October 4, 2011

Decluttering (Not) Your Office

Do you work in a typical cubicle environment where your gray cube or office is spic and span? What about that empty cube across the hall? You know the one: the employee was laid off or left two years ago and it has become either a storage space or has masses of scattered files that date back to 2003. In your decluttered life, doesn't that cube give you itchy fingers? Don't you just want to tackle that space and make it gray and shiny once again?

This is a rocky position to be in. Your supervisor and other employees could be the types to support your efforts, or they could see you as a busybody that has no business straightening up an area that's not yours. What's the best way to go about it?

1. It helps if you have some seniority. I'm in this position right now where a few offices and cubes down the hall from me are bursting at the seams with remnants of old conferences, un-filed files, awards that were never given to their recipients and employees' children's toys.

As the senior employee, I am using this stance to say "This stuff from 10 years ago was supposed to be filed away, but wasn't. I'll take care of it." I then proceed to use the circular file religiously.

2. Tell instead of ask. I initially asked in a roundabout way if the work was ever going to get done. Nothing came of that. So before even tossing a paperclip, I took some meeting time to mention that I was just taking a few mornings (I come in early) to straighten a few cubicles up. That was received more positively.

3. Announce that it would make the department look a little more professional. We have a new employee coming in soon and I don't want us to look like slobs...except I don't say it like that.

4. Make use of the company's locked recycle bins and shredders. Have a large recycle bin available nearby and make sure the cleaning crew will be emptying out it and the garbage cans each night. 

5. Create a "To Be Filed" box. Don't throw away or recycle everything. That could cause some issues with people who are addicted to printing and filing everything. Items that you are not sure of should go in this box with a dated sticky note on top. Give this filing job to an intern.

6. Show off your work. Once everything is clean and organized, decorate with a small plant or some art and show off your hard work. Tell everyone where they can find things that have been filed and accept some recommendations. The plant or artwork will hopefully deter the department from filling up the cubicle again with office detritus.

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Beall/Flickr