For millions of workers around the world, their daily home away from home is an office cubicle. If the walls of that tiny space are starting to close in on you, there are simple steps you can take to make your office cracker box more livable.
The bane of most business people working in the modern world is constructed of four plastic or metal walls, four to eight feet tall, with a couple of shelves, a desktop and drawers, and everything’s usually the same color―beige, gray, putty colored. Putty isn’t the worst color in the world, but if you have to be surrounded by it for eight hours a day, five days a week, it can get pretty old! But a cube doesn’t have to be the equivalent of a prison cell; with just a little effort and planning, any cookie-cutter cube can be personalized into a pleasant place where you might actually look forward to spending 40 hours a week.
One of the most common complaints among cube dwellers is the feeling that their cube is just one little industrial box in a beehive of boxes housing automatons grinding out their daily quota of hours. To avoid having your beehive box look just like everyone else’s, why not take some of the personal decorating style you use at home and apply it to the office? Even small changes can add a personal touch and make your cube more welcoming:
- Use a top shelf, or the top of a cabinet, as a showcase for framed photographs of friends, family, or favorite places you’ve visited. You can even change them from time to time to keep things fresh and interesting, particularly to visitors to your cube. You can intersperse the photos with little figurines or trinkets you’ve picked up on your travels.
- Bring a little of the outdoors inside by bringing in a potted plant or two. If your cube is large enough, you can even bring in a large plant like a ficus tree or a rubber tree. Most plants can be successfully maintained inside under fluorescent lighting, but some varieties fare better than others. If you don’t want to have to remember to water, then you can invest in an artificial plant or tree just for the color. Technological advances in artificial greenery over the last decade have resulted in some awfully realistic-looking fakery, so artificial plants aren’t usually shiny plastic anymore.
- Change the atmosphere and décor of your cube for special seasons or holidays. When spring arrives, bring in fresh flowers every couple of weeks or once a month. When the weather starts turning cooler, change your screensaver to a picture of fall leaves. As Christmas approaches, bring in a tape of holiday music to play at a very low volume, if your office allows music.
- Replace the standardized office items with accessories that tell your co-workers who you really are. Instead of a plain old blue mouse pad, bring in one sporting an American flag, or a picture of a beach in Maui, or even a special-ordered mouse pad with your cat’s face. Instead of a plastic pencil cup, bring in that ceramic coffee mug you snatched from the Hard Rock Café. Instead of plain old pushpins on your corkboard, go buy some with specialty tips on them, like little golf balls, little figurines, or little dice.
Avoid drowning in a sea of putty by covering it up. Since poster frames are thin and will fit flush against the wall, they are good choice for minimizing intrusion into whatever breathing room your cube contains. Your choice of prints or posters is only limited by your imagination and artistic taste. Create an attractive display with a variety of sizes and subjects, or if you’re limited to just one, be sure it’s something you’re not going to get tired of very quickly.
Other artistic touches that can break up the monotony of your putty sea can include wall hangings, colorful wall calendars, souvenir magnets, or even fun things like strings of Mardi Gras beads. Your choice of cube dressing is only confined by the limits of your office policies, and, of course, the amount of space you have to work with.
Every little personal touch you make to your cubicle will help avoid the dreaded sterility of cookie-cutter work spaces so that you’ll actually enjoy going to work each day. But if you spend too much time sitting in your cubicle, no matter how pleasant the atmosphere, you might eventually end up with cube atrophy―a common complaint among cube dwellers who feel like they have gotten ‘cube body’ from sitting in the same position for hours on end. One of the first things to consider is to make sure you have an ergonomic chair with armrests you can raise and lower to get the right placement for your arms. Your desk or table should also be adjusted for your height and posture. But even with perfectly engineered seating, you can still end up with problems such as lower back strain from being seated too long, upper-back strain from scrunching your neck, shoulder together to hold the shoulder rest of the phone, and sluggish circulation in your legs from prolonged inactivity. But combating these problems is easy:
- Get up and walk somewhere at least once every thirty minutes, even if it’s just to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. Getting up keeps your circulation going, gives your eyes a rest from staring at a computer screen, and gives your whole body a chance to loosen up and flex.
- Stand up and roll back and forth on your heels and toes, to stretch leg muscles that can cramp from sitting too long in the same position.
- Leave your cube and go find a real doorway somewhere, even if it’s the door to a stall in the bathroom. Place your forearms against the frame and lean into the doorway to stretch your pectoral muscles for ten or fifteen seconds.
- While sitting or standing, stretch your arms back over your head, clasp your hands together, and arch your body backward to reverse the hunched-over position you’ve been sitting in all day. An added bonus―this might make you yawn, which will give you a much-needed oxygen boost to help you stay awake for the rest of the day!
With just a little bit of effort, you can make your cube so appealing that you might not want to leave. Which of course might result in your boss giving you a promotion, and then moving you into a real office…and then you’ll have a whole different group of decorating challenges to explore!