Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How to Survive in a Cubicle

Office Sardines

Whoever decided that more people in the same amount of space (or even less space) would save money never worked in a cubicle a day of his life. Office sardines is not exactly the most productive plan in that most workers report alarmingly high levels of distraction, which lead to loss of productivity directly and increased levels of stress indirectly. Stressed, unproductive workers make more mistakes and fewer ergonomic adjustments, becoming increasingly less engaged. Disengaged workers miss work more frequently and turn over faster. The cost of time lost due to simple lack of productivity in addition to retraining new workers more frequently costs businesses around $600 billion a year.

However, some genius decided that cubicles "save money." That being the case, no one is asking your (or my, for that matter) opinion on cubicle farms. So, one worker to another, here are a few tips for surviving in your cubby hole.

Tips for Surviving in a Cubicle

  • Clear the clutter. Nothing cramps a space more than a general lack of tidiness. Take some time, and get organized. I like to clear my desk from 4-5pm on a Friday- I'm not going to be productive then anyway, plus it also serves to help me get reacquainted with lost papers.
  • Get rid of knick knacks. A framed photo or two is perfectly appropriate, but a whole collection of miniature cows, for instance, really knocks down your level of professionalism, especially if you entertain clients in your work space. Not all conversation pieces are "good" ones. Choose one or two tasteful items, and keep the rest of your knick knacks at home (or better yet, get rid of them. You're not 12 anymore, you don't have to collect things.).
  • Rearrange your work space if necessary. Your monitor should be at eye level and at least 20 inches away from you. Your keyboard and mouse should be next to each other for fast, comfortable typing and mousing. If desk space is minimal, mini keyboards are a great option for freeing up a few inches.
  • Adjust where you can. Most chairs have some sort of adjustment, if only up and down. Do what you need to to get your feet flat on the floor and your back as well supported as possible. Adjust the arm rest if possible to keep your arms in a straight line from your elbow to your middle finger.
  • Keep your posture and positioning neutral. This means sitting straight with your arms by your sides, and starting at your elbow making a straight line through to your wrists and hands. Your wrists should never be cocked, especially when typing. Rather, your hands should hover over your keyboard, in a curved position so as to avoid repetitive stress injuries.
  • Try white noise. The options are endless, and so is office noise. If you are frequently disturbed by office shenanigans or overly zealous sales guys, turn on a little white noise. You can try this free online white noise generator or you can try a desktop system-either way, it's important to keep you mind on work and not in other people's business.
  • Take breaks. If you feel overly cramped, take your coffee break outside, or at least out of your small space so you can stretch out. Speaking of stretching out, make sure to take hourly stretch breaks.
  • Take care of your eyes. Whether you wear glasses or not, make sure you rest your eyes often by taking them off the screen and focusing on an object farther away. You should also blink them regularly to restore moisture. When possible, rotate your computer and other tasks so that you're not on the computer all day. Lastly, consider a good pair of reading glasses just for work. Computer users often find that high quality reading glasses require a lower prescription and allow them to work more efficiently.