Take a look at your desk. Seriously, take a look. From the half-finished breakfast sandwich to the dog-eared Dilbert comic you clipped from the paper and hung on your monitor, your work environment is sending little signals about your attitude, private life, and productivity to everyone in your office as they walk by. Want to take control of this unspoken conversation? Here’s how.
Working with What You’ve Got
“The Perfect Workspace (According to Science)” claims that the perfect office is flooded with natural light. This light should be streaming in through floor-to-ceiling windows (and those ceilings are HIGH). The windows should provide a view of a pastoral park with ancient trees, a bubbling brook and butterflies frolicking in an English garden. As far as furniture goes, the experts say that rounded edges are more calming than sharp-edged furniture. The walls surrounding the area should be mainly blue and green with a pop of energizing red here and there. Plant life should thrive within the office, taking our noxious carbon dioxide fumes and replenishing our oxygen supply.
What if you’re sitting facing a brick wall or your only view is of Ed from accounting who is chewing his nicotine gum with his mouth open? What if all you see are beige walls, surrounding what seems like miles of dingy beige cubicles, while the eight flickering fluorescent lights overhead hum just two feet from your head? We all have to work with what we’ve got, but it doesn’t mean that a little ingenuity won’t make an uninviting workspace more pleasant to be in.
Adding a photo of your loved ones or a favorite shot from your last vacation in a nice frame is a great way to personalize your work environment. Love hockey? Frame some ticket stubs — they’re great conversation starters when people stop by your area to chat. Always chilly in the air conditioning? Keep a pretty shawl slung over the back of your chair for a little added texture and a pop of color, as well as comfort. Investing in an extra desk lamp from the dollar store and a set of headphones (the modern worker’s best friend) will go a long way, as well.
But practice some restraint. Two or three small framed photos are nice, but a poster-sized framed photo of your romantic cruise to the Caribbean, or fifteen pictures of your dog hung all over the filing cabinet, are more suitable for your home, not your office.
Make it colorful—but not too colorful.
Using color in your desk accessories can help break up the beige “blah” of standard-issue office decor. Hang a memo board with a red background for your office notes. Try a colorful desk blotter (so retro!) or a fun mousepad to brighten your desk. Swap out your supply-closet desk calendar with one that features beautiful sunsets or garden imagery.
Here again, keep in mind that less is more. You want your work environment to tell your boss that you’re a professional, not a teenager.
Next time you’re in a meeting with your supervisor, take a look at how she has personalized her work space. Has she hung a framed poster of her favorite painting? Are her staplers and scissors upgrades from the ones found in the supply closet? Does she have a plant or two in her window, or does she opt for fresh flowers on her desk every once in a while? Or is her area devoid of all things personal and a simply streamlined, work-centric area?
You can use her as an example of how color, personalization, and texture can be used in your own space. However, make sure these items reflect your own tastes. If you make your desk a carbon-copy of hers, it may come off a little too much like brown-nosing, both to her and to other coworkers.
What Your Work Environment Says About You
Personalizing your work environment is one way of showing your co-workers and your supervisor that you’re committed to your position. Conversely, unpacked boxes and a lack of personal touches might give the impression that you’re not there to stay. Whether it’s true or not, you don’t want to give anyone that kind of impression of you. According to the online article, “What Your Workspace Says About You,” your desk may be giving off many subtle clues about your attitude toward your work itself. In the article, adjunct professor of communication at the University of Cincinnati Lisa Marie Luccioni points out, “Everything in your office sends a message, whether you want it to or not.” Here are just a few:
- Degrees on the wall, trophies on display and a framed thank-you from the company’s CEO all say, “I demand respect.”
- Messy piles of paper strewn on every surface, half-finished coffee cups and crumbs in the keyboard, and other constant untidiness is a tell-tale sign of an unconscientious worker, particularly if you share an office space with others.
- A huge collection of Star Wars toys strewn on every surface, funny bumper stickers covering your cubicle walls, and a constantly filled Supersoaker water gun in the desk drawer can give the impression that you don’t take your job too seriously.
Be conscious of the signals you’re sending. When in doubt, check with your HR department for guidelines on office décor. Finally, err on the side of caution. If you have any doubt that something might cause discomfort for others in your work environment, keep it at home.