WORKING freelance means that I have had many opportunities to spend the day or days at various institutions and office venues.

At many of these, I get a glimpse of the kitchen facilities. Some of these are nothing more than a microwave on a table but some of them, especially at multinational corporations, are generous full-range kitchenettes with lots of storage space, a refrigerator, oven and even a dishwasher.

It’s a sensible provision considering how much time people spend at work. But I’ve often been frustrated to find dirty glasses mixed with fresh because nobody bothered to remove the clean glasses first, or a colony of ants because of crumbs and stains that nobody bothered to clean up.

Employees I have spoken to are quick to add to the list — draining the last of the coffee pot and not bothering to refill it, leaving dishes in the sink, squashing someone else’s lunch in the refrigerator to make space for your own shopping, hogging fridge space and even stealing someone else’s food.

Obviously, this is a case of bad manners in the workspace. The office kitchen, even if it’s nothing more than a sink or a pantry, belongs to everybody.

It’s as communal a space as the meeting room, copier room or restroom. To ensure optimal use, it has to be maintained properly. This means that somebody needs to be in charge.

If there is a professional cleaner, a lot of problems can be alleviated, but even he cannot be around all day long to ensure proper usage.

Perhaps an employee can be appointed to be in charge of kitchen administration and to liaise with the cleaning lady and whoever is replenishing supplies. In fact, this can even be a job rostered among colleagues, with the idea that nobody wants to be known as the one who maintains the dirtiest kitchen.

Some ground rules can also be laid out:

Kitchen sink:
Don’t leave used plates and coffee mugs in the sink unless there is someone hired to do the dishes. Wash and dry your dishes after use and put them in the drying rack immediately. Check in a little later to put things away.

Counter or work surfaces:
Throw away your trash, making sure that you remove crumbs and stains. Don’t use the counter to thaw frozen food that you want to warm up. Rather, put in on a plate. Otherwise, you’re producing drips as well as creating health hazards.

Refrigerator:
Don’t put open or half-open tubs of yoghurt, tins of soups and beverages and half-eaten sandwiches back into the refrigerator without sealing them. Food contaminates easily and leaves smells that linger.

If a food item seems to have been abandoned or is obviously past its due date, throw it away. You can always leave a note explaining why this has been done.

Don’t hog all the space in the refrigerator by putting your day’s marketing in it.

If you’re going to need the fridge for an office party, then give notice in advance by putting up a note. Put a notice that the fridge will be cleaned so that people will have time to remove their stuff.

Microwave:
If you are using the microwave, make sure that the food is properly covered while it’s being heated or that a window is opened to air the room afterwards. Not everybody likes the smell of curry, herbal soups or garlic. Clean up any spillage immediately as it is a lot harder to do so when it has cooled against the oven doors.

Labels:
If you keep something permanently in the office, such as diabetic sweeteners, label it so that colleagues know it belongs to you. They can also then ask permission to use or borrow something such as chocolate or milk powder if they know it’s yours.

Supplies:
Always make sure that there is enough plastic to line the trash can. If you realise that you have used the last of the kitchen napkins or a cleaning agent, inform the person in charge.

These tips sound like common sense but people can be inconsiderate. Just talk to any cleaning lady! You can soften these “rules” by presenting them via a poem or a cartoon or a witty notice. If memos or even mentions at meetings don’t work, run a YouTube movie. Just type in office, workplace or kitchen etiquette — you’d be surprised by the range! The guilty ones will recognise themselves.