I work in an office with 8 people.

We have no allocated seating. Which I am quite cool with. However, recently the tidiness has gotten quite out of hand. Papers, coffee stains, and some brochures scatter over the tables.

It's quite a rude shock when I almost put my laptop down on someone's old coffee stain in the morning.

Now my daily ritual is to wipe away all leftover hairs and dirt and choose an area that has less clutter.

We have introduced individual shelf compartment for us to store our personal goods. However, most of them still do not have the habit to clear up after themselves when they leave at the end of the work day.

I am quite concerned about how to keep the cleanliness, and would like to know if anyone has any experience in maintaining cleanliness in a free seating plan office?

  • 3
    Provide a shelf nearby with cleaning materials like disinfectant wipes, clothes and paper towels.
    – scotty3785
    May 26, 2017 at 9:52
  • Can you undermine this system and create de-facto allocated seating by leaving your own clutter on a table of your choice, or do you think your boss would intervene? Do you think you colleagues are trying to do this when they leave their papers and brochures?
    – Nathan
    May 26, 2017 at 13:05
  • 5
    Does your mom work there? That must surely vary by workplace, as some workplaces I've seen (but not others) have had signs specifically mentioning that she does not. Perhaps at your workplace the sign has fallen down. May 26, 2017 at 18:42

4 Answers 4


The answer would be either:

  1. To hire a cleaner
  2. Have allocated desks
  • 3
    Yeah, take that up with management. I personally am not a fan of free seating (because I personally have 4-5 computer screens arranged for my use and I do not really work from a laptop), but for some in works. It does NOT work if work ethic or cleaning infrastrucure is in place, though. But that is primarily an ethics function, which comes from company policy.
    – TomTom
    May 26, 2017 at 10:09
  • Or people can just clean up after themselves like adults.
    – sepehr
    Sep 22, 2017 at 8:08
  • @sepehr the sort of company that uses this sort of seating arrangement will probably expect you to do this in your own time or penalise you for taking time to do this Sep 22, 2017 at 13:40
  • @Neuromancer I don't think we can conclude that just because the company is using free seating arrangement. That's not bad at all, it can be useful for some. I personally love the freedom to be able to move around the workplace. I always clean up after myself and it only takes 1-2 minutes, max. However, if the company penalizes employers for cleaning their desk, it should have considered hiring a cleaner already.
    – sepehr
    Sep 23, 2017 at 11:00

You didn't mention any communication with the other 7 members of your work space, so I would suggest that as a first step.

This is very similar to sharing an apartment with roommates, or having a common area. Sometimes you just need to set out rules for everyone to follow to maintain cleanliness. You could even provide some cleaning supplies as another person suggested, but cleaning up should be everyone's responsibility.

  • Work is not meant to be like some shared student house :-) May 26, 2017 at 16:01
  • @Neuromancer: Well, depends on who you ask - at any rate, sometimes it is.
    – sleske
    Sep 27, 2017 at 8:18

Those who refuse to return the space they are using for the day back to a neutral clean environment are likely doing so as a way to make the free seating arrangement painful.

If all the work environments were equal in resources, space, and comfort; and the work required in the morning and the evening to convert those spaces to your use was trivial; then depending on the number of people vs work space involved, free seating might make sense. If there are 8 work spaces but 15 employees but many are at customer sites or on travel or working from home, then free seating is a way to better use the resources.

The behavior of those who continue to leave papers, stains and brochures at the end of each day may be a way of marking their territory. Or it a way resisting the lack of assigned seats. They may be leaving a level of clutter and filth that they can tolerate in the hopes that you won't take their seat. They may even settle for the situation where you spend time cleaning their spot from yesterday, while they take your clean spot.

The next phase of their plan is for somebody who likes a clean work space to complain to management and to try and put a cleaning policy in place....


It's the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons .

Make it the Owner's problem, everyone's problem, or keep it to yourself (see who cracks first).

Don't be Felix and live with Oscar.

  • I don't think cleanliness is actually a matter of "resource" to be a case for that theory.
    – sepehr
    Sep 23, 2017 at 10:47

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