This post was written by Alison Green and published on Ask a Manager.
A reader writes:
Is there a way to ask to see your future workspace before you accept a job offer or at some point in the interview process, without it being strange?
Several years ago I accepted a job that I would never have taken if I had known I would be spending all day, every day, in a tiny, interior, windowless office lit with only dim desk lamps with ancient repurposed writing desks instead of actual computer desks. That job left me with a herniated disc in my neck from the horrible ergonomics and caused some mental health issues from working for six months in an office where I literally never saw natural light before I quit.
My newish job is also in an interior office, although thankfully with decent lighting and actual office furniture, but I know it’s going to be rough in the winter when it’ll be dark when I come to and from work. I can deal for now because we’re hybrid, but if we return to five days in office, I’ll be miserable.
I’ve come to realize how much of a difference a well-planned office can make in how you interact with people and how awful it is to spend your workdays in a closet-like office, to the point where it would be a pretty significant factor in deciding whether I would take a job or not. But I can’t figure out how to tell an employer that I’d need to know what the office set-up is, and specifically where I might end up, before I could commit to a job.
Yeah, it’s weird that this isn’t a standard part of all hiring processes, because there’s a huge amount of information you get by seeing what the work set-up is like, and it’s something that can have an enormous impact on what your day-to-day quality of life will be in that job. A lot of managers do make a tour a standard part of their interview process, but a lot don’t.
If you’re interviewing in person, one option is to say at the end of the meeting, “Would it be possible for me to see the space this role works from?” Say it pleasantly and matter-of-factly, like you’re asking something normal and unremarkable, because it is a normal and unremarkable thing to want to see.
If you’re offered the job without having interviewed in person (but would be working in their office if you accept), it’s fine to say, “I haven’t had the chance to see the workplace in person yet and would love to get a better feel for it before I accept. Could we set up a short in-person meeting this week, even if it’s just 10 minutes for me to come by to get a quick sense of the office?”
If they balk at that, that should give you pause.
Of course, with stuff like this, you always need to keep in mind that it could change after you start working there. You could start out with a luxuriously equipped private office with furniture of the finest Corinthian leather, and six months in they could bump you into a cubicle in basement because someone more senior needs the space, or could switch to hot-desking, or it could turn out that your workspace smells like a dead corpse half the year or becomes infested by ghosts … but it’s still reasonable to want to get a look at where they plan to put you before you commit.