Like going on a date, first impressions at the office are often lasting. We also make quick judgments about work relationships. You want your desk to say: "I mean business and I'm ready to move up." The key to success is to use desk and office decor to underscore your professionalism:
1) Keep Hobbies at Home
Your cubicle shouldn't be cluttered with goofy photos of you and your friends painting the town red in exotic places. Go easy on mementos and other personal items. It's a mistake to put pictures of your passion (skiing, surfing, cars, etc) on your cubicle or screensaver; display your company logo or mission statement or relate to the type of work you do instead. If you're an engineer, going retro with a slide rule on your flat panel screen is a good way to spark comments. The office is serious business, not a playpen. You want clients to know that you're focused on them. It's fine to keep a small photo album of family shots tucked in a desk drawer to share with co-workers, but you don't want to overdo the personal shots with clients or prospective clients, who may walk through the office as they size up the company.
2) Little Flourishes
Investing in little things such as desk accessories in the same style, folders and notebooks or a matched pen and pencil holder is money well spent because it shows that you're focused and serious about work. At staff meetings, show up with a portfolio and a metal pen to underscore your seriousness and attentiveness. Such a pen will cost a little more than a fistful of throwaway plastic ballpoint pens, but it's still cheap enough that losing it won't be a tragedy. Remember: brushed brass always beats brightly colored plastic.
3) Just Say "No" To Touchy Topics
Politics and religion are great topics of discussion...outside work. Even if you're a collector, political buttons on your desk are inappropriate. You don't have to be politically correct up to the eyeballs to know that beefcake and cheesecake photos are wildly inappropriate for your cubicle, screensaver or private office. Even if no one objects —and someone almost certainly will — you don't want to cast yourself as an adolescent.
4) Go Blue...Or Gray
"True blue" has passed into the language meaning loyal, faithful and trustworthy. You can use the connotation to your advantage when choosing the color for walls and the carpet in your office. Dark gray is also a good choice. Stir the pot with seating or an accent wall in red, orange or bright green to show that you're on the leading edge of your field.
5) Keep It Clean
Keep your desk organized! You want clients to know that you have everything, especially their file, at your fingertips. Keep personal items in a separate file tucked in a desk drawer. It's also wise to keep after-hours items out-of-sight. If there's no closet available, tuck your gym bag under your desk and prop the tennis racket up in the corner behind the chair where guests will sit.
6) Focus, Focus, Focus
A couple of personal pictures on your desk or office wall are fine. Most items should be directed to your field. If you hold a patent, a large, framed drawing of your gizmo underscores your inventiveness and seriousness. Magazine covers relating to your company and work-related photos are also a good bet. You can burnish your image by posting news clippings about industry trends or big names in your field in your cubicle or on your office wall. A magazine cover involving your company can be artfully displayed in an off-the-shelf frame purchased from OfficeMax, Office Depot or Staples or home improvement stores such as Lowe's or Home Depot. Photos of staff get-togethers, awards ceremonies or other special work-related events are also appropriate. If your company does business overseas, consider hanging up a large photo of the office in England, Germany, Japan or China and landmarks from that country to underscore the size and scope of your company. Photos defining your company's product or service can highlight your desk and even the office's reception area. If you're a caterer, consider pictures of some of the fancy spreads you've created for weddings, business meetings and other high-profile events.
7) Let There Be Light
If your cubicle or office is on an interior wall and gets little natural light, consider getting a full-spectrum desk lamp. This will ease eye strain and the warm glow will set your work space apart. A desk lamp is a good way to make your work space stand out in a large room filed with cubicles or a wall lined with offices. Use something other than an incandescent bulb to create a bright, warm glow--and all the good connotations that go with it. This assumes, of course, that you cleaned up your desk and keep it organized. You can do this on a shoestring budget and it's worth it to make sure that the first impression you make at work is a good one!
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