Is there a rule of thumb about how long after a co-worker passes away you should wait before asking if you can have his old desk?
— Wondering For A Friend
It depends. If you arranged for your co-worker’s demise, you should never ask for the furniture because that gives you a motive and makes you a suspect. Trust me, I know these things. If you are innocent and/or have an iron-clad alibi, the general rule is you should wait until one hour before any other co-worker asks or has enough nerve to simply implement a self-help switch.
— Evil Skippy
I get it. A co-worker is not exactly a loved one, but you do not want to appear to be crass. So be sneaky.
Tell your boss that you would be glad to help in this difficult time by clearing out the dearly departed person’s desk (use the person’s real name unless you want to sound like you just time travelled here from Victorian England). Say you know it will be a sad task but it needs to be done since there could be important work information stashed away. If you can manage a solitary tear, do so and close the conversation by saying that doing something like this will help you process the feelings of loss.
You will have to complete the extra work, but when you report back to your boss what you found you will have the perfect opportunity to make your real request: “I don’t want to sound like a vulture, but would it be possible to swap desks? I realized when cleaning out [Insert The Right Name Here]’s desk that it is much nicer than the one I have now.” Of course this is an obvious ploy and unless your boss is a dolt, he or she won’t be fooled. However, your boss will also see that you took pains to appear as respectful as possible – and in the workplace, actual conduct is what counts as opposed to what you are merely thinking. You still might not get your wish, but you will have a better chance of being at the front of the line.
Don’t do what one of my ex-colleagues did. Most of us went to the memorial service after a co-worker died and she asked our boss if she could move into the newly-vacant office as we were standing in the receiving line to express our condolences to the family. When the boss chastised her for clumsy timing, she didn’t get it and replied, “What is the big deal? It’s not like he is going to be using it.”
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