By Rima Zabian
"I have a L-shaped sofa. Lower case."
Daedalus was so skilled at building the labyrinth to imprison the Minotaur that he could barely get out of it. Now it probably isn’t a good idea to use your office desk, chairs, bookshelves, storage cabinets, lamps, tables, computer cables and plants to arrange your office like a maze. I tried it and I needed a lot more stuff. Everyone could get out of it. My office simply looked like a hurricane had blown my furniture through the air. I made the case to my supervisor that I was a creative person and I needed messiness. Your clients she said, wouldn’t see it like that.
It can be liberating to know that you don’t have to arrange your office in a certain way. Research has shown, however, that an orderly room affects actions and emotions in particular ways. You can start thinking about your office as it is by asking yourself some basic questions. Does my office have in it what I need? Is it pleasant to look at? Is it nice? Does it have any interesting pictures or objects? Do you have a gut feeling that you like your office? If the answer is No, don’t tear down the walls yet between you and your co-workers to create a more open space. Let’s look at less obtrusive changes that can support everyone’s well-being.
(Warning: I know nothing about Feng Shui, matching my office color to the aura of my Zodiac, shamanism, Ikebana or any other artful way of arranging your office. That would require consulting with an expert. I know how to stay in my lane.)
The colors of your office can have a direct impact on your and your clients’ physical health, emotions, mental well-being and behavior. Color psychology research has even suggested that you can increase your own productivity, quality of life, job satisfaction and illnesses through changing the colors in a room. Natural light is the best to promote health and sleep quality. If you cannot make your windows bigger with a sledgehammer and a little sandpaper and elbow grease, consider changing or adding different colors. How far do you want to go down this rabbit hole? Here is one shallow hole. White has the psychological property of purity and the positive emotions of clarity, cleanness and efficiency; negative emotions associated with white are coldness, unfriendliness and elitism. (Seriously, I’m not making this up.)
Recent studies have shown blue-teal to be the most comforting, neon colors the most overwhelming. People who are quiet and enjoy spending time alone prefer “cool” colors like green-blue, whereas a Chatty Cathy, as my partner calls me, likes “warm” colors such as yellow-red. (Actually, I prefer black.) Most people tend to prefer “cool” colors and may be your best option. Don’t go nuts and make everything in your office white and gold like someone is walking into heaven. Like everything else in life, moderation is key to improving your well-being.
Why You Should Display Loved Ones
How is your office used? What functions does it serve? Do you meet with families often? Who goes in there? Prospective employees? Supervisors? Get rid of everything that doesn’t serve those functions. Don’t leave your office completely so minimal, however, that it looks like the room where things are cleaned and disinfected. An orderly office is going to encourage better behavior than a chaotic one.
Start with displaying family photos of loved ones. No more photos of yourself, landscapes or strangers. Personal photos at work makes everyone, according to the Harvard Business Review, less likely to engage in unethical behavior like padding timecards. In case you are committed to the sanitation aesthetic, even one photo had this effect. Photos of loved ones also suggests compassion toward others, a crucial impression to make on our clients.
(It is unclear whether pets count as “loved ones” but I reject the term “pets” in the first place. They are “lifelong companions.” You get where I stand on this issue.)
Google was one of the first high performing companies to change the way people work. Their idea was that if their employees are sitting all day, they would be less likely to innovate. It may be unrealistic to put in your office a video game corner, an aquarium with a napping pod and a rack of dumbbells. But you get the idea: you need whatever is going to make you feel creative and motivated. Only you know what that is. Maybe it is no office?
I’m in favor of anything that keeps me active. I’ve tried a treadmill desk, a standing desk, a desk suspended from the ceiling. The last one was a bad idea because all I wanted to do was swing on it all day. At the very least, a more open office will give you the chance to walk around more and, you guessed it, manage your stress better.
Working at a single desk is as traditional as The Andy Griffith Show. You work on a team. How could your office reflect that? Two treadmill desks? Where does this take us all, then?
A functional space where there is a flow, you are comfortable and feel motivated, there is better communication between you and clients, and you just simply like walking into it. No backs or faces to windows.
Above all, make sure your experiments with creative layouts don’t make your office unsafe. I love pirate movies too but I keep my swords at home.