. Like I said in the comments, it doesn’t come up a lot, but it seems reasonable for me to take a second to think about whether cursive is likely to be comprehensible before using it in work-related things.

{ 69 comments… read them below }

  1. Juicebox Hero*

    I always print when I have to write something someone else will have to read, mostly because my cursive writing is horrendous. I was the only kid in my class who never got As for penmanship.

    1. Clearance Issues*

      yeah I use drafting writing if it’s for someone else to read since I’m a touch dislexic and STILL write my lowercase Bs and Ds backwards when I print, but calligraphy and cursive are some hobbies of mine so I know them.

    2. anon24*

      I was homeschooled by a mother who insisted that cursive was the way, and in elementary school I had to handwrite all my papers, no typing. So I used cursive A LOT. Funny thing, I never ever could read it, not even my own. I could write it, but not read it. I also had to re-write the entire paper if I made any mistakes. Vivid memories of having to re-write 10 page long papers 7 or 8 times and getting a frustrated “how can you not see you are doing this wrong!” and trying to explain that once it’s on the paper I don’t actually know what it says.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      It’s funny but right after that question ran originally I started seeing tons of comic strips and memes doing the “secret code? NO, it’s just cursive” joke. Like, four or five within a week!

    4. Yes, I’m that old*

      Recently at a meeting with the majority of attendees being 60+. One attendee who is 20. That person asked the rest of us to write down our ideas about a project they are working on. When we handed them over the response was, “I can’t read any of these, you’ll have to read them to me and I’ll take notes.” As a group, we were stunned and felt like we were wrong to use cursive.

      1. Dave*

        I’m 47, earning low 6-figures, and I have not been required to read anything in cursive since approximately high school. Once computers became ubiquitous in roughly the mid 90s, cursive vanished for me on everything except my own signature (which is just a scrawl). I *can* still read it, as a few years ago, I came across a recipe card written by my grandmother in my mom’s stuff when she passed away. But it does not shock me that people younger than me can’t read cursive, nor do I think they need to be able to read it to do their jobs well – I also can’t read Gouverneur Morris’s handwriting in the Constitution, but I believe that document is still enforceable over me and all of us today.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      I can’t write for long by hand either way. It’s always going to be typing. If not, printing since it’s a bit more legible.

      If it’s just for me, i.e., notes, I write in cursive. I really wish they hadn’t stopped teaching it because learning it has cognitive benefits, it’s faster to write that way, and dang it, not everyone works on a computer all the time.

      1. Tally miss*

        Its not faster or easier for left handed people. Try pushing the pen across the page while writing cursive. It tends to tear the paper or break pencil leads.

  2. The Prettiest Curse*

    I remember the original letter from update 2. I’m glad that you have a solid security plan now. This kind of situation gives us event planners nightmares.

  3. Dadjokesareforeveryone*

    Update 2, you’re doing the right thing by contacting the police directly to make sure your former coworker is firmly on their radar. Stay safe.

    1. Quill*

      Yeah, that one was worrisome. Hopefully Sam has found something better to do, like looking for a new job.

      1. JB*

        Not to mention improving his professional behaviour. His inability to accept his role in what happened, plus lashing out on social media, that OP was right to be worried.

  4. OrigCassandra*

    Wishing you the best and safest event ever, Update 2. May Sam stay far, far away.

  5. BubbleTea*

    I don’t think it was particularly ridiculous for people to suggest non-office sharing options for LW3. I certainly couldn’t work from home with another person working in the same room for a different organisation (not just because of confidentiality etc).

    1. Lab Rabbit*

      I think it’s because LW was looking for suggestions before it came to that. So yeah, it is kind of ridiculous. People had a need to give their opinions, rather than offering actual help to the LW. This can actually become a disincentive for people to write in if it starts to happen a lot.

      1. Siege*

        A lot of updates point out the fanfic the commenters often come up with. Much of it seems to revolve around variations of “I couldn’t possibly stand this thing, so why on earth do you think you can/should/want to???”

      2. Kippu*

        I also don’t think the LW was calling *all* the suggestions “ridiculous”, just that some were and the given example was their favorite.

      3. Jennifer Strange*

        Yup, like the person last week who asked about how to screen out employers with a start time earlier than 9:00 am. I’d say about 50% of the comments were about how the LW should just suck it up and accept a job with an earlier start time or they were “pathological” to pass on a job for that reason. The LW made it clear they could afford to be picky, so why shouldn’t they? Also, that wasn’t their question!

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          Yeah, I made a comment with regard to that, and the LW said, yes, exactly! They were trying to avoid being snarky in the comments.

      4. Jake*

        Are people actually writing in to see the comments though? I’ve always thought that when I write in I’m getting one expert’s opinion. I hadn’t really considered that people are actually factoring in commenter reactions before writing in.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Maybe that wasn’t their intention when writing in, but when Alison makes it an “Ask the Readers” question the LW doesn’t get one expert’s opinion. Instead they get lots of reader opinions of varying levels of usefulness.

        2. anon for this*

          I have factored it in when writing in, yes, because the commenters can make such ridiculous speculations and declare, based on non-existent things that they have decided must be true, that the letter writer is a horrible manager. It’s really, really, really frustrating as a letter writer.

        3. Michelle Smith*

          I mean, yes. This was specifically an ask the readers question (Thursday post) so reading the comments was the point.

          1. Six for the truth over solace in lies*

            Yeah, if you didn’t read the comments, literally all you’d get by way of response is “Readers, what say you?” If you aren’t interested in saying something useful about the question, maybe don’t comment on those.

        4. Curious*


          I read Alison’s responses and notice what others say (like I am doing now with your comment).

          Sometimes the comments are useful and unexpected. Sometimes not.

        5. Martin Blackwood*

          I mean, is there a choice when its an ask the readers question? Did you miss the mention of that detail in the letter?

        6. TeaCoziesRUs*

          I find the commentariat either just as useful as Alison’s answer or they (we?) give me other insights to chew on. I tend to skim comments on most questions unless I know it’s going to be a pile-on. YMMV. :)

    2. Suba*

      Re WFH confidentiality: OT, I’m reading the Alexandra Cooper murder mystery series by Linda Fairstein. Cooper is a sex crimes prosecutor in the New York Manhattan district attorney’s office.

      The series began in 1996, and the early novels are really dated in some ways. In #4 The Deadhouse (2001), Alex is dating national TV news correspondent Jake. During dinner at home Jake has to step into another room to take a phone call, but Alex still partially overhears that it’s about a murder. Jake insists on protecting his informant, and Alex throws a tantrum about him taking private calls in a separate room.

      I’m continuing the series, to see how it evolved over the years.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Huh, that’s not the way I expected it to go. I would have thought the reporter would be trying to learn about the prosecutor’s case, not the prosecutor throwing a tantrum trying to find out about a random murder case that probably isn’t in her jurisdiction. Presumably the reporter is planning to report on it?

        1. Suba*

          The informant is a paralegal at a law firm, and a friend of the reporter. The firm’s client, someone high-profile in his trade, told the paralegal’s attorney that he murdered his wife.

          Jake is waiting while the attorney tries to get the client -who’s scheduled for a foreign trip – to turn himself in. The best I can tell was if the client continued to refuse, the law firm would use possibly going public to change his mind.

    3. coffee*

      LW3 said she has a tiny backyard, so I think it was less “a shed is a bad idea” and more “the only shed that I can fit in my backyard will be dollhouse sized”.

      1. Elsajeni*

        Well, their question was “Has anyone successfully done this, and if so, what are your tips for success?” — the shed suggestion may be over the top, but I think “I’ve tried it and couldn’t make it work, here are some reasons why and an idea of what you could do instead” would be a useful answer to that question even if it is not precisely what the LW asked for.

    4. Orv*

      My wife and I shared an office for a while and it worked well, but I think it helped that our occupations are both heavily screen-based and neither required much phone time. It was kind of like working in an open-plan office that only had two people in it, if that makes sense.

  6. Richard Hershberger*

    Cursive-loving 20-something: I genuinely find this delightful, but keep in mind that what you have here is a hobbyist. She might also weave belts on an inkle loom, or better yet forge knives in her backyard smithy. But this is not a basis for generalization.

    1. Genevieve*

      Dude I’ve had an inkle loom in my Etsy cart for months but haven’t pulled the trigger. Maybe this is my sign…

    2. Timothy (TRiG)*

      I have friends (all ages) who happily read and write Carolingian minuscule and a variety of Gothic hands, among others. But then, I’m in the Society for Creative Anachronism.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Carolingian minuscule was the pinnacle of readability crossed with writeability. Perfect hand, best ever, no notes.

          1. Spring*

            It’s really pretty! The only thing is that the capital “H” looks like a giant lower case “n”.

      2. Yep*

        I will forever be grateful that Gothic hands introduced me to minims. It’s come up surprisingly often

  7. theothermadeline*

    I feel like 1 went a little far, or the coworker’s behavior was a lot more out of line than what I interpreted from the letter and the update. Shutting themselves off from the entire building may alienate them/make them come off as out of sync with the rest of their colleagues/office culture and have more impacts than just easier avoidance of someone.

    1. Stopped Using My Name*

      You are speaking in about a future that may happen. You don’t know that it will.

      It is just as likely that “Shutting themselves off from the entire building may alienate them/make them come off as out of sync with the rest of their colleagues/office culture and have more impacts than just easier avoidance of someone” will not cause any issue.

      1. theothermadeline*

        You’re right, it’s a maybe either way and I didn’t phrase it as a sure thing. However, it is more out of step in US offices to always have your door closed. Given that the general advice here leans toward “The person doing the weird and boundary crossing thing can be made to feel their actions,” so that LW’s can live their lives without factoring in another person’s actions so very much, it seemed like it might be a little far but it’s ultimately up to OP.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Given that the coworker blew up at her, and is blowing up at other staff, I don’t think it’s too out of line. And this way, OP can say it’s a new blanket policy she has for setting work boundaries, and not targeted at this particular coworker. That kind of plausible deniability can be valuable.

      1. Person Person*

        The LW specifically says their door is locked when the other person is on site, not all the time.

  8. LimeRoos*

    I remember letter #3! I’ve been sharing a home office with my husband for the last two years with great success. I’m basically full time wfh, and he does maybe one day a week. Glad the advice helped and you’ve successfully navigated the shared office.

  9. Lacey*

    Had to laugh that the most ridiculous suggestion was the free-standing wired shed – I have a couple of coworkers who are working out of sheds turned into home offices and one working out of an RV!

    But I’m glad the OP found a solution that works for her family!

    1. Blarg*

      My thought was … I’d put the baby in the shed.

      But that’s why I don’t have any kids. :)

    2. Lenora Rose*

      There are a lot of places where a work-shed (insulated, heated/cooled as needed, and wired) is in fact a lovely solution, but they depend on actual land-space which not everyone has, and rather fail as far as quick projects to do while also sorting a baby.

      1. Yep*

        This one reminded me of decorating/diy posts on the socials. One person asks how to arrange a space and everyone else says “Knock down that wall!” “Buy a fancy rug!” “Repaint your exteriors, add columns, and change out your windows for ones with black casing!” DOES NOBODY REMEMBER MONEY??

      2. Banana Pyjamas*

        Yeah, and zoning. As a data collector for the assessment office I have run across converted sheds that zoning tagged as unable to be occupied.

        1. Orv*

          RVs can be a zoning problem too. Some places forbid storing RVs on property, others let you store one but not occupy it.

  10. Just Thinkin' Here*

    OP 1 – I went back and read the original letter. There is a disconnect someplace. If this coworker’s interaction or reaction was that severe – this isn’t a “coworker as a friend” problem. If OP is afraid of having their door open and shutting out other coworkers, then there needs to be a third party intervention from HR or manager. This coworker sounds unstable.

    1. Zweisatz*

      I see it differently. I understand the strategy as LW trying to put some barriers to being easily available. Just like Alison suggested to text back with delay makes it less likely LW will get future texts, not having an open-door policy makes it less likely that someone comes around for a “quick chat” several times a week.
      Sure, there might be downsides, like other colleagues feeling it’s harder to contact LW, but I’m sure they’ll have considered that.

  11. Fake Kirkland Coffee*

    For #3, I do have two kids and have a home office where I spend 100% of my working hours (not shared with my husband, thank God). By contract, my office needs to have a door that can lock, which means it has to be in one of our three bedrooms. Our 4 yo and 2 year old share a bedroom just fine. No work shed required, although I did have a manager who had a wired backyard shed and loved it.

  12. Jake*

    My 20 year old sister can read cursive, but it is much more difficult, and any handwriting that isn’t great slows her WAY down.

    She cannot write cursive.

    I’m 35 and I can read cursive slightly slower than print, and I can write cursive, but only at about half the speed as printing.

    1. Nina*

      I’m 28. I can read all my family members’ handwriting (my mom has great cursive, older relatives have terrible cursive, grandma handwrites in italic, dad handwrites exclusively in drafting caps) but rarely encounter it at work. Unfortunately I fucked up my hand pretty bad a while ago and now while I can read my own cursive, my options are
      a) write in cursive much slower than I print and have it legible for most people or
      b) write in cursive much faster than I print and have it legible only for me or
      c) print and have it legible for everyone

      Of course, if something’s exclusively for my own consumption I’m just as likely to write it in shorthand, which is also illegible to everyone except me.

  13. Jolie*

    Well…I will say that a friend did build a freestanding shed (she calls it a she shed), put in a free standing air conditioner and now she and her husband don’t share. Not for everyone, but she says it has helped with the psychological barrier between work and home. She left her laptop out there and wasn’t inclined to ‘just check one email.’ (It also kept the kids from wandering in as much).

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