Create a Workplace That Works for You

Updated on April 11, 2018
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Tiffany is a public historian & lover of history, anthropology, food, & animals. She has taught college courses & loves spreading knowledge.

Office environments can be dull. The same beige paint, carpeting, and company promotional items can make it feel stuffy, impersonal, and boring. As many of us know, such décor can seriously lessen our ability to feel comfortable at work.

Recently, I started researching the hygge movement and how to incorporate it into my daily routines. Yet being hygge-like at home wasn’t enough. Most of my waking hours are spent in a beige office and, despite having windows, it feels relatively like every other office in my building. So I decided the first hygge space I would create would be the one that I lived in the most.

What is Hygge?

Get Motivated

First up, what motivates you? Is it a particularly thought or saying? Do you prefer it being prominent or subtle?

I find motivation from two things: inspirational quotes and music. As seen in the photo below, one of the first additions to my office were two prints: the red balloon with “Let it go” and a magazine tear-out stating, “The future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams.”

These prints help remind me that I’m not just working to live – I’m working to pursue my dreams and help others pursue theirs. As someone in nonprofit work, it is often hard to stay motivated – budget cuts, lack of support for a cause, and the endless push to “work harder” is ever-present in our field.

But does it have to be that way?

No, it does not. I have found that having inspirational quotes near me serves as a constant reminder that I have a higher purpose, but that I also have personal dreams and aspirations. Both are important to me, and these quotes help to remind me that not all battles need to won, not all worries are worth my time, and my dreams will only go as far as I let them.

Additionally, I love music. It helps take a rather quiet and monotonous office and transform it. I use the free version of Spotify (which has some ads, but not as bad as my local radio). I frequent their “Focus” and “Chill” genres – with a particular love for turning up their “Tropical House” playlist, which makes me dance in my seat and reminds me of being back in the Bahamas. It’s a warm memory to help get me through dull, rainy, and otherwise quiet days. I also find that it helps when things are a big rush – providing almost subconscious relief to my overactive mind.

Remind Yourself that You Are Awesome

The second thing you’ll notice about my desk is that I have two handwritten cards – both “thank you’s” from students I have helped get meetings or advice on their dreams. They serve as a constant reminder that what I do – no matter how monotonous or “simple” as others may see it – is important to the people I serve. On those long days that seem to never end and be full of meaningless work, they are reminders that even the smallest gestures – an email, a call, a printout of information – can profoundly change a person’s life for the better.

Surround Yourself with Memories

Now that I’m motivated, it was time to add in personal style. What makes you, you? What unique things do you love that help you connect with others? How can you show these off in cute, fun, but still toned down ways?

I am a geek and gamer at heart, so those are naturally the first things I thought of. I went home and looked for small trinkets that would help me infuse personality into my space. First, I chose a hanging Chinese horse, which I received during a Year of the Horse New Year’s celebration a few years ago. I went with my mother and sister, and was given the horse as a token of luck after one of the worst years of my life. The professor who gave it to me said it should bring me luck, and it did: Within five months, I was dating my now-husband and pursuing career opportunities that aligned with my passions. Now, I keep it there as a reminder that even when life is terribly rough, good things will come and luck may just show up.

I also infused a bit more personality with a few trinkets around the room. A small Yoshi crochet piece peaks out from behind my computer to playfully remind me to take breaks. Bruce the shark from Finding Nemo sits on a shelf, along with a white squirrel (my workplace’s unofficial mascot) and a monkey holding a globe, all reminders of my love for nature and travel. Finally, I went with prints and pillows that reflect one of my greatest passions: Disney. The prints are copies of artist concepts from The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast (though you may not recognize either at first glance), while the pillow is a copy of the mural that used to be present as you entered the Norway ride at Epcot.

I also put a photo of my husband and I from our wedding, just to keep him with me.

Mix Personal and Professional

As I discussed before, my office is filled with personal touches that reflect my personality in subtle ways. Some are cute, others funny, and each tells a story. I have mixed these pieces with items from work, like the professional development books I’m reading, brochures I often need to grab, and prints given to me as mementos of some of our programs.

By mixing practical and personal, I infuse life and comfort throughout my space. Most importantly, I showcase that the personal and professional do not – and should not – be separate. Both are integral parts of our lives, and the more we can create balance and harmony between the two, the better our lives will be.

Create a Welcoming Environment

Finally, I sought to create an environment that would make my coworkers and guests want to hang out in my office.

To do so, I brought in the fun pillows and colorful prints I’ve talked about before, reflecting both my personal loves (like the Norway pillow, with the character that my leader affectionately named “Sven” and says hi to occasionally – we’re a fun bunch) and my professional goals to motivate others.

Additionally, I brought the outdoors in with a bamboo plant. What started as a 6-inch high bamboo has now grown to over a foot, and it has been great to watch it slowly grow and be potted in bigger and bigger containers. Recently, I re-potted him into an owl that now sits on the side table. Not only does a live plant bring in the outdoors, it also acts as an air purifier to help increase the quality of air that I breathe during the day.

If you want to bring in more plants, I suggest hanging ivy vines from the sharp corners of book shelves and your desk desk, all of which help soften the look and feel of an office.

Finally, I used a jar from Harry Potter’s Wizarding World at Universal and a handmade wooden bowl from a local farmer's market as candy dishes. Placed in front me and as people walk in, they have led to numerous conversations with coworkers and a greater chance to get to know people. My work frequently keeps me confined to my desk, so it’s great to have a reason for people to stop and chat while they eat a piece of candy. It also serves as a great stress relief station for others, reminding them to take a moment to enjoy the little things.

Bonus Points: Furniture

One thing I did not think of, but that was done for me, is furniture arranging. While waiting for me to get off work one day, my mother stopped in and rearranged my furniture, making the two couches and table feel more like a home setup than stuck against the walls of the office. By angling the furniture and moving it away from the wall, we created conversational spaces that feel more natural than your traditional office. I’ve even thought about buying a fun rug for the floor to encourage yoga breaks.

While office policies may not allow you to implement all of these tips, I encourage you to embrace hygge as much as possible. We spend so much of our lives at work and in offices. It’s important to make sure our environments are welcoming, comfortable, and motivational spaces. Since making these changes, I have felt more willing to come to work, knowing that my space is something that truly reflects me.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Tiffany R Isselhardt

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