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
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.
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".)
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