Turn Your Office Cubicle Into Your Personal Sanctuary
The office cubicle has long been regarded as a cold, impersonal place to work. The film, “Office Space” nailed the environment of the work cube as being intrusive, confining and pedestrian. Although main character Peter ends up breaking down his cubicle walls to find freedom and peace (and a window), you don’t have to resort to such drastic measures. Instead, you can create your own personal cube sanctuary using only a few items from home and some clever organization.
Clearing the Clutter
- Remove the clutter to extinguish the “white noise.” One reason your cube may be sending harsh vibes your way is because you're trying to work with numerous papers, staplers and office supplies (not to mention your lunch) splattered all over the space that is there. Clear the clutter and you may begin to find peace.
- Organize work into specific piles. Not only will you start feeling more Zen, you will also most likely work at a more efficient level if your work isn’t strewn across your desk. Begin by creating small piles of work––items you're currently working on, items you've completed and items that should be archived. Create a pile for non-work related paperwork or items on the floor in your space to eliminate them from the work area.
- Add an organizational system to your desktop. Purchase on your own or talk to your purchasing manager about getting an organizational system for your cube. Whether it’s file cabinets or an in/out box, address the amount of paperwork and other items housed in your cube in order to find each pile a specific home. Also, any extraneous items that detract from your work focus should be either brought home or placed in an area away from your immediate work space. Not only will doing so reduce clutter but it'll also help free yourself from the panic brought on by looking for lost information.
- Subscribe to the clean desk policy. The IBM Corporation has a clean desk policy where employees must clear and secure all paperwork and items by the end of the day. Whether your company mandates this type of policy or not, subscribe to having a clean desk by the time you leave work, so that when you arrive in the morning the tone is set for a peaceful day (what happens after you arrive, however, is anyone’s guess).
Providing Pleasant Lighting
- Adjust the lighting. Lighting can have a serious impact on overall mood. Harsh fluorescent lights may be “shining” down on you, but you don’t have to live completely with the imposed stark environment. To improve the lighting as best you can, here are some suggestions:
- Create a restful ambiance by adding low wattage bulbs to your desk experience via the addition of a small lamp or two. Purchase a small lamp that is compatible with a low wattage bulb like a 40 watt. Place the lamp near your computer or workspace to create a softer flood of light. Angle it to fall where it lights your work but does not bother your eyes. After you've added a lamp, you'll wonder how you managed before––this personal light source will improve your sense of the lighting considerably and you may not even notice the fluorescent lights anymore.
- It is not unknown for some workers to dress their cubicle with little fairy lights on a cord. These are for effect rather than useful light but they can look very effective, especially during the darker months.
- Add a small real or fake fish tank with light. If you have room, a small fish tank or even a lava lamp can create a groovy, peaceful environment. Choose a warm colored light such as orange or red to bathe the area in soft, mood soothing lighting. Just be cautious in a conservative workplace though––lava lamps might not be viewed as compatible with taking the work seriously.
- If you'd like more natural light coming to your desk space, talk to your supervisor. It may be as simple as changing the angle of your cubicle, or it may be as complicated as shifting you somewhere else. But raising it is important if it matters to you––stewing about your sallow complexion and miserable positioning won't change anything. Ask nicely and you might receive.
Home Sweet Home
- Bring home to work. After you’ve cleared your space, consider re-populating it with a few choice, meaningful pieces from home. Make sure you have room for a few items and that any picture frames or toys from home won’t add more clutter to your space. When dressing up your cubicle sanctuary, remember that less is always more but a homely touch will increase your sense of belonging. Here are some sanctuary-inducing additions to your space:
- Family and pet photos. One of the best ways to add warmth and personality to your cube is to place a few family and pet photos in your area. Consider adding your favorite photo next to your computer or workstation and then a few smaller framed photos on shelves. It'll cheer you to see these faces regularly and family members and pets always make great talking points with coworkers.
- Add an easy-to-care-for plant or two. If you have room, a nice green plant can remove the sterility from a cubicle environment. Select a plant that requires very little maintenance or go for a realistic silk plant. You'll also need a mist spray bottle for regular watering.
- Bring in a small throw blanket or pillow. Is the office chair uncomfortable or perhaps it feels cold in the morning? Add a small throw blanket or pillow from home to make your space more inviting. Choose a color that makes you feel peaceful or energized.
- Pin up photos, posters and prints of the great outdoors. Images of your favorite vacation spots, outdoor areas and beautiful scenes can brighten up a cubicle space and remind you to plan that next vacation!
- Inspirational or motivational posters can create a sense of harmony too. Find a phrase or an image with a quote that brightens your day and let everyone else enjoy it too by pinning it up. A nice phrase is one from Dr. Jill Bolt Taylor that requests: "Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this place." And, of course, you can't go past the perennial phrase "Think Outside the Box."
- Add peaceful sounds. Since you're working in a cube, be conscious that others can hear any sounds coming from your area and they deserve their own cube sanctuary too. Before you add anything that makes sound, check with your neighbors and the boss to ensure you have the “go ahead” to proceed. Here are some additions that might work for you:
- Small fountain. Home decor stores sell small water fountains that can be placed on a shelf, providing the restful sounds of running water. Fountains range in size, with the smallest being able to fit in the palm of your hand, making it very unobtrusive.
- Sounds of the ocean or other natural sounds. Numerous New Age or nature sounds CDs can be purchased to conjure up the sounds of the ocean, running water, birdsong or children at play. You could play the CD during stressful times during the day or while you are taking your break and need to relax. Bring along headphones if playing the sounds on low still irritates your neighboring coworkers.
- Small rotating fan. Talkative neighbors or loud noises around your cube? Don’t let exterior noises add stress to your day––consider adding a rotating fan that provides white noise and a little extra air. However, if you plan to include a fan, point it toward the wall of your cube so it doesn’t blow papers across the room.
- Include animals as your cubicle experience. Not every workplace will allow this suggestion, so it's for the more enlightened or creative place (in which case, you might have an open-space desk rather than a cubicle) but if you can, the addition of some fish in a tank can help improve your mood and create a sense of a sanctuary. However, this is not for the person who doesn't want responsibilities––you'll need to feed the fish daily (and rig up something for the weekends) and clean the tank or bowl weekly, as well as make arrangements for when you're away (are your coworkers up to it?). If you can't have fish, then try sneaking your cat in to work now and then!
- Images of animals can help turn a cold cubicle into a sanctuary. Use images from your own photo collection, from old calendars (or hang a current calendar up with animal photos), and from print-offs from the internet.
Food and Drink
- Choose your own drink ware and dining items. Spare the planet's resources and bring your own mug and bowls for constant reuse rather than using the Styrofoam disposables in the office. These will definitely add to the homely feel, they're a much nicer tactile experience and everyone will recognize your mug and bowl over the office eclectic mix in the kitchen cupboard.
- Make a ceremonial food and drink spot in your cubicle. Bring along a tray, add a coffee pot or teapot to it, your favorite beverage in a tin or jar, your favorite cookies and any other treats. Make it so that it can be moved as one to make way for workspace and then simply transported back to where you're sitting to enjoy the drink and nibble, any time you take a break.
- Some people join forces and create small tea or coffee drinking ceremonial spots somewhere central to their cubes or within a cubicle space where they open out onto one another. This can improve coworker bonding and if you love collectibles, can be a place to display teapots, samovars, coffee pots and accompanying spoons, cups, etc.
- Have a colorful candy dish somewhere permanent in your cubicle. Always keep it filled with your favorite treats, either for yourself or for you and everyone else too. If you're on a diet, switch it to carrot sticks and goji berries, or whatever else works for you!
- Use humor to improve your cubicle life. Having funny things on the cubicle walls can provide good relief from shuffling around in a little box all day long. Also, humor will be welcomed by your coworkers if it's displayed where they can read it too. Ideas include funny posters, cartoon strips, a joke-a-day or a joke-a-week, funny images (for example, LOL cats) and so on. Just make sure it's acceptable humor and doesn't demean anyone or any group of people.
- Changing the humorous items regularly will keep them fresh and will have your coworkers flocking to your cube all the time to "check out the latest", creating a convivial atmosphere around your spot.
- If you have any funny comic strips that you enjoy, print them out and pin them up on your pinboard or walls of your cubicle. (Make sure they're professional.)
- Put googly eyes or stickers on things - staplers, tape rollers, even your monitor. They'll give you and your co-workers a chuckle even on the glummest of days.
When Your Desk Isn't Yours
- Cope with "hot desking". Hot desking is when you are given a desk a day, in anyone's cubicle. It's a lot harder to make this feel like a personal sanctuary because you're constantly being moved on. However, it is possible if you make yourself a carry-pack of sanctuary goodies. To a small bag or carry-box, add a photo or two in a standalone frame, your favorite teabags, a spray scent (if permissible––some people object to such odors), a battery tea light candle, headphones for your MP3 player and a small figurine or flower in a vase. Each morning you set up, quickly arrange these goodies out of their little bag or box and create your instant "my space." Perfect the art of whipping this up and packing it down in two minutes flat.
- If you have a hat or coat, place on hooks in your cubicle as feature pieces in their own right.
- Be careful with using aromatherapy or other odors. People who are challenged by perfume odors can rightfully complain if they feel overwhelmed by any scent you're over-using.
- Toys can also make your cube seem more like home, however make sure they are tasteful and won’t offend any coworkers or the boss. And be cautious about tacking them to the top of the cubicle––your neighboring coworkers might not want to stare at Hello Kitty or Star Trek figurines all day long.
- A small mirror can help to make a spot seem larger than it is, and also serves to let you know if there is parsley stuck in your teeth post-lunch.
- Look at photos of other people's cubicle improvements to feel inspired (try Flickr, Pinterest, etc.).
- If your office permits, add a small fragrant candle or even a flameless candle to give that cozy feeling to your cube.
- Rearrange your furniture so that your back isn’t completely turned to the cube opening. That way, you can see people as they walk past and won’t be startled if someone comes up behind you, which is a big issue for many cube workers.
- Feeling watched from behind? Either shift your desk (often impossible though) or put a visual block up, such as a large pot plant or even some gauze like material that can be pinned to one side of the entrance area to your cubicle and pinned right across whenever you're "in."
- If you love needlework, consider stitching a "Cubicle Sweet Cubicle" sampler.
- Jazz up your hardware if you can. Get an inspiring mousepad and mouse. You can have your own mouse pads printed, allowing you to put on any design, inspirational saying or joke that you like! And don't forget to make your wallpaper on your desktop inspiring.
- Consider pinning up the most important papers; this makes them much easier to find than when simply stacked.
- Know company rules with respect to decorating, making noise, etc. in your personal cubicle space before transforming it into your own lair. They might not be understanding if you breach their rules or other people's zones of comfort.
- Remember that your cubicle is not the same as having an office and anyone, from random strangers to coworkers, may have access to your belongings. Make sure that you either lock up anything valuable at the end of the day or be able to live with the possibility that items may not be there when you return. Even packages of cookies go walkabout when left alone...
- Keep it real and keep it professional. Pin-ups of nude men or women are not acceptable, and stay away from religious or political evangelizing from your cube. This is work, not a pulpit.
- Do be aware that cubicle decor speaks volumes about who you are. Make sure it's saying something positive, professional and grown up!
Things You'll Need
- Images, posters, postcards, etc.
- Tack or pins
- Treats, tea and coffee
- Customized items
- Toys or figurines