You’re Back at the Office. Your Annoying Colleagues Are, Too.
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You’re Back at the Office. Your Annoying Colleagues Are, Too.

Employees are rediscovering the pet peeves that come with working inches apart from one another.

By Sarah Needleman
Thu, Aug 4, 2022 10:18amGrey Clock 4 min

It didn’t take long for Gary Bush to become reacquainted with the harsh realities of office life after two years of working out of his home.

Within a matter of days, the sales manager for an auto dealership found himself having to break up a spat between two employees over a large container of apple juice. One said she brought it in and left it in the office refrigerator to drink later that day. The other conceded to consuming most of it, but argued that he wasn’t at fault because it wasn’t labelled as hers.

“Any little thing that happens they come to me,” said Mr. Bush, 36 years old. “It’s like I’m a babysitter.”

In recent months, many more professionals who were sent home at the start of the health crisis have been returning to the workplace, where they’re being reminded of the pet peeves that come with sitting inches apart from one another. Some say having to once again deal with office politics, loud chatter and other workplace grievances is already making them nostalgic for when they were only able to engage with their peers over the phone or online.

When Andrew Hashem resumed working in an office for a software company, he figured that stepping into a glass office and closing the door to make a phone call would be enough to discourage colleagues from interrupting him. “They would knock, I’d point to my headset and they would still come in,” he said.

A new makeshift bar set up near Mr. Hashem’s desk for Wednesday afternoon social gatherings added to his discomfort. The fun would often start while he was still on the clock, but many of his peers weren’t.

“I could hear them having loud conversations and playing music,” said the 35-year-old, who recently changed to a fully remote job with a healthcare company. “It made it really hard to concentrate.”

Migrating back to the workplace after spending so much time away can be a bit of a culture shock for many professionals, said Katie Burke, chief people officer at HubSpot Inc. “There was this romanticising of the office experience,” she said. “Now we’re seeing a return to normalcy.”

Workers may need a little time to readjust to a challenging commute or a new one for those who changed jobs, added Ms. Burke.

“Everyone can benefit from taking a deep breath before going in and approaching things with a little bit of kindness,” she said. “When in transition everyone tends to forget what the expected rules of the road are.”

Now that Josh Ross is spending his days in a cubicle farm again, the tech-company support specialist said he is back to being flanked by noisy co-workers. Audible sighs of frustration are a common irritant, along with the sound of his peers typing on mechanical keyboards.

“All you hear is the clacking of the keys,” said Mr. Ross, 31, adding that he mutes his microphone on calls with customers when he isn’t speaking so they aren’t bothered, too.

Mr. Ross longs for the days when he could work out of his home in Lansing, Mich., where he lives by himself. There, he said, “I control the sound level. In the office, there’s literally no sound control.”

Companies calling staffers back to the workplace in many cases are offering hybrid schedules, allowing people to come in only a few days a week. But for Matt Shantz of Winnipeg, the arrangement has created a headache he didn’t anticipate.

During video calls with colleagues still working remotely, he now hears the voices of other office workers in real time through a wall—and then again about half a second later through his computer.

“There’s a slight delay,” said Mr. Shantz, an academic adviser for a university, who went back to working in an office in May. “It’s an echo chamber.”

Even if all of his colleagues eventually resume working on campus, the 37-year-old expects to be stuck dealing with another inconvenience—thermostat wars. Mr. Shantz is comfortable working without air-conditioning in the summer but some of his office mates prefer to turn it on. A vent located directly above his desk makes him shiver.

“It sometimes gets to the point where I have two sweaters on,” he said.

Many companies used the downtime to remodel or reconfigure offices.

Mae Tila, a 36-year-old customer-care manager, initially didn’t mind when she found out her employer, a mailing and printing company, moved her desk to the front of the building because she went in only a few days a week. But now back to a routine of going in full time, along with many of her colleagues, it’s clear to her she’s literally in a weird spot. “Everybody walks by me to get to their designated area,” she said. “I get everyone’s life story.”

Ms. Tila has started saying only “Good morning” when colleagues come in and not also “How are you doing?” in hopes of discouraging small talk. But it rarely works. Recently a colleague griped to her about the challenges of babysitting grandchildren and a dog at the same time.

“I’m a private person so when people spill their lives to me it’s overwhelming,” Ms. Tila said.

Some office workers who have been back longer say the change of scenery was initially refreshing—until it wasn’t.

Destiny Palmerin, a sales and marketing coordinator for a health-product manufacturer said her attitude started to sour once she started hearing her boss clipping his fingernails at work. “I know what that sound is,” she said. “I should not hear that.”

Ms. Palmerin, 24, grew leerier of colleagues as competition for the office microwave started to cut into lunch break. “Almost everybody goes to lunch at the same time,” she said. She’s also been unhappily reminded of what it’s like to work after someone burns popcorn. “You can smell it everywhere,” she said.

Mr. Bush, the dealership sales manager, expected his colleagues to have kicked at least one bad habit over the past two years—coming to work despite feeling sick. Yet a few weeks ago a sales associate who went home early for that reason returned the next morning, he said, seemingly worse off—not a comforting sight in the Covid era.

“She’s coughing and sneezing,” he said. “I’m like, dude, go home.”

The associate wanted to stay to increase the chances of landing a bonus, since part of the compensation is commission-based, but Mr. Bush insisted the worker go home, he said. “I was super annoyed.”

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 3, 2022


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The Strongest Protection for Your Online Accounts? This Little Key

Passwords aren’t enough to fend off hackers; these dongles are the best defense

Mon, Mar 27, 2023 4 min

Strong passwords are very important, but they’re not enough to protect you from cybercriminals.

Passwords can be leaked or guessed. The key to online security is protecting your account with a strong secondary measure, typically a single-use code. This is referred to as “two-factor authentication,” or 2FA, as the nerds know it.

I’ve written about all the different types of 2FA, such as getting those codes sent via text message or generated in an authenticator app. Having any kind of second factor is better than none at all, but physical security keys—little dongles that you plug into a USB port or tap on your phone during account logins—offer the highest level of protection.

Security keys have been around for over a decade, but now they’re in the spotlight: Apple recently introduced support for them as an optional, added protection for Apple ID accounts. Last month, Twitter removed text-message-based authentication as an option for nonpaying users, recommending instead an authenticator app or security key.

Some people are hesitant to use security keys because carrying around a physical object seems burdensome and they come with a $30-and-up added cost. Plus, what happens if they get lost?

I’ve used security keys since 2016 and think they are actually easier to manage than codes—especially with accounts that don’t require frequent logins. They’re not only convenient, but they can’t be copied or faked by hackers, so they’re safer, too.

Here’s how to weigh the benefits and common concerns of adding one or two of these to your keychain.

Which security key should I use?

Many internet services support the use of security keys, and you can use the same security key to unlock accounts on many different services. I recommend two from industry leader Yubico:

  • YubiKey 5C NFC ($US55) if you have a USB-C laptop or tablet
  • YubiKey 5 NFC ($US50) for devices with older USB ports

Other options include Google’s Titan security keys ($30 and up). In addition to working with laptops and tablets with USB ports, these keys are compatible with smartphones that have NFC wireless. Most smartphones these days have that, since it’s the technology behind wireless payments such as Apple Pay.

Adam Marrè, chief information security officer at cybersecurity firm Arctic Wolf, recommends that your chosen key is certified by the FIDO Alliance, which governs the standards of these devices.

How do security keys work?

To add a key, look in the security settings of your major accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.). During setup, it will prompt you to insert the key into your laptop or tablet’s port or hold the key close to your phone for wireless contact.

Apple requires you to add two security keys to your Apple ID account, in case you lose one.

Typically, when you log in, you just go to the app or website where you’ve set up a key, enter your username and password as usual, then once again insert the key into the device or hold it close. (Some keys have a metal tab you have to press to activate.) At that point, the service should let you right in.

Why are they so secure?

Getting those two-factor login codes via text message is convenient, but if you are someone criminals are targeting, you could be the victim of SIM swapping. That’s where thieves convince carriers to port your number to a new phone in their possession, and they use it along with your stolen password to hack your accounts.

Even if they don’t go to all that trouble, criminals might try to trick you to hand them your codes, by calling you or spoofing a website you typically visit. At that point they can use the code for about 60 seconds to try to break in, said Ryan Noon, chief executive at security firm Material Security.

Security keys protect you in two ways: First, there’s no code to steal, and second, they use a security protocol to verify the website’s domain during login, so they won’t work on fake sites.

You can also add an authenticator app such as Authy to your most important accounts, to use only as a backup. But once you add these secure methods, you should consider removing the text-message code option.

In the rare case that someone snoops your passcode then steals your iPhone, beware: The perpetrator could still make Apple ID account changes using only the passcode, and even remove security keys from your account.

What happens if you lose your key?

The most important rule of security keys is to buy an extra one (or two).

“Think of your security key as you would a house or car key,” said Derek Hanson, Yubico’s vice president of solutions architecture. “It’s always recommended that you have a spare.”

If you lose a security key, remove it from your accounts immediately. You should have already registered your spare or an authenticator app as a backup to use in the meantime.

Where can you use a security key?

Start with your most valuable accounts: Google, Apple, Microsoft, your password manager, your social–media accounts and your government accounts.

When it comes to financial institutions, many banks don’t offer security-key protection as an option, though most leading crypto exchanges do.

What comes after security keys?

Security professionals and tech companies widely agree that passkeys are the future. They’re a new type of software option that combines the high security of a physical key with the convenience of biometrics such as your face or fingerprints. Passkeys are supported across the Android, iOS, Mac and Windows platforms, and some of your favourite sites already let you use them.

You can create a passkey on Facebook in security settings by following the app’s instructions under the security-key option. Dropbox has a similar passkey setup. Once you’re done, you’ll use your face or fingerprint as a second factor, instead of a code or key.

Eventually, physical security keys could be what we keep safe in strong boxes, as backups for our biometric-enabled passkeys. Even then, you’re probably going to want to have spares.

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