Ask LH: How Can I Make My Cubicle More Comfortable And Less Boring?

Dear Lifehacker, I am condemned to being stuck in a small cubicle with low walls. I know Lifehacker has plenty of showcases for home offices, but what do people like me do when they work in an office? I'd like some advice on what to do to make my cubicle a more comfortable and less sterile place. Signed, Cube Dweller

Picture: maraga/Shutterstock, OCAL

Dear CD,

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the cubicle -- a long sentence for office workers like yourself indeed. Although there's not much you can do about the tight space, you don't have to put up with the generic grey colour scheme and other uninviting features of your cubicle. Here's how you take that cube from cookie cutter to comfortable and customised.

One thing to find out before you make any changes though is what kind of decorating upgrades you're allowed to do in your workplace. Some offices are fine with accessories but might not be too happy if you hang up a privacy curtain or turn your cubicle into an indoor garden.

Mask the Largest Surfaces: the Walls and Floor

Most likely you're boxed in by boring grey or dull white modular panels and the carpet is some equally bland industrial type. Since these constitute the greatest area of your small space, the most effective way to upgrade your workspace is to customise those panels and floor.

The floor is pretty easy to change: Just add an area rug with a pattern or colours that appeal to you. If you tend to use your chair's casters a lot though, you could instead get an attractive chair mat, like this bamboo rollup mat.

You have a lot of options for the walls too, from covering them up completely to more subtly decorating them. Many cubicle walls are made of bulletin-board like panels, so a simple solution is to tack fabric over them. If yours isn't the kind that accommodates tacks, use fabric and starch to make a removable wall covering or decorations or tape on printed paper, such as actual wallpaper or even gift wrap. (If you really want to go crazy, you could even cover your walls and floor in mahogany wood.

Other options include hanging motivational posters on each panel, using vinyl wall stickers, or simply putting up photos or postcards. Those 3M hooks and picture-hanging strips are great for nail-free hanging, by the way.

Improve the Lighting and Temperature

Your office's lighting and temperature greatly influence your productivity and mood. Although you can't do anything about the soul-draining overhead fluorescent lighting, spot lighting can reduce some of its ills. Consider adding string lights (who doesn't like Christmas lights?), a small accent lamp with a bold shade or a lamp with a full spectrum bulb (to make you feel like you're working in sunlight).

If your office thermostat is set to "frigid", get the temperature just right for you with a portable heater. Conversely, a desk fan might help if it feels like your officemates are trying see how fast they can bake you.

Bring in Your Own Furniture

Because you're going to sit in that office chair for a great deal of your working day, it's worth it to spend money on a more ergonomic, comfortable one. If you're lucky, you might even be able to get your office manager to get you a better chair. If not, see if it's OK to order a replacement chair delivered to your cube. (We have some chair suggestions when you're ready to upgrade.)

If you'd rather avoid the health problems associated with sitting all day, you can create a standing desk in your cubicle. The one at right, by Lifehacker reader Christopher, manages to blend into the beige cubicle decor, but there are also simpler solutions such as using reams of printer paper or a monitor mount to get your monitor to standing-friendly height.

Accessorise

Perhaps the easiest and quickest way to personalise your cubicle is through accessories. A few suggestions:

Live things like plants and bowls of fish: These add a unique energy to a workspace, and there are both cubicle-friendly plants and cubicle-friendly fish available. Don't have a green thumb or knack for keeping things alive? Don't worry, neither do I. Try one of these ultra-low-maintenance plants, make a tabletop biosphere or just fake it. You can get amazingly realistic fake plants and flowers these days to brighten up your work area. They thrive in extreme conditions!

Toys and collections: While you probably don't want to go overboard with a ton of stuffed animals or other tchotchkes in your cubicle, a few well-placed, fun items could make your workspace more joyful. Some people like Sci-Fi action figures, some like building blocks, and others even more eclectic desk paraphernalia and accessories. Add a few of these -- they work best if themed together -- but be careful of going overboard cluttering your space or including items that could be deemed inappropriate for work.

Privacy-Boosting Accessories: If you have a problem with coworkers randomly invading your cubicle when you're trying to work, a folding shoji screen could come in handy. (Or, at the very least, keep a pair of headphones at the ready so you can put up that universal sign for "don't bother me".)

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    «If your office thermostat is set to “frigid”, get the temperature just right for you with a portable heater»
    This is very bad advice. Fans are fine, because they don't actually change the air temperature. But localised heating can have a disasterous effect on the air conditioning's temperature regulation, thus making the problem even worse for your colleagues.

    I spent a very unpleasant winter in an office where the marketing team in one section of the space decided they were cold and brought in electric space heaters. As a result, the aircon thermostat registered the office as too warm and the rest of us, who'd been happy with the original temperature, nearly froze as a result.

    If the office is actually too cold, based on recommended working temperatures, then the aircon thermostat needs to be adjusted so everyone is comfortable. If one person feels chilled in an otherwise normal temperature then the solution is wearing warmer clothes and taking regular breaks to move around.

    Last edited 01/03/13 12:37 pm

      The problem however often pertains to who wields that control.

      Once had an overweight boss who always sweltered and so insisted that everything warmer than 'frigid' was ridiculous, and made jokes about how everyone should toughen up like him.

        True, it's tough when the control of overall climate is effectively in the hands of one person (often a person in an enclosed office who is insulated one way or another from the climate of the main office). I'd still argue, though, that recommending individuals adopt space heaters for cubicles in large offices is bad as general advice.

        It's interesting that the linked article in that section (by the same author and which also recommends using a portable heater) appears to be talking about smaller or single-occupancy offices rather than the kinds of offices that are large enough to warrant cubicles.

    HVAC is more difficult than that - you will never find a setting where everyone is happy, people have different metabolisms, dress differently and have different climate preferances, but the simple rule, where you can keep 70 to 80% of people happy is heat ti 18 in winter, cool to 23 in summer.
    Of course the shap of an office and the layout of the HVAC will always result in warm and cool spots, but that's par for the course.
    Anyone that isn't happy tell them to dress for the climate and if that still doesn't work, try a placebo.
    We used to fix unwired thermostats to the wall in complaining peoples work areas and the simple notion that they were in control made them happy,

      I find 23 a bit cold for summer. Nevertheless, the office I was in last winter was set to Tropical all winter, it was horrible having to take off so many layers to be comfortable when outside was still double digits.

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