Home Away From Home -- Show Us Your Work Spaces!

There are 120 hours in a work week. A full third of that time is spent actually at work, more if you're counting transit and lunches and working late and coming in on weekends. That's too big a chunk of time for me to hate my work environment.

Jul 25, 2012 at 5:00pm | Leave a comment

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Endless rows of conformity. Ouch.

I spend between 40 and 60 hours a week in my cubicle at work. It's a beige box, like many other cubicles, with four short walls and a hypothetical door.

The first three weeks I spent working here, my cubicle was empty, those fabric walls bare, yawning above me. And we all know yawning is contagious.

I was struggling, not only to adjust to a new job at a new company with a new-to-me small business culture, but because my surroundings were so very not me at all. One night I printed out 8 photos that I liked -- one of each cat and some aquarium pics (and, yes, a picture of Ed) -- and the next day I pinned them up on my own little corner of corporate America.

That was the beginning. I've been in the same work space now for three years and there are times when I feel like my cubicle is more like a dorm room. I've got a collection of cardigans, an emergency pair of flats, and a cape. At the moment, I've even got a blender -- a friend borrowed it and I've yet to take it home. But I've also got several plants and some nerdy grammar posters. I have a strand of bat-shaped mini lights. There are pictures of the dog now. And a plastic skull.

And when I come to work, I feel like this is a space I can get things done in without wanting to curl up and die.

There are, of course, countless studies and articles that emphasize: a happy employee is a productive employee. Places like Google take this to the extreme, going so far as to feed their employees because time spent thinking about food is time NOT spent thinking about Google projects. But even a small nod to comfort can make a difference in an employee's attitude about their job.

At my job, it must be told, this philosophy has gotten a little out of hand when it comes to cubicle decorations. What can I say -- my co-workers love birthdays.

This is how one of my co-workers wound up with a cubicle decorated entirely in orange. Well, in orange and gnomes. In orange and gnomes and macaroni and cheese. We met after work with our carefully collected materials, including a hand-painted gnome statue to replace the one that had been liberated earlier in the year. (Her gnome travels. It's a thing.) A year later, she's moved cubicles twice -- and taken a large part of the decorations with her each time.

There are 120 hours in a work week. A full third of that time is spent actually at work, more if you're counting transit and lunches and working late and coming in on weekends. Even more if you count how much time you spend thinking about the place.

That's too big a chunk of time for me to hate my work environment.

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A coworker made this collage of images from my birthday cube.

When the calendar came around to my birthday, my co-workers went for a more general theme. They had people color in my coloring page from Fat Ladies In Spaaaaace -- a really kickass coloring book that everyone should probably buy -- and then wall-papered my cubicle in that. There were also feathers. And rhinestones. And cans of Coca Cola hidden all over in my filing cabinets and potted plants.

That was cool -- and it took forever (or at least a month or two) to find all of the cans. Man, I didn't buy a soda for months.

I'll admit, I had to take those coloring pages down after a few days. Having a cartoon version of me staring at my back all day got disturbing after a little while. (And now I've got all of the pages neatly tucked away in a folder.) But some of those decorative elements are still around me, if much pared down.

The decorating of cubicles for people's birthdays has become a tradition around here -- as I walk around the office, it's fun to see what people have done, how people's personalities have been translated into decorative themes. And even the cubes that aren't decorated to excess (some of us are all about excess) show signs of being inhabited, personal touches to make the place more homelike.

Maybe it's part of that whole work-life integration trend, but I really like being able to shape my environment into a place I'm happy to be working. It's not my couch, you know? But that's okay, too, because I don't need it to be. In fact, if it were my couch, I probably wouldn't get nearly so much done.

I do work on my couch as well. I've got a laptop that I use for almost all of my writing, and have the terrible repetitive stress pain in my wrists to show for the lack of ergonomics in my set up. In fact, my home work space could take some hints from my day job's work space when it comes to putting me in a good position to take care of business.

At work I have plants; at home I have pets. I have considered crossing the streams with a fish tank at work and a moss terrarium at home (other than, you know, the container garden), but I've not yet made that leap. My coworkers are convinced I should get a jellyfish tank.

And I'm tempted. I mean, I'm happy to be at work -- but surely I'd be happier if I had jellyfish.

I've compromised by naming my desk plants, which are supposed to clean the air and generally liven up the joint. I don't know how the air quality rates but it's nice to have some living things under my fluorescent lights.

What are your work spaces like? What do you do to make the space your own? It doesn't matter if you've got a work bench or a home office, I'm really curious how you've personalized your space!

And if you work in one of those cool places (like your house) where you can do so, send us a photo for a gallery to olivia@xojane.com. XoJane staffers will show you ours if you show us yours!