One of the things that helps get me through challenges at work is how much I love my office.
It makes a difference that I had complete control — at least as much as the landlord and prudent use of my bank account would allow — in outfitting it. And yes, my commercial office building blows hot and cold, like all the others: Some days you need a sweater and a scarf, and other days you need a cold compress on the back of your neck. But my office also has several aspects that anyone can appreciate:
Space: There is enough room for me to roll my chair back without an excess of caution. I don’t have to worry about bumping into furniture, or worse, into another person’s chair. I feel free to move around. And I have plenty of surface area for organizing papers in ways that support, rather than constrain, my thinking.
Light: I have the great good fortune to sit near a window. The value of natural light, or access to it, at least for breaks during the day, cannot be overestimated.
View: My window has special value. I’m on the fifth floor of a building that sits smack in the middle of mixed-use suburbia at the edge of an interchange of roads, so I have an unobstructed view of sidewalks and streets, stores, the elevated train tracks half a mile away, and lots and lots of sky. I also have reminders of both nature and humanity before me whenever I need them: Clouds, trees, birds, cars, and those trains passing each other as if on a Lionel set. My view is stimulating and soothing at the same time. The inside view is also a pleasure, with lots of plants and art on the walls.
Tools: I have everything that I need to do the job — when everything’s working, of course! There are always enough supplies on hand (Katie is careful about that); and coffee, water, and reasonably healthy snacks are always available. My reference files are close by, and all my current project materials are comfortably within arm’s reach.
Personal Reminders: I keep multiple signals around me that emphasize who I am, what I want, and why I’m there. There are photos of my family and milestone events, my kids at various stages, and my wedding; citations and awards that remind me of accomplishments; plaques with the quotes I love; and notes that emphasize the importance of being focused.
Yes, of course, I have much more control and greater choice in my office than most people have in their workspaces. But whatever modicum of autonomy and self-expression can exist surely adds to any working person’s sense of security, commitment, and engagement. Managers who create “no personalization” policies, who specify two-foot clearances between work stations, and who preside over what appear to be lifeless, lightless, colorless wastelands don’t know what they’re missing.
Life — and work — can be hard! So allow for reasonable amounts of pleasure and self-determination within the workplace wherever it’s possible. Everyone will feel — and work — better.
Onward and upward,