Office Decor

I have mentioned several times that I am a proponent of walking around the office. It gives you an opportunity to observe firsthand what is going on and the level of activity and it makes you visible and approachable to the team. On these walks I have had the opportunity to both observe and enter multiple offices and cubes. I understand that many people consider their office to be their second home, but we all need to remember that the office is a place where business is conducted and that any office customizations or decorations should reflect this.

It’s hard to walk around any office and not see at least a few cubes adorned with a few cartoons and clippings from the ubiquitous “Dilbert” publications. Yes, Scott Adams (Dilbert’s creator) is a genius. Yes, we all can identify with several of the characters depicted. The topics and dialog are scarily close to what we have all experienced in the past. I get it. I think they are great too. Dilbert pokes fun at companies and their management with an accuracy that is both hard to believe and hilarious.

I don’t think you should be posting them on the outside wall of your cube or office.

At home do you have a wall where you post cartoons and comics that continuously poke fun at your domestic management? I am married and my wife has a very good sense of humor. She would have to have one if she has been able to put up with me for as long as she has. I recognize this. Even knowing this, I do not go and take every domestic based cartoon that I find humorous, and that might poke fun at her or her position in the household and post it outside the front door to our house. I don’t post them on the inside walls, or even on the refrigerator. I know better than to continuously press my luck in that way.

My point here is that while there are many good, funny, humorous, or situational correct business cartoons out there, are you sure that you are sending the message that you want to send by displaying them where you specifically conduct business? By using them to make your tacit comments about your company or management, you are also making a comment about yourself that may not be perceived in the most professional of terms.

Having been in uncounted offices and cubes throughout my career I’ll try to describe and comment on a few of the various office decors that have stood out in my mind:

  • The “Sterile” Office. This is the office or cube of someone that has absolutely no indication that anyone has ever lived in it. It is spotless. There are no books or documents visible. If it weren’t for the person sitting at the desk you would think it was an abandoned cube. When I walk into offices like this I have a tendency to walk up to the person in the office and poke them with my finger just to assure myself that they are in fact real. It seems that people who keep these kinds of offices do not expect to be in them for long.

  • The “Packed” Office. These are offices that are literally packed with books, boxes, documentation, etc. to the point that there is little room for anything or anyone else in them. These are the offices of people who never throw anything away, because someday they might need it. They never expect to move because it is acknowledged that it would be too much trouble. In the same way that there office mobility is limited, so is their upward mobility. It seems it is hard to promote someone who comes literally with so much baggage.

  • The “Decorated” Office. These are offices that have an incredible number of personal touches in them. Snow globes, and knick-knacks, and pewter representations of various fantasy elements, and plants, and pictures, and sports memorabilia, and awards (both sports and business awards), plaques and on and on. This is the décor that is opposite of the Sterile office, but with the results of the Packed office where people seem to expect and usually do never move from that office.

  • The “Jungle”. I like plants. I think most people do. If you have more than two or three at most, then there may be an issue. When people have to move them out of the way to either enter the office or to talk with you, there are definitely too many. It may be a jungle out there, but it shouldn’t be in here.

The point is that like it or not, believe it or not, where you work does reflect on you and the type of work that people would expect from you. I have been in several senior leaders offices. There were no Dilbert cartoons displayed. There was usually a plant or two, but it was not a jungle, and they were well kept. There was a picture or two but they were usually either of an artistic nature or of family. There were usually a few management books on the shelves and a few documents on the desk. It was lived in, uncluttered and comfortable, but also orderly and clean. It displayed professionalism, balance and confidence, all traits that are desirable in a leader.

Having a professional looking office will not guarantee you leadership opportunities or business success. However, having one that is overly cluttered or decorated, or displays social or political cartoons or commentary will definitely not help you. I understand and agree with everyone’s right to assert their individuality and to have it reflected in the décor of their office. Just remember that businesses are looking for people with character, not people who are characters.

What do you think your office says about you?


The earliest written form of communication is generally accepted as Cuneiform, the pressing of triangular shaped marks into clay tablets, and it dates as far back as the thirtieth century BC. It was developed and used by the Sumerians, and was used primarily to keep track of their business dealings. We know this because we have found pieces of these clay tablets and deciphered them. Who would have thought that we would be reading someone’s five thousand year old inter-office memo today? It just goes to show you that even then you needed to be careful about what you committed to writing.

Up until relatively recently we committed our written communications to some sort of physical media, in most cases paper, as Sumerian clay was relatively messy and somewhat cumbersome to deal with. We created an entire set of businesses and industries associated with our paper mail communications. Some prospered and grew – the US Postal Service. Some grew and then somewhat quickly died. We can look at the Pony express as an example on one end of the mail continuum and any company that made enterprise postage meter systems at the other end of it.

We created a great many laws associated with our paper communications. It became a federal offense to open someone else’s Mail. You didn’t read other people’s mail and other people did not read yours. In short, what you wrote to someone else on paper and sealed in an envelope was a private communication between you and that person only. If you wanted to keep a copy of your correspondence, you trotted over to the copier machine and made a copy before you sent it. It was this way for so long that it was almost a given cultural base-line as to how a person’s written communications were treated.

Now let’s fast forward to the Email and Instant Messaging (IM) world of today. For Emails we no longer have a physical media or piece of paper that we commit our communications to. We have an image of a piece of paper on our screen. We can fill it with whatever information we please and send it to as many recipients as we choose, and we can do it almost immediately. If we have private or proprietary information to exchange we can limit the number of recipients and mark it with such Sensitivity settings as “Personal”, “Private” and “Confidential”. That should mean that only the person that we sent it to should see it, right?

In the age of open communications on corporate Email systems you should assume that every piece of communications that you send is going to be read by more people than just the person (people) it was intended for, regardless of how personal or proprietary. Moreover, you need to realize that once sent all documents will reside in relatively non-volatile memory until they are actually actively purged or more likely till they are archived onto a truly non-volatile memory device (CD?) for storage and possible retrieval at a later date. That means once written, it will probably exist in one form or another forever.

I wonder if people five thousand years in the future will be excavating our CD and data depositories, reading our Emails, and thinking about them in the same way we think about Sumerian clay tablets. Remember clay tablets were state of the art five thousand years ago. I don’t know how long plastic CDs are supposed to last but I expect that it is longer than clay tablets.

You must assume that people, other than those for whom the communication is intended will in all probability also see the communication. The simple fact is that because it is so easy to forward Email, almost all Email gets forwarded. Information gets shared. Administrative assistants have access to executives Email accounts and will manage their Emails for them. Mistakes happen. Very little of our written communications should continue to be considered proprietary going forward.

While we may have the image of the piece of paper on our screen, and while this may make us think of and associate that proprietary mail process and federal offense of the past, we need to realize it no longer applies. We need to plan on the fact that people other than the people to whom the Mail is addressed will see the information.

That brings me to Instant Messaging. That is the on-line service that allows you to exchange messages in almost real time with someone. That should be secure, right? After all there are only the acknowledged participants in the IM session, correct? Not so fast.

Has anyone heard of a “Print Screen” command? There is a command button over on the upper right side of the keyboard that is labeled “Print Screen”. This is the button that can be pushed in order to capture an image of what is currently displayed on the screen as a file. This file can then be saved, or treated like any other file you may have. What do you attach to Emails? You attach files to Emails. That is correct. I have received Emails with copies of IM session communications attached, as part of their “documentation”. I am sure that the other person in the IM session did not expect me or anyone else to be a party to that conversation.

Email has changed the way we conduct business. It has sped up and improved many aspects of business. However we seem to continue to use and regard our electronic communications capabilities with the same sense of proprietary security that we regarded previous mail systems. I have seen too many times either through inattention, or by specific direction, Email information that gets shared that was not intended for sharing. Since I don’t think there is a way to stop the sharing, that means that we all need to be a little more aware of what write in our Emails.

After all, I bet the person that wrote the five thousand year old message in Cuneiform on the clay tablet didn’t expect to have all of us reading it either.

Business Cards

The following Blog Article is one I posted at as a “Guest Blogger” on 10/29/2012. I am reposting it here just in case anyone may have missed it.

When it comes to business cards I guess I can best be described as strictly “old school”. It seems with ever increasing regularity I am getting what I would describe as “new age” business cards. I think the only thing missing from some of them are pyramids or crystals, in the attempt to grab my attention and differentiate one business card from another. I understand the idea but I find it more humorous than professional, and hence more forgettable, which I think is the opposite of the business cards intent.

When was the last time you actually read a business card? In the US we have a tendency to swap cards at a meeting, casually glance at the card we have received and then tuck it in our pocket so that we can be sure to add it to the rubber band bound deck of business cards we keep in our desk drawer at the office. In some parts of the world a business card is presented with both hands, face up and oriented so that the person receiving the card can immediately read it. If you are presented a business card in such a manner and don’t take the time to read the card with the intensity associated with reading the latest Pulitzer prize winning novel, then don’t expect a fully successful meeting. You may have insulted the person who presented you the card.

This process may delay the actual start of a meeting by as much as ten seconds, but I like it, think it is well worth the time and would like to see it more in the US. It demonstrates respect for the information that the person has provided you to start the meeting and by extension the information that they will provide you during the meeting.

Like I said old school.

Increasingly it seems I am getting business cards that remind me of miniature birthday cards. They now come in all sorts of colors. I think this is done in the hopes that by presenting a colorful business, it will make the presenter more memorable. I don’t remember who gives me a colorful business card. I just remember the color. He gave me a red card, or she gave me a blue one. I don’t think that was the objective, but it is the result. They now also appear to come in oversized or even folded formats. This is especially disruptive to my business card filing system as the rubber bands have a tendency to cut in and dog-ear the edges of these cards.

It is the content of the business card that is important.

The company name and logo should clearly prominent across the top of the card. If I forget your name, chances are I will remember the company and search for the card in that manner. If I can’t easily locate the company name on the card it will probably not see the light of day again.

Utilize a landscape as opposed to a portrait orientation to the business card. I have a tendency to hurt my neck as I try to turn my head sideways when I try to read improperly oriented cards. I guess I could just rotate the card ninety degrees, but that would be a little too weird for me.

Put your name in a little larger and bold font. I want to be able to locate it quickly. Put your title and area of responsibility directly below your name so that they can easily be associated. Remember to keep your title short. It would appear that people want to believe that the longer and more detailed their title, the more important they sound. This is the opposite of what is the case. The really important people seem to have titles that are one to three words long. If your title has to be reread multiple times to decipher what it is that you actually do, the chances are that your business card will be dismissed, not remembered.

The back of the business card presents an interesting situation. Simple, clean and blank is always good. I am finding myself coming around to the idea of the corporate web site or URL on the back is good as well, and even perhaps an email address. If you deal in multilingual markets, having all the business card information in the language of the market on the reverse side of a business card is very good as well.
Superfluous information, catch phrases or other personal customizations detract from the card far more than they help.

I once received a card from a lady with a picture of her head on the back. Nothing else, just her smiling face. I asked her why she did that. She said she wanted people to remember her card. I don’t remember her name, what she did, why we met, or who she worked for, but I do remember her card.
I guess it worked, sort of.

In returning to my earlier foreign business card example, businessmen in some parts of the world treat their own and each other’s business cards with respect. They are used as an integral part of conducting business meetings. Here in the US we now seem content to utilize our business cards for not much else other than to drop them in a bowl at the cash register where we eat lunch in the hopes that it may be drawn and we receive a free lunch next week. Maybe the reason for the proliferation of all the new business card colors, sizes and formats is not so much for business purposes, but really for no other reason than to increase the chances of those cards being drawn for the free lunch.