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I started a job at a research facility for the government and there's some things I'm very unused to given my past jobs. For example, each person has their own office. So this means there's no one in the room I work in. This changes the dynamic because its much more "work" to walk down the hall and enter someone else's room. We don't have an instant messenger and usually use e-mail, but from what I've seen it's normal for people just to walk into another person's office unannounced. This is a very different feeling then my past jobs - only the senior staff would have private offices and you wouldn't just walk into the CEOs/CFOs office uninvited. I find this set up is making it harder to learn, for example if I were in a room full of people I'd overhear conversations and this would help me to understand the company.

I'm worried I won't have others to collaborate with. My role is that of developer, but I'm the only one working on my assigned project. My boss introduced me to many different people but it sort of became a blur who I should consult in which situation: one is a specialist in databases, another is really good with Python, another is into GIS etc. The computer I have is a desktop so I can't bring it with me when I'm talking to them. Learning a new job is always difficult but given the circumstances I'm worried it will be harder.

Any suggestions?

First I'd like to know what's considered "normal behaviour", in the sense I've had others just walk into my room and I'm used to leaving people alone if they're in private offices with the doors closed.

I could be working with anyone in a five story building and usually I've worked for companies where everyone's in the same suite. It's just a bizarre feeling walking far to see a coworker. I think it's socially acceptable (even recommended) for people to pop into each other's office with a slight pretext of work, but really to socialize/bounce ideas off each other. These are scientists I'm now working with and I'm used to commercial environments.

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    Almost everyone reading this from a cube will be very jealous :) In the original studies about productivity of offices vs cubes, the privacy benefit of offices was supplemented with communal meeting areas - kitchens, water coolers, coffee areas etc. Do those exist in your location? – Laconic Droid May 8 '15 at 14:07
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    In this situation the first thing a lot of people would do is close the door and do a happy dance. – NotMe May 8 '15 at 22:42
  • I'm there with @LaconicDroid. I was going to suggest you and I change jobs until I saw you had a government job. :) – Wesley Long May 9 '15 at 16:15
  • @LaconicDroid "communal meeting areas - kitchens, water coolers, coffee areas etc. Do those exist in your location?" no not really. There's various water fountains and refrigerators and microwaves throughout the building. Anecdotely I've been wanting to eat a can of soup for lunch but haven't found any bowls or can openers I could use. I've asked and they told me to check with the cafeteria, but it's only open around lunch hour. – Jimmy Bauther May 11 '15 at 5:59
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I am nearly in the exact same situation right now. I recently moved from a more commercial environment to a pure research environment. Everyone here has their own office, whereas before I always shared an office with at least one other person.

Part of what I've learned in my particular organization is that independent work is encouraged. Collaboration is great and absolutely needed for most projects, but day-to-day work is always done on my own. Because of that, learning how to search and find answers to your own questions is very important. Yes, it's been more difficult to quickly get started and feel like I know what I'm doing, but I think that I will be better for it in the long run.

Now of course there are always questions that you can't answer, and it's good to have interaction with other people. Everyone in my work group is on the same floor of my building, so I don't face quite the same problem you do. It's not unusual at all to stop by someone's office and ask some questions or get a discussion going. We all typically leave our doors open, but if someone's door is closed, we at least knock. Most of us also have whiteboards on the door that will say "Do not disturb" or "Not here, try lab 203", so you could try that to prevent unannounced entries.

Since just stopping by someone's office is not as easy for you, I would recommend making phone calls. If the question is quick and easy, you can get things answered right there. If it requires a little more discussion, you can ask if you can stop by their office to chat. Unless you absolutely need to be looking at your computer screen, offer to go to their office so it's more convenient for them. You can always send them the necessary files, or scratch out some pseudo-code on a whiteboard or in a notebook.

As far as looking for people to collaborate with on projects, as a new employee I typically work with my boss to figure out who I'll be working with. As time goes on, you'll get to know more people and their skill sets, and they'll get to know yours. Particularly, make sure that you are finding opportunities to get to know some of the team leads. You may not work with them directly, but they will often get asked if they know someone who does XYZ, which could be you.

So to summarize, to make good connections, you are going to have to be more proactive than in your previous job. Find reasons to stop by someone's office or go grab lunch and learn what others do. On the other hand, don't be afraid of working by yourself either. The ability to solve problems and make research decisions is an important one to have. Most of all, in a change of environment like this, it is just going to take some time for you to really feel comfortable and like you know what you are doing.

  • Phone call is actually more intrusive than going to their office. I used to keep the door shut when I didn't want to be interrupted unless it was an emergency. With the door open, a visitor could see what I was doing and judge whether to interrupt me or not. A phone call just interrupts, regardless. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 29 '17 at 22:08
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"I think it's socially acceptable (even recommended) for people to pop into each other's office with a slight pretext of work, but really to socialize/bounce ideas off each other." - This is the most relevant portion of your question. You already figured out the mechanics of your new job, now you need to figure out the culture.

Put another way: you can have an office layout where people walk around, pop into each others' offices and have an open culture, or you can have an open layout where everyone is on headphones and has big "do not disturb" signs up everywhere. The structure of the building can influence behavior, but the culture is what drives it.

It sounds like your workplace encourages walking around. If that is the case then you should do exactly that. When I was working in individual offices, I would often just walk around to check up on people. Need to get a coffee? Get your coffee and then wander around to see how people are doing. Going to the bathroom? When you come back, talk to people before going back to your office. Have an interesting idea? Pop on over to your co-worker's desk. Since you don't use IM, I would expect this happen quite frequently.

No laptop - Bring a notepad / pen.

Door closed - Again culture, but normally: door open = I'm open to chatting, door closed = do not disturb. I've seen people put notes up if it isn't clear, ie. "I'm busy, please knock" or "My door is closed because of noise, feel free to come in." You should get a feel for what other people are doing and react accordingly.

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Given the fact you work alone on this project, do you really need to collaborate with colleagues? Meaning: do you need their expertise to give you advise, or do they have to provide you with actual components? If it's incidental, I highly doubt walking to their office would be a problem. If the communication is more frequent, you might want to think about setting up a messaging tool, such as Lync or Gitter. Gitter is more development focussed so it might fit better, but I think you're to answer that.

As for people walking in, you could keep your door closed if you don't want people to blatantly walk in. If they have some manners, they would knock and ask if you got some spare time for them. Same would go for when you have your door opened, though keep in mind that people would come in quicker. Usually, when I go to someones office, I knock and wait in the doorpost, asking if they have time to help me out/look at my progress. If they say no, I'll say I come back later or send them an email.

  • I have thought about what you are saying and the thing is I haven't been given any code to the project so it's very hard to tell if I'm understanding the documentation or not. – Jimmy Bauther May 11 '15 at 6:06
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Simple: explain the problem to your manager.

Say that you'd like to share an office for a while with someone more experienced, so that you can pick up insights into the organisation's culture and the way that everyone communicates and gets things done together.

It's a perfectly reasonable request - in fact I think it's more than reasonable, it shows that you've been putting some thought into how you can settle in and do the best work you can, which is great.

So I suggest that you shouldn't be all afraid to simply bring up the topic with your manager and more experienced colleagues, and ask for help / advice.

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    In a building where everyone has their own office, and therefore every office is designed to house one person, asking someone to split with you is not reasonable. – David K May 8 '15 at 12:12
  • @DavidK, I think it's reasonable to ask if anyone is willing. I'm not suggesting that anyone should be forced to. I don't think it's so unlikely that in the whole organisation there's at least one person with more experience than OP who wouldn't mind working in the same room as them for a while. – A E May 8 '15 at 12:52

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