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I recently started a new job.

My coworker who sometimes works from home asked me which desk I sit at when he is not there. I told him at the same desk I normally do. He told me that needs to change, and I have to sit at his desk when he's not there because it makes our department look unfriendly when someone isn't sitting close to the door of our room.

I asked if someone said anything and he said not to us but they will talk amongst themselves. Normally it's just the two of us in the room.

I asked our manager if there's a reason I must sit at the desk when the other person isn't there and he said not really as long as someone answers the phone if it rings (which is rare).

If my coworker brings it up again should I just tell him I spoke with the manager?

One of the reasons I would rather stay at my own desk is because all my stuff is there and I would rather not move everything for no good reason. Though there's enough space for just my laptop on his desk, he doesn't fully clean it off and I don't want to be responsible for something happening to an item he has on his desk.

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9 Answers 9

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I asked our manager if there's a reason I must sit at the desk when the other person isn't there and he said not really as long as someone answers the phone if it rings (which is rare). If my coworker brings it up again should I just tell him I spoke with the manager?

Yes, you can say that. He's your manager and what he says overrides the opinion (yup, opinion) of your coworker.

(if he brings this up again) tell him that your manager didn't instruct you to sit there, but to be aware of the phone ringing. If your coworker insists on you sitting there, politely tell them to speak with manager.

From your post I get that this coworker is "on your same level" (both have same manager), but perhaps this coworker has been there longer and thus may "feel" that he has authority over what you do (not uncommon in my experience). Politely and professionally push back/redirect to manager if coworker insists.

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  • Does it change anything if two coworkers are now saying it?
    – ClanLatin
    Sep 8, 2023 at 5:07
  • They are still not your boss, and none of them surpass your boss's authority. Sounds like another coworker that's been there longer than you and "feels" entitled to boss you around... apply the same suggestion given to this and any other future coworkers.
    – DarkCygnus
    Sep 8, 2023 at 19:08
  • @ClanLatin now I'm going to give another point of view. You boss didn't forbid or say "dont change seats". He just said "it's not mandatory that you switch seats/desk"... That means that you still have the choice to change seats if you want, or if there would be benefit in doing so... perhaps this changing seats is an agreement or "rule" that coworkers do often as they've seen/experienced benefit in doing so. I'm not saying boss is ignorant, but sometimes the actual people there (you and coworkers) know a bit more about the daily things that happen on the department.
    – DarkCygnus
    Sep 8, 2023 at 19:13
  • I'd suggest asking these coworkers to give you more justifications and explanations on the reasons for changing seats, and if you are convinced by those, and see no harm in changing, then abiding to this would perhaps be something a "team player" does... also bring the subject of things like "sure, I can change seats, but then please remove all your stuff the day before you leave so I don't mess with your things"... that way you also cover you back and would probe if these coworkers are just bossing you around or are willing to have a two-way compromise
    – DarkCygnus
    Sep 8, 2023 at 19:15
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  • I tend to ignore such people.
  • If he insists, just say "I prefer to sit at my location".
  • If he is still persistent, then say "I will shift if my manager/boss tells me to".

It is better than getting into an argument over it or aggravating the situate by mentioning that you have already talked with your manager.

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How can I handle this?

By sitting at your desk as usual.


Other answers you got are kind (and to the point). I would add the case where your coworker is insecure, megalomaniac or establishing the pecking order, and feeling that he ought to "leadership" you because he is older/younger/taller/shorter/seniorer/juniorer or some other -er.

You move away from your desk and you are done. You lost the contest and have admitted that you need his leadership.

Stare squarely into his eyes when slowly sitting in your chair and getting the stapler out.

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  • 6
    I recommend a red stapler in this case (of course, a Swingline, they don't bind up as much).
    – msouth
    Sep 3, 2023 at 4:41
  • Is the last paragraph an anecdote or serious advice? I felt it to be rather passive-aggressive, but perhaps the coworker deserves it. Or the culture is different from what I'm used to. Sep 4, 2023 at 15:31
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    @MindwinRememberMonica: this is semi-serious (and a reference to The Office). Ultimately you want to assert your dominance (no, no - just kidding, I will be edited again :)). Seriously though - in my culture (France) you are expected to keep your ground, usually in a passive-aggressive way.
    – WoJ
    Sep 4, 2023 at 15:35
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    So it's a cultural thing AND a joke. Gotcha and thanks for replying. Sep 4, 2023 at 16:23
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Generally it is often best to just ignore anything like this. If they don't have the authority to instruct you then don't bother getting into a dialogue over it.

It prevents arguments and justifications and defers it to another time if ever.

At the end of the day it's a petty matter at best.

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Taking a different angle to this, if your co-worker is so concerned about the look of their desk when they're not there, but working from home, they can simply not work from home. If you accept their logic then the reason for this problem is them working from home and, again if you want to be pedantic, the solution is them not working from home.

Note also that, if you move to your colleague's desk, it will look as if your desk is unmanned when you're supposed to be there. If you have a nasty, suspicious mind (like mine) you might wonder if that's your colleague's objective. At the very least they seem more concerned with the appearance of their desk than yours.

as long as someone answers the phone if it rings

Phones can be forwarded to another number if someone is out, so there's no need for this drama at all. It may even be possible to forward your colleague's calls (automatically) to their home number if that's appropriate. Maybe they should be doing this, depending on what kind of calls you get.

You've asked your manager and got an answer. That's all there is to it.

Sit where you want, guilt free.

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  • To the OP, @ClanLatin , please read this part of the answer "if you move to your colleague's desk, it will look as if your desk is unmanned when you're supposed to be there.".
    – Nobody
    Sep 3, 2023 at 5:03
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It could be a genuine concern in the interest of the company.

(Like if the room should look busy for a customer comes by, for example)

It could be solved by permanently changing your desks.

That even works if the concern itself is nonsense.

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    This could be a solution to proof the absurdity of the original argument, because I suspect the coworker will right out refuse to permanently change desk. In this case they settled the argument by themselves.
    – Marcel
    Sep 5, 2023 at 5:21
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I would rather stay at my own desk is because all my stuff is there and I would rather not move everything for no good reason.

This seems to be perfect for what you can tell him when he asks you to move. The only change I would make is rather than say "I would rather stay..." change it to "I will stay..."

Regarding his stuff being on his desk, tell him you have more space on yours and you don't want to disturb his stuff. Regarding how "unfriendly" it looks, just say you discussed it with the boss and he thinks it's fine if you stay at your desk.

If you're uncomfortable with the confrontation on the phone, you could give a non-committal answer on the phone, then later email him back saying

"I've thought about it, but I've decided to stay at my own desk" and outline the above reasons.

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  • +1. It's not wrong to ignore or dismiss them, but I find it advisable to try diplomacy first, while staying firm. Sep 4, 2023 at 19:43
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Many remarks here seem to assume that there's something sinister about the "bossy" colleague.

It sounds to me more like just a combination of neurotic flapping, and a lack of perspective.

The colleague may have chosen their desk for the specific reason they state - for its location and its perceived psychological effect on visitors. Naturally, in their absence, they'd want the same desk occupied in priority to any other.

The most obvious legitimate case of this is where there is a true reception desk designed for interactions with visitors, and additional desks off to one side or in another room. Naturally, when the receptionist is off, someone else is told to occupy the reception desk.

I gather the issue here is that we aren't talking about a reception desk or about public visitors, but about an internal staff function where there isn't the need for the formality of a public bar or a need for there to be a visual attractor to guide the unfamiliar.

What's more important is to have a fixed workstation where there's an arrangement of things suited to your usual work. The fact that the colleague doesn't clear his own desk, establishes that such an arrangement is desirable.

In these circumstances, just tackle the issue head on: you understand his thinking, but don't think it's important enough to be moving between desks on a daily basis and upsetting your own routine.

Clearly you already have the backing of your manager, so that really should be the end of the matter.

You also mentioned in comments about a special charging cable. Again, I don't think there's anything sinister about this. It's a special cable kept spare on hand for a specific purpose - your colleague provided a different cable for general use.

Perhaps the real issue is either one of personality conflict, or of an employer who is unreasonably stingy and creates complexity and conflict where there needn't be any - for example, instead of just buying several high quality cables to meet all needs, there ends up being an overly-fussy system of allocation.

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He or she seem to think that if they have some opinion, for some reason you are obliged to follow their opinion. Which is of course absolutely not true.

Next time they try to tell you what to do, either it’s something you would be doing anyway, so you say “what gives you the impression that I wouldn’t be doing this? Is someone accusing me of not doing my job?”, or there is no reason to do it, and you say “what gives you the impression I would be doing this just because you say so? You may feel free to do this when you’re in the office, but I certainly won’t”. If he tries to give reasons, you can say “I totally disagree with that”.

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