7 New Unofficial Office Rules

By Jenn Steele - Apr. 24, 2014
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When you first become a hiring manager, you assume that things will be pretty simple. Sure, you might have to coach a recent college grad on the finer points of not partying all night and getting in on time, but otherwise, you figure that most folks know how to operate in a business environment.

Yeah, not so much.

Earlier this week, we posted Paul’s most bizarre hiring stories. Today’s post is about the 7 unofficial rules that I did NOT expect to have to implement in my teams, and the stories that got them added to my list of “essentials”.

Rule 1: Out-of-Office Communication

Startups can play things pretty fast & loose, and I’m usually a big fan of that (as you may have noticed from our blog post titles). However, there comes a point when things are a bit TOO fast & loose. I had someone who worked for me who just wouldn’t come in.

Just not coming in wasn’t the actual issue, though. The issue was that he wouldn’t actually tell anyone where he was and whether we could expect to see him. And he wouldn’t answer emails. Or texts. Or instant messages. Or tweets. Or facebook messages. Or smoke signals. He was uncommunicative enough that, on more than one occasion, we considered sending the police to his house to see if he was still alive.

So new rule #1 (for a startup): I don’t care WHERE you work, but please let me know that you’re still alive and whether we can expect to see you.

Rule 2: Bathing Parameters

I love working in an office where folks are active, and I have no problem with someone coming in from lunch during the summer smelling a bit sweaty thanks to a run or even just from the hot sun. There are, however, some basic hygiene parameters seemed perfectly sensible – or so I thought.

Peter worked in our cube farm, and was mostly okay. After we grew our team, though, we noticed that Peter’s allergies had a very weird pattern. The funny thing was that he was fine on Mondays. And then he’d start coughing a bit on Tuesdays. And more on Wednesdays. On Thursdays, he’d have to leave the area because of massive asthma attacks. On Fridays, he’d often work from home. We weren’t sure what was wrong with Peter – until his coworker, Jan, went on vacation.

For the two weeks Jan was on vacation, Peter was just fine. Then Jan returned, and Peter’s pattern returned.

Jan had two cats. And smoked. And wore a ton of high-end French perfume. And Peter, who worked two cubes over, was horribly allergic to all of these. It also turned out that Jan would only shower once each week (over the weekend, apparently), so the layers of cat dander, smoke, and perfume would escalate throughout the week until Peter’s allergies were so bad that he couldn’t come to work.

So new rule #2: Try to keep personal allergens to a minimum by showering more often than once a week.

Rule 3: No Hiding Mail

When you run a department or a business, you buy things. And, sometimes, in buying things, you receive bills. At that point, you pay the bills and move on with your day, right?

For a while at a new job, things didn’t quite seem to be going like this. I was getting calls from companies asking where payment was for invoices I’d never seen. It was puzzling, but they’d email me the invoice and I’d get it paid – no big deal, right? I figured it was vendor error, and I went on with my day.

A few weeks later, I found all the missing invoices – on the highest back shelf of the person I’d just fired (a shelf WAY above my head). Interestingly, to get those invoices, he would have had to remove them directly from my desk or from the mailroom.

So new rule #3: Deliver anything addressed to me straight to me.

Rule 4: No Luddites in the Information Technology Department

I’d been in IT for a decade, and I came across the oddest thing – a Luddite in my department. She’d been hired 10 years before, and she was a generation or two older than the rest of the department. I didn’t think anything of it – she was in an IT department (the corporate tech trainer), so I figured that an age gap wasn’t an issue.

I was wrong.

She hated technology. She hated new technology. She kicked, screamed, and dragged her feet for every new technology rollout, which was hugely problematic since she was responsible for all the rollout training. Even worse – she would block the entire IT department from using new technologies (like instant messenger), even when it would make us more efficient and better at our jobs. And she’d take her case straight to the top if she needed to, effectively blocking any move any of us could make.

So new (blindingly obvious) rule #4: No Luddites in the IT Department.

Rule 5: Order of Operations

I got off a call and walked out of my office. The rest of my team was gathered around the office next door to mine, and they were pointing and laughing. Always up for a good laugh, I came over to see what was going on.

The occupant of that office was lying on his back on the floor – he’d apparently had a back spasm and wasn’t able to move. I asked whether anyone had told HR, but no one had.

So new rule #5: When something happens, first tell HR, then tell me, and then point and laugh.

Rule 6: Dress Code in Pictures

I realize that a lot of people have dealt with office dress codes and having to discourage certain types of summer wear, but I’ve been fortunate to never have to talk to anyone about what they’re wearing. Well, what they’re wearing in person, anyhow.

Someone once worked for me who had been a bikini model in a previous career. And although she dressed appropriately for work, she elected to hang her photos in her cube. And not just one or two small photos – two giant wall-sized collages of her in various states of, uh, bikini modeling.

…and she wondered why her cube became a popular place to stop by.

So new rule #6: Work-appropriate attire preferred in pictures. Or at least work-appropriate skin showing.

Rule 7: No Convicts, Please

There was once a woman who interviewed with my company who my team adored. We thought we’d found perfection. We kept emailing her and saying how excited we were that this was going to work out.

And then a back-door reference check unearthed something a little scary – she was wanted for assault in another state. There was actually an outstanding warrant.

So new rule #7: Don’t mention how excited you are to hire someone until you’ve made sure they’re not actually a criminal.

I decided not to mention the unofficial rule #8 – two-drink maximum before customer calls, but that’s neither here nor there! Do you have some interesting unofficial (or official) office rules and fun stories behind them?

Photo courtesy of Peter Dutton.


Jenn Steele

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Topics: Building Culture, Leading People, Startups