Ah, spring: a time of renewal, shaking off winter's cobwebs and getting your house--and office--in order. It's time for a going-over of not only the supply closet and file cabinet but of desktops (physical and virtual), office systems and technology. That means ditching the dust-collecting file racks, jettisoning obsolete hardware and sending cubicle-side sentimental keepsakes back home where they belong.
"Things go in waves with office design, and it definitely feels like things are moving toward a less cluttered office approach," says Stephen Searer, founder of OfficeSnapshots.com, an online reference of office design. He credits today's collaborative office model with changing the way employees adorn their spaces, especially if they don't occupy them all the time. "In a nonterritorial office, you don't have the same level of ownership where you might have [once] put up your family photos or decorated," he says.
As firms streamline, there's a new consciousness about what is and isn't appropriate in an office setting. Bobblehead dolls: no. Digital picture frames: maybe. Space-saving clutter-busters: definitely.
"In this open model, you have to be more aware and conscientious of your neighbors, and that is definitely changing the dynamic between co-workers," says Jessica Mowery of MÖW Design Studio in Washington, D.C.
The best-designed businesses balance "we-centered" with "me-centered," so while a company strives to project confidence and progress, it doesn't alienate its employees in the process. If you scrap old technology, replace it with something that lets employees know they're an integral part of the system, not left behind in the dust. Getting rid of the scanner? Fine, but show everyone how to snap and send photos with a tablet. Trading in wires for a cable-caching desk? Create areas where employees can use wireless technology in comfort. In other words: Use care when cleaning.
"The most important thing is looking at employee productivity and making changes that are conducive to making people more efficient and motivated," Mowery says.
New York-based Sonya Dufner, principal and director of workplace strategy at Gensler, says that while the architects at her firm study how companies and employees use technology, the spaces they design don't rely on it, because "it's always changing."
"We know technology is going to be used, but we're designing with flexibility and ensuring that the space will work for [clients] down the road," she explains, adding that she sees technology becoming more personalized and, in a way, replacing clutter as a form of self-expression in the workplace. But this, too, she points out, will change.
Many companies are addressing growth without adding real estate, which means rethinking their existing spaces. In such a scenario, gussied-up rolling task chairs might do double-duty as meeting chairs to free up space in the open floor plan. File cabinets in corridors will become relics as more companies eschew paper for cloud-based document sharing and storage. Large printer stations? Gone.
Soon, Dufner says, even company-provided computers might be things of the past. The "bring your own device" strategy is "really huge," she says. "Firewall issues are being resolved." It's all part of employees "personalizing their technology. [It] has replaced some of the clutter that used to be on the desk and hanging off walls."
Embracing such changes says a lot about a company, Mowery says. "It makes a big difference to client morale to come into a space that has a message of how the company sees itself."
Solutions for debugging and decluttering the shared office
In the general workspace
The HP Officejet Pro 8600 e-All-in-One Printer handles faxing, scanning and printing ($149.99).
David Hsu's clean and sleek Desk 117 has built-in power bars and cable caches (about $8,000).
Yves Béhar designed Herman Miller's handsome, eco-friendly SAYL Work Chair with Suspension Back ($459, made to order).
Cleaning the shared station
Keep that screen smudge-free with eco-friendly appleJuce cleaner (8 oz., $12.99).
For easy tidying: Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Lemon Verbena Surface Wipes ($2.99).
The slim, silicon OXO Good Grips Electronics Cleaning Brush removes dust from between keys ($4.99).
Organizing your desk (if you still have one)
Compact confidentiality: the Bridge Paper Shredder ($50).
No more diving: Keep cords accessible with the OXO Good Grips Cord Catch ($7.99).
Control the charger chaos with Dotz Cord Identifiers ($4.99 for five).