Aspects of Well-being, Part 4

Last time we took a cursory look at office ergonomics and how they can affect overall well-being. Today I want to look at how the rest of your surroundings at work can have an impact. I’m talking about your actual, physical environment – be it an office, a cubicle, or a desk space in an open plan office. This can also relate to a home office, co-working space or coffee shop – wherever you do the bulk of your work.

I’m going to limit this discussion to a top 3 again, as yet again we have a topic here that can easily turn into a rabbit hole – one that may even include multiple dimensions.

First a question: do you know where you fall on the Introvert <=> Extrovert spectrum? This can have a major impact on your overall comfort at work, especially in today’s all too common “open plan office.” Extroverts thrive in a highly collaborative environment, with lots of action, coworkers stopping by constantly, always buzzing with energy – they draw their energy from others. Introverts on the other hand thrive in quiet. They need to be able to shut out all of those things the extroverts thrive on in order to focus on what they’re doing. This can lead to clashes in open plan office settings when the introverts in the room dive under headphones to escape the din.

No matter where you fall on the spectrum, there are things you can do make your work setting a better fit.

Tip #1: Adjust your work area to fit/display your personality. For example, the extrovert with a private office can leave their door open all the time. Some have gone a step farther and put a “welcome, come on in!” sign on the door. This lets everyone know that you’re always available for a collaboration or some small talk.

For the introvert stuck in an open setting, building up some permeable, yet easily visible barriers is a great option (run anything you want to try past your boss first, please). An example from my work life: I built some simple screens out of wood and handmade paper that extended the pony wall (~4′ high) separating me from my cube mates up to a better height. This offered some privacy and calmed things down for me. If you’re not up to the DIY option, there are 2′ tall shoji screens available from several outlets online.

Tip #2: Decorations. I know, this sounds superficial, however studies are showing that something as simple as a picture of the outdoors can actually lower stress hormone levels in office workers. Obviously a window that looked out on actual trees would be primo. A second first choice is an actual plant. There are many options that can thrive in a cube setting. If you’re not up to taking care of plants, and since most office workers don’t have the luxury of a nature view window – try pinning up a couple of shots of the great outdoors. Bonus points if you have pictures of the outdoors (sans humans) that are from places you’ve been. The added connection of having seen the location in person adds to the positive effects by tying in a pleasant memory.

Other than this, try to keep distracting knick-knacks and tchotchkes to a minimum.

Tip #3: Desktop clutter. While we’re talking about knick-knacks and other sundry distractions – most desks I see in my work as IT desktop support are…how shall I put this politely…well they’re a flippin’ mess.

Take 5 minutes when you get to work tomorrow and put away 10 things. Then dust the area of your desk that you can now see for the first time in (insert number of years at your current job)…Then, remove 10 things from your computer’s desktop. You can delete them or organize them, as long as they’re removed from your desktop. Most companies have security policies in place that say employees should be saving their files to a specific network location anyway, and as a bonus your files will now be backed up (big assumption here that your company has a backup plan in place).

There you have it, 3 easy steps you can take right now to start molding your work environment to better fit you and your personality. Next up, we’ll tackle the more general topic of daily stressors – from how to recognize them to how to lessen their impact on your well-being.