Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. The renewal of the natural world around us spurs an urge to throw off the doldrums of winter (yes, I know I live in Florida). For many of us, this activates our instinct for spring cleaning. But for me, this year I channeled my springtime energy into reorganizing my home office.
When the pandemic hit, I was one of those lucky enough to be able to work from home. I’d had a home office of sorts, but it wasn’t meant to be my primary work location. Like many, what was a sudden makeshift workplace — with all of its ad-hoc, good-enough-for-now solutions — gradually became my permanent workplace. Three years later, those good-enough-for-now fixes are still there. But filled with the spirit of spring, I realized they’re not as good as they could be. So instead of spring cleaning I spring reorganized-my-office.
As Chief Well-being Officer at Deloitte, I often talk about designing well-being into our day. That means coming up with ways of working that allow us to recharge and avoid burnout. But it should also include our work environment. It’s about setting up our workspace in a way that sets us up for success. Our workspace should help us reach not just our work goals, but our well-being goals. In recent years, and especially since the pandemic, our culture has become much more aware of how deeply connected our well-being is to our work, performance, and productivity. And our workspace is where it all happens.
So I got to work. I took a kind of Marie Kondo approach. Her now-famous method is to pick up each object and ask yourself, “does this spark joy?” Even if you love your job — and I do — that’s an awfully high bar for workspace objects. But I did try to ask myself questions like, does this make me feel good, or, does this stress me out?
And that’s what guided my re-organization. The first stage was getting rid of clutter – if it wasn’t essential for work, didn’t spark joy, or did spark stress, it had to go. Bye!
Next, there was my desk. I replaced my large, clunky desk with a newer, sleeker and more compact model. The new one can also be easily raised, if I want to use it as a standing desk. And I usually do — in fact, I don’t even have a chair in my office now.
I also changed the orientation of my desk so it faces a window. By making this small change — along with getting rid of clutter — my office feels so much bigger and brighter now. Even with a smaller desk, I feel like I have more room to work. The room feels more clear and my head feels more clear.
And the science says that’s no coincidence. Research by DePaul University professor Joseph Ferrari has found that office clutter can impact both our productivity and mental health. Another study by Ferrari found home office clutter is connected to lower job satisfaction and higher job-related stress and exhaustion. And I love Ferrari’s decluttering advice, which echoes Marie Kondo: “Hold onto relationships, not relics…Hold onto the memory, not the materials."
And finally, I added some plants to my home office. This added to the greater sense of nature I got by having my desk face the window. And it turns out, there’s science here, too. Of course, there are many studies showing the well-being benefits of being out in nature, but we can get some of those same benefits by experiencing nature from the inside. A recent study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that having a view of green space from home is associated with a lower risk of anxiety and depression. “The elements of nature are not only amenities or a source of pleasure, but essential to well-being and mental restoration,” the study authors conclude. And researchers in Japan found that just keeping plants on our desk can reduce stress.
The total effect of my workspace re-work has been more than I was expecting. But it wasn’t until the last day of my first full week in my new office that it really hit me. It was the end of the day on a Friday and I suddenly realized, “wow, I’m really enjoying being in my office!”
It’s made a noticeable difference in how I feel while working – not just throughout the day but especially at the end of the day. Now when I close out the workday, I feel more energized and more present for whatever I have planned after work. Of course, we all have work stress. But it’s also true that the environment in which we’re working might be contributing more to that stress than we realize.
So if you’re working at home full-time or even a day or two a week, and the spring season has sparked the spring cleaning urge, I urge you to make your home office a priority. Our workspaces can and should be places in which both our work and our well-being can thrive.