Overcoming the challenges of not having an office

office cubiclesBeing in HR requires the ability to maintain confidentiality. This can be challenging if you do not have an office with a door that you can shut and lock. Here are some ways you can overcome the challenges of working in a cubicle.

Pick an optimal location. Ask for a cubicle in a far corner, rather than in the center, surrounded by other cubicles. Tip: Position your computer so it is not facing out, and invest in a privacy filter for your monitor.

Establish other locations. Use a spare conference room for calls or meetings that require privacy. Good habit: So as not to induce fear anytime employees see you enter the conference room or you ask an employee to meet you there, use the room for as many purposes as possible, and not just for terminations or breaking other bad news.

If the conference room is frequently used by others, work with executives who have offices to use their office when they are out. For emergency situations (e.g., an upset employee), arrange a code word so the executive understands that your need to use their office is immediate.

You may also have to get creative and walk and talk with employees; you may find more privacy outdoors (e.g., parking lot, smoking area), in the lobby, in a file room or supply closet, or in a noisy corner of the warehouse.

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Use locks, real and virtual. Make sure all of your file cabinets and drawers have locks, and make sure access to the keys is limited. Have your computer’s screensaver come up after a short period of inactivity, and password-protect it. Set up your voice-mail with a non-generic password for accessing voice-mails. Good habit: Whenever you leave your desk, even if for just a few minutes, secure confidential papers and computer files. You never know who will drop by, and you could be gone longer than you expect.

Consider the height of cubicle walls. Taller may seem more private, but a 6-foot wall doesn’t necessarily prevent passersby from overhearing a conversation, and it could prevent you from seeing if someone is eavesdropping. Tip: Strategically hang a plant in a mirrored bowl so you can see from your desk whether anyone is lingering around your cubicle.

Cut down on phone calls. Use e-mail as much as possible. Tips: If you must use the phone, lower your voice. Consider playing music softly in your cube to make it harder for those in surrounding cubes to understand what you’re saying in private conversations.

Protect faxes. If you must use a shared fax machine, or it is sitting in an open cube, always request that you be contacted before a fax is sent. That way, you can be sure you are there to receive it, and the fax does not get seen or picked up by someone else.

Schedule phone calls and meetings. Don’t be afraid to let someone know if it is not a good time to talk or meet; arrange to call them back or to meet when there are fewer people around (e.g., early or late in the day or lunch time) or when there is a free office you can use.