November 3rd, 2010 By Jack Morton
I recently had to move my cube from one side of the office to the other, which (for someone with a *mild* control issue) is a slightly disruptive and (dare I say) traumatizing experience (dust and clutter – the horror!). But not one to fuss (too much), I kept the peanut-gallery-chatter to a minimum and bravely trudged through the swirling hurricane of paper and the toxic-haze of 409, eventually making a triumphant touch-down in my new little corner of yuppie-heaven. After booting up those pesky work things (computer, phone, etc.), I tackled the most crucial step in the process: making my workspace “my own.” As I found places for a poster from my alma mater, a postcard depicting an elephant in the Serengeti, my bamboo plant and, of course, my mini piggy bank (a.k.a. 401K — see picture above), I started thinking about how these personal artifacts affect my professional work.
At Jack Morton, we are well-versed in the importance of environmental design and branding. We help our clients make the physical and virtual spaces in which they interact with their communities as strategically-conducive (and cool!) as possible. And we think about our own spaces the same way – visit any Jack Morton office, and you’ll see that orange-and-gray is more than a mere color palate, it’s a lifestyle. When it comes to producing the best work for our clients, we believe that we need to immerse ourselves in an environment that sparks curiosity, creativity, and mental elasticity. Of course, this is not a ground breaking philosophy – there is an enormous library of psychological and sociological research dedicated to the significance of physical spaces on peoples’ happiness and productivity. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943), when people feel comfortable and safe in their surroundings (Level 2), we are increasingly motivated to fulfill other needs such as self-actualization (Level 5), at which point we operate at our highest potential. More recently, according to a study published by Scientific American (preview here – the full article is not available online) (September 2010), “employees perform best when they are encouraged to decorate their surroundings as they see fit, with plants and ornaments, comic calendars, photographs of their children or their cats – whatever makes them feel most comfortable and in their element.” But what makes the study most compelling is its consideration of the employees’ control over decorating their desks (versus the decorations themselves) and how that “power” impacts their quality of work. In other words, if you perform best in a sparse environment, that’s fine – that’s your choice. And sure, in some work settings, it’s not appropriate for much personalization (such as a hospital); however, even in these standardized spaces, I think it’s still important to allow employees to express their personalities in some capacity (such as colorful scrubs or a strategically-placed smiley face on a name badge). Over an extended period of time, if employees feel like drones, they will power-down like drones, and levels of happiness and productivity will sharply decrease.
So what do you think? How do you personally “brand” your workspace? And, playing the devil’s advocate, do you think there is a line over which a person’s comfort at work turns into inefficiency?