Makeover Step-by-Step


What would be your dream office?

Would your office be a large, lavishly decorated corner office on the 40th floor of a  Manhattan skyscraper? Would all of your favorite art, sculpture, curiosities and collections surround you? Would you have a fireplace, a Siamese cat and an oil portrait of the sea? Would you have a string quartette playing in the foyer and a masked lady at your side? Would you be encased by tall glass windows giving a 270 degree view of the city?

I had a dream office

My best office was on the top story of an Antebellum Era manor house (c.1792) in the forests and farmland of Central Virginia. Nimbus Information Systems occupied a 360 acre certified Aberdeen Angus breeding farm (Guildford Farm) at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a corner office on the top story and had paneled wainscoting, hand-hewn beam ceiling and a huge field-stone fireplace that was always laid out for winter with seasoned ceder. The office had the faint after-oder of a humidor. French doors led to a second story balcony presenting a 180 degree view of the farm and surrounding forest.

Although my office floor-plan was the size of a tennis court, I felt confined. I put an extension cable on the phone and conducted most of my business alfresco on my balcony. Big black Aberdeen Angus bovines would listen in on my conversations and nod approvingly.

It was Heaven on Earth.

I worked so hard I seldom noticed I even had a window leading to wonderland. The good news is when I decided to take a break i could always step outside and watch the cows grazing. The bad news is that I was on the road most of the time and didn’t get to spend much time in my dream office.

That alone made me love it even more.

-and a bad office

My worst office experience was an open office plan with no partitions. Everyone’s business was public; no quietude, no individuality, no security, no privacy, no peace of mind, no personal decorations.

Office Hell.

-and finally, my cubicle

So, in my career I have swung from ultimate seclusion in a dream office to working in a crowd with lots of distraction. The happiest and most productive office I had was a cubicle in Foothill Ranch, Ca.

First step: You Gotta-wanna

Psychologists say we have the best mental health when we are “happy in our own skin.”  By the same token, we are best motivated when we are about to do something we want to do. It simply comes down to your attitude. You gotta wanna!

I was disappointed when I was moved from a small office to my first cubicle. It was 6’X 8′ in the middle of a cube farm. I considered it a demotion. My old office was converted into a much needed server room.

As a former pilot, I can appreciate the layout of a well appointed cockpit. All that is needed during flight is within arm’s reach. A well designed cockpit provides security, efficiency and comfort for the flying an aircraft. The cubicle is much the same concept.

There were more drawers, shelves and more desk-space than I had in Virginia. I was close to my fellow workers yet secluded and quiet as the walls were soundproofed. The lighting was perfect and like flying an airplane, I felt in control. My attitude changed from,”I have to work in a cubicle,” to “I get to work in my cubicle.”

“Be happy in your work!”- Sessue Hayakawa from “The Bridge over the River Kwai”

Your Cubicle Can Be a Home Office

Before you can makeover your cubicle, consider having a cube makeover attitude. This is your cubicle and you are decorating it in a way to increase your personal productivity and comfort. Your cubicle makeover will also tell your visitors that you are human and have accomplishments, hobbies, style, taste, humor and a life outside of work.

Step Two: List Your Givens

1. Everything and everyone at the office is a company asset. Anything that damages, lessens the value of, or hurts the feelings of these assets will upset the management.

The ripping of the fabric walls by trying to hook a 50 pound portrait and frame is damaging company property. Even if you do a clean hanging of artwork on your cubicle wall, the first thing the boss will ask (or even think) is, “Is that damaging your wall? He will be worried about the next employee to occupy your cubicle after you leave.

2. The office environment should stimulate creativity. Anything that interrupts the sanctity of this environment with distractions such as noise, music, or odors will upset the management.

Perfume, cologne, or incense burning will  distract your neighbors. You will be the topic of water cooler gossip. Whispering campaigns will eventually reach your management. You will be asked to visit HR.

The particles from these aromatics will also cause damage to electronic equipment

3. The office runs with a focus on work. Anything that foments religion, politics, or revolution will upset  the management.

4. The motivation for your cubicle makeover is  to provide solace and comfort in your workspace. It will make you “happy in your work” and increase your creativity and productivity. It is not to impress anyone else (though it might.)

When your name is mentioned to the manager you want to be known for your work product. You do not want to be known as, “The guy who places a life size blow-up doll of Liberace in a tuxedo, with his arms resting on his computer keyboard, sitting on his chair when he leaves his cubicle.

5. If you are afraid of your position and wish to remain invisible, don’t makeover. If your status with your company is stable, and you want to improve your working conditions, a makeover is for you.

It’s simple, let’s do it!

Step Three: Define Your Rules

1. Read your employees handbook and the policies governing what you can do with your cubicle. There may or may not be provisions for personal decorating. Make note of any questions.

2. Before you make decorative changes to your cubicle, have a chat with your office manager. Show him/her samples of what you have in mind. Some things like screwing a metal frame into your doorway to facilitate the mounting of a beaded privacy curtain may require your manager to consult with upper management.

3. Some items might have to be cleared with building maintenance. Wallpaper or coverings may not be fireproof. Check first and then hang.

4. In all cases always remember who you are and where you are. Your attitude must be reverent and humble. People always resist change and you need to interest your superiors in your project. Consider it neighborhood improvement.

Step Four: Initial Inspection and Critique

You cant see the trees because you are looking at the forest. Stand back. Quickly look and judge each of the components that make up your enclosure:

1. Your computer and monitor

2. Your desktop

3.Your shelves and cabinet if you are lucky enough to have them

4. Your walls

5. Your floor

Give yourself an impression and critique what you see.

The first thing your eyes notice is the desktop

Your workspace is clean and organized: Congratulations! You are able to work efficiently and no interest will be drawn to you by your co-workers or management unless they are drawn into your cube. Your canvas is clean and you can begin your artwork. At present you have no curb appeal.

Your desk is cluttered: People will avert their eyes if they glance at your desk. You convey the idea you are too busy to organize your desk (or change your cloths daily, or bathe.) Visitors will feel that they are intruding on your program.

Your desk is empty: Conveys that your thoughts are empty. It shows lack of interest. Your neighbors will think you are a temp.

It might be time for your  cubicle makeover.

Step Five: Clean Up Your Act

Imagine yourself on stage. There are people all around you, each in a different costume. The stage is cluttered and the sets are random and distracting. A curtain raising on this scene causes instant disinterest and confusion in the audience. Everything around you is up-staging you and it should be harmonizing with you.

Now, picture the curtain going up on an empty dark stage. A bright pin-spot comes on and is centered on the stage. In the middle there you are, in a lavish costume in the middle of the circle of light. The focus of the entire audience is on you in this dramatic moment. As the set lighting slowly come up the rest of the scene is revealed  and it complements you and the storyline.

The moral is don’t let unrelated clutter get in the way of you and your storyline


Let’s evaluate your workspace