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I work as software engineer in a small software company that has roughly 20 employees. Recently my co-worker was absent for some days so I had the idea to switch to his workplace. This is because he has a dual monitor setup while I have to work with one monitor. His workplace is a bare minimalistic setup: two monitors, a keyboard and mouse - that's it. No personal stuff like photos, no nothing.

So to increase my productivity I switched to his place for the days he was not there.

Just recently I received an SMS from him that says that it's HIS and HIS ALONE workplace and that I am ABSOLUTELY NOT allowed to use it. This raises the question to me if my behaviour was a bit rude. I sent him my excuses but still don't see how this is such a big deal to him. It's just a workspace, his computer was not even there. I just used the monitors and his chair.

So is it an absolute no-go to switch workspaces temporarily if someone is absent?

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    If I were in the position of your co-worker and there were no clear cut rule for that topic, I'd at least expect you to ask (if it is okay). – Sebastian Proske Apr 12 '17 at 12:05
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    Not an answer to your question directly, so leaving as a comment. The correct action for you to have taken was to have a meeting with your manager and explain how having two monitors like your co-worker would improve your productivity. This would provide a long term benefit to the company instead of just during the days your co-worker is out. – cdkMoose Apr 12 '17 at 16:01
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    So you were not just using his desk, but you were using his equipment as well? – TheSoundDefense Apr 12 '17 at 16:31
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    I don't understand why the question was downvoted. Seems like an interesting question to me, even if people might disagree with OP's actions. – Llewellyn Apr 12 '17 at 19:28
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    @ayrtonclark Everything is company property. – softwareengineer783 Apr 14 '17 at 10:07
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If there is no precedent for desk swapping at your office, then yes, it was very rude. If you wanted to use his desk, you should have asked. It may be technically company property, but it is his space that he has made his own. I'm guessing that if he has a very bare desk he is the type of person that is very neat, organized, and particular about where things go. How would you like it if someone came to your desk, moved things around, adjusted the chair, monitor, etc?

If you think his setup is so much more productive, then you should be cleaning off your desk to make it better, and ask your manager for another monitor if you need one.

  • I get your point, maybe I was a bit too relaxed there. I thought the monitors alone would be no big deal (since there is really nothing more on that desk). Still asking first would probably have been nice, thanks! – softwareengineer783 Apr 12 '17 at 12:27
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    Even more simple solution would be borrow one his monitors and use it on your own desk. But still you should always ask first. And definitely you should ask your supervisor for a second monitor for a more permanent solution. Just make your case explaining how your productivity would increase by just spending 100$ (200$ if you want a really big one) on a second monitor. – Juan Carlos Oropeza Apr 12 '17 at 15:40
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    Well, even in a canteen, where nothing belongs to me, not even for more than 2 hours, someone coming to my table and taking a chair without asking is rude. I do not need the chair, but there is at least a minimum of modicum in asking whether there is any problem in using it. It's a matter of fundamental respect to do so. Even if you leave the desk exactly as it was before (assuming you are able to reconstruct it), it is a simple matter of asking, at least. And yes, of accepting a no, of course (nothing is worse than asking for what looks like a favour and then turning it into a demand). – Captain Emacs Oct 18 '17 at 16:48
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So is it an absolute no-go to switch workspaces temporarily if someone is absent?

It depends on the office culture. Some offices are designed around a hoteling or hot desking concept in which employees don't have an assigned workspace at all. Others provide individual offices with desks, doors, and even seating for guests! (Can you imagine?) Most fall somewhere in between, with assigned desks or cubicles that people regard as "theirs" even though they obviously still belong to the company.

I think you just misread the culture in your office and failed to understand that your coworker views his desk as personal space even though the lack of personal items made the seem, well, less personal to you. Your faux pas might have been more understandable if there were some specific situation that created a need to use his space -- for example, if some maintenance workers needed to work right where your desk is. But it sounds like you just decided that you liked his space better and decided to take it for yourself, if temporarily. So yes, that was somewhat rude.

Don't make excuses -- just own up to the mistake and assure your coworker that you meant no harm and that it won't happen again.

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I personally do not see it as rude, but it could depend on culture as well. The property you used is most likely not "HIS and HIS ALONE", but company property. If you using it would increase productivity I as owner and boss would prefer you to use it instead of MY property just standing there unused. However to the very least make sure you have permission from your manager. You however did the right thing, by just appoligizing even if you believed this not to be a big deal. Not worth getting into a fight over.

Also if I was the owner I would wonder why you need a different workplace to be more productive however. Have you asked you manager, boss, whoever to simply get a second screen youself? They are not that expensive and really increase productivity for developers!

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    Out of curiosity, would you go in and use your boss's resources if they were away on leave and they had a better setup than you? – sleddog Apr 12 '17 at 12:35
  • Yes we actually did so a few weeks ago when he went to China. Used his monitors so that the part time employee who worked during his own schoolvacation had 2 monitors. A computer would clearly be a no-go, but that is not the OP's case. Like I said depends on (company)culture. I do however agree with David K if the culture (for example if there is not precedent) is not that it is normal asking would be a lot better. – Jeroen Apr 12 '17 at 13:19
  • Communication is key! – sleddog Apr 12 '17 at 13:21
  • @Jeroen - did you ask your boss first? – HorusKol Apr 12 '17 at 14:45
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I don't see anything wrong. That's not your coworker's properties, everything belongs to the company. You're free to do whatever you want and exploit the company's assets to your advantage. Yes, don't need to ask, just do it. The management will be appreciated.

You're not being rude, you're just doing your job.

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So is it an absolute no-go to switch workspaces temporarily if someone is absent?

No, it is not an absolute no-go. The workspace belongs to the company, and they decide how to use it. However, it is not a decision for you to make unless the company has authorized you.

You deciding to take his workspace unilaterally and your colleague's overreaction to it both lead to bad vibes in the workplace. To avoid creating an unnecessary confrontation, you could simply ask the coworker before taking his workspace.

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    Okay, so the best solution would have been to ask first - makes sense to me. Thanks! – softwareengineer783 Apr 12 '17 at 12:20
  • His workplace setup, being so much better than the other, might as well have been a special perk or bonus. I would certainly be miffed if I traded part of my bonus for a better chair and somebody used it and modified it's settings. Not everything that belongs to the company is up for grabs. It's unlikely that it's actually "for him alone", but not impossible. – nvoigt Apr 12 '17 at 13:01
  • @JoeStrazzere The worker was absent for a few days and that space was idle anyway, it is not as though the OP snatched the space when the coworker was out for lunch or something. Anyway, I thought that the OP asked permission from the manager to use the space, but the coworker got pissed off, but on second reading, it looks like I had misunderstood. I will update the answer. – Masked Man Apr 12 '17 at 13:34
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I would also like to point out that sometimes people have their workspaces set up in certain ways for accessibility reasons, especially when it comes to things like their chairs and their keyboards. So if you were to use those things without their permission, and especially if you adjusted them, you would be making things more difficult for your coworker upon their return.

  • Why on Earth did someone downvote this? Can someone explain? – TheSoundDefense Sep 27 '18 at 17:34

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