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I need to interface with a lot of people on a day-to-day basis. The problem with this sometimes is that when I go out for lunch or for a quick snack, I am not available.

I hate to make people wait for me to return and if I'm going long enough I usually leave a sticky on my cubicle saying I'm out for so and so.

Firstly, is it even professional to leave stickies? It feels childish somehow.

Secondly, also I have the nagging feeling of being mistaken. What if I'm mistaken to be a slacker who takes breaks that are long enough to justify writing a note, by someone like say my manager? What is the popular approach here?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Has anyone ever actually commented to you on "hey you weren't around earlier and it was a problem?" You should ask yourself this first.

Second, are these interactions with people who share a messenger/interoffice communicator? Most places have something you can set a status to "away" or "be right back" which is considerably more professional in my opinion.

Assuming you have people asking and cannot use this, to answer

Firstly, is it even professional to leave stickies? It feels childish somehow.

This depends completely on your office environment. Some places this would be seen as completely unprofessional and some places this is completely fine. Because you are asking about this, it would seem you have a slightly more professional environment, and if you really do not think a post-it/sticky would appear unprofessional, simply print off a page saying "Sorry I missed you - I am away" or something similar. Or if you have a whiteboard at your desk use this. Lots of more professional options.

Secondly, also I have the nagging feeling of being mistaken. What if I'm mistaken to be a slacker who takes breaks that are long enough to justify writing a note, by someone like say my manager? What is the popular approach here?

Again, this completely depends on the environment. If your office is a 7:00 - 11:30, lunch, 12:00-3:30 type of office where you have a very structured working hours you may be seen that way. If you work in a more laid back environment then not.

Having a printed sheet, by the way, would make this seem less "slackerish" if you use the same sheet every time.


Something else to keep in mind is you may be making a huge issue out of nothing. People in office environments are frequently gone for meetings or other obligations other than breaks. This is to be expected in most environments. Additionally, as people become management or have more responsibilities, they even more often away from their desk.

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@Arpith I had actually edited another paragraph before your comment - people in most office environments have meetings or other things during the day. I don't know what your particular situation is, but I would say it's rare for most office employees to sit at their desk all day every day regardless of breaks –  enderland Oct 9 '12 at 17:11
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I frankly don't understand why a sticky note would be considered unprofessional. Maybe I just haven't worked in an environment where it would be. In the past, I've had a few hand-written sticky notes ("back soon", "out to lunch", etc.), and I'd just put the appropriate one on my monitor screen. If somebody had a problem with that, I might ask them what planet they're from. What am I missing? –  Keith Thompson Oct 9 '12 at 21:55
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@KeithThompson in some more professional environments (say a corporate office with lots of executives or visiting groups where having a super professional image is important) this may be an issue, I guess –  enderland Oct 9 '12 at 22:24

It depends on the environment. Most places I've personally worked, the stickies aren't really necessary. People are more often away from their desks than at them. And it doesn't really take a rocket scientist to realize that if someone isn't at their desk or replying to email around noon that they're probably at lunch...

Some places though are different and the notes are commonplace. See what others do and follow their lead.

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@Arpith I've not worked many places where physically walking to a random person's desk was commonplace. Email is good, mmmkay. –  Telastyn Oct 9 '12 at 17:46
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@Arpith If you're supposed to meet "loads of people", then you should really just plan the meetings. I see walking up to someone's desk as something you generally do when there's a plan (so they should be there) or you have a quick question that can be solved faster in person (in which case you can generally send an email or check back later if they're not there). –  Brendan Long Oct 9 '12 at 19:32

One job I had required me to have lots of meetings and make regular trips to the various production facilities. I got a small magnetic dry erase board (similar to this one) and hung it by the cubicle entrance. I labeled it "Tangurena Finder" and had a large pie chart drawn on it. I moved the magnet to indicate where I was. I'd jot an estimated time when I expected to return. At this job I usually spent about 10-15 hours per week in my cubicle. Sometimes, jokers would change the labels on the pie chart. At this time, dry erase boards were very rare to see in cubes. If I were in a similar situation today, I would print the daily schedule from Outlook and post it in my cube. Ad hoc/last minute meetings would be handwritten on the schedule.

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If you're mostly away for scheduled meetings, perhaps simply sharing your calendar with your colleagues would be a better solution? Microsoft Outlook allows you to share calendars with your co-workers, meaning they will be able to check exactly when you are busy and when you are available without having to walk to your desk, and without you having to manually write a note.

Also, in line with Enderland's suggestion of marking yourself as "Away" in your office IM system, some calendars (e.g. Outlook) can automatically do this for you.

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