Tips For Working In An Empty Office

By Ryan Morris - Apr. 6, 2021
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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Articles In Life At Work Guide

Very few things in life are more depressing than having to work during the holidays.

Even if you don’t happen to celebrate the particular holidays that are occurring, your coworkers probably do. And they’ve probably taken off work for them, leaving you all alone.

This can be a debilitating experience, since having to work when no one else is around can be stressful and frustrating, to say the least.

It can feel like you’re being singled out or treated unfairly. And what’s more, the lack of oversight and overall inaccessibility during this time of your coworkers can make it tough to get your work done during these times at all.

But hey, don’t stress! We’ve got some tips to help you put a little spring in your step while you wander the empty halls of your place of work, desperately looking for a printer or any sign of civilization.

What to Do Before Everyone Leaves

One thing that’s easy to forget is just how predictable empty office times typically are. You and your coworkers are likely not allowed to take off work without at least a few weeks of notice, and most people plan out their vacations several weeks or even months in advance.

These vacations tend to be around major US holidays, so even if for some reason you aren’t privy to the exact dates that your coworkers will be out, you can get a pretty good idea by just looking at a calendar.

This is a useful way to prevent yourself from ordering magicians for impromptu office “magic days” that only you end up attending.

If you know you’re going to be one of the few employees in an office for a specific period of time, there are a few other things you should take care of before everyone takes off:

  • Prepare for everyone’s absence. Get all of the signatures or other related input you might need for that week taken care of ahead of time. Odds are pretty low you’ll be able to get them once no one else is around you.

  • Plan around not having check-ins. Make sure you have some kind of system set up to deal with any kind of approvals or other miscellaneous check-ins you usually require while working — while it’s possible some coworkers might check their emails or Slack once in a while, most will probably avoid doing so entirely.

  • Talk to your team. What sort of due dates tend to fall during the time that people will be away? What needs to be done by others before they leave so that you can finish your own work?

    Both of these questions should be discussed with staff members before they go on vacation to ensure that you aren’t stuck with more than you can handle.

How to Prepare for a Day in an Empty Office

If you want to set yourself up for a positive and successful day in an empty office, preparation is key. You might treat it like any other day or focus on specific tasks you want to get out of the way or have been assigned.

Whatever your mission is, have it clear in your head, or it’s going to be difficult to stay focused without the energy of your coworkers to feed off.

Here’s how to plan for a day spent alone in the office:

  • Dress like any other day. Psychologically, how we dress has a big impact on our mood and productivity. When you’re dressed in your coziest sweatpants and hoodie, you’re telling your mind and body that it’s time to chill out.

    That might make it harder to get started on your work. That being said, you know yourself — if you know you’re able to work just fine in your comfiest clothing, go for it.

  • Set goals for the day. You may have some assignments that have deadlines, just like any other day. But you won’t have people interrupting you and adding new tasks to your already busy schedule. That means you can really develop a plan and stick to it.

    Recognize your most productive times of the day and schedule your most important, urgent, and/or stressful tasks for then. Other than that, determine how your day alone can best be utilized, whether that means catching up on old assignments or getting a head start on new ones.

  • Prepare something crafty. If you’re an arts-and-crafts kind of person, you might consider using your day alone in the office to brighten up your workspace or a collective workspace. Making something aesthetically pleasing that’s also functional is a rare thing for most office jobs, so take advantage of this time if you’re feeling creative.

What to Do With an Empty Office

So once you’ve done the prep work and have the office to yourself, what do you do then?

A lot of the time that you usually waste on meetings or interacting with coworkers is going to be cut pretty short unless you plan on holding the meetings with just yourself playing the role of all of your coworkers.

If you’d like to get a little bit ahead of yourself, we’ve got a few ideas for you:

  • Clean. Clean your desk, clean office shared spaces, clean anything you can think of. Unless you work for a very large company, this kind of work tends to be done just by you and your coworkers, who are usually too busy to do so themselves.

    Fixing up your own desk will give you at least some satisfaction, but cleaning shared spaces will earn your coworker’s appreciation.

  • Catch up on emails. Given how few emails tend to arrive during the holidays, now is the best chance you’ll have all year to tear your inbox to shreds. Answer as many as you can and see if you can get your total number as close to zero as possible.

  • Get work done that requires deep focus. Do the work that you usually can’t do because coworkers normally won’t stop interrupting you long enough for you to finish. That long report you were supposed to read? That massive article you’ve been trying to finish writing?

    Take some time to concentrate directly on one of these huge tasks, and take advantage of the fact that your coworkers won’t bug you today.

How to Waste Time in an Empty Office

Of course, the above ideas are for when you actually care about being efficient or productive while you’re at work during the holidays.

But say you’ve already finished your work? Or perhaps you haven’t yet finished your work, but you don’t really care to do so? Maybe you’re a little resentful of the fact that you’re at work during the holidays?

It might even be your explicit intention to get as little work done during this wretched holiday season as you can possibly get away with.

We’re not here to judge. Merely to assist.

To that end, here are a few suggestions for killing time in an empty office:

  • Listen to music. Maybe your boss lets you do this ordinarily via earbuds, which is nice if so. But there’s something liberating, in an 80s movie-esque way, about blasting classic rock (or whatever you’re into) when you have the office to yourself.

    You can even go ahead and have a little dance party — that saying about dancing like nobody is watching actually applies today.

  • Stream a movie or show. It’s truly gratifying to watch TV at work. Don’t go crazy and binge for the whole eight hours you’re at work, but go ahead and stream a couple of episodes of your favorite show while you take a nice long lunch. Speaking of which…

  • Take a long lunch. Heck, buddy, take a really long one. Start lunch at 9:45 am and come back at, like, 3 or something. Seriously, though, if there’s a nice restaurant around that normally takes too long to visit for a lunch break, treat yourself.

  • Chill. Do some yoga. Stretch out. Meditate. Stare at a wall. Scroll through Facebook. Watch high-speed Youtube videos of people cooking desserts. Whatever you need to do to de-stress and prepare yourself for the return of your wonderful coworkers who you definitely don’t hate.

Final Thoughts

We should specify at this point that if you find that you have a few days to yourself in the office, whether it be with just a handful of your usual coworkers or even if the whole office is yours, it’s always a good idea to take advantage of the space and time in order to get as far ahead on work as you can manage.

This is one of the few slow times you probably have at work, after all. It’s a good idea to catch up during these sorts of less stressful times in order to avoid times of high stress as much as possible.

That being said, we don’t know your life. Maybe you really could use the break, in which case, take all the lazy time at work during these days as you feel entitled to.

Just bear in mind that there might be consequences to getting behind on work during the holidays. We’re sure you’ll make whatever decision is right for you.

Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.
Ryan Morris


Ryan Morris

Ryan Morris was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog who tried to make the job process a little more entertaining for all those involved. He obtained his BA and Masters from Appalachian State University.

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