The Evolution of the Office

Remember when the media hailed the advent of “working from home?” Exciting. Then email made us reachable on weekends. Less exciting. Next, cell phones made us available… pretty much any time. Traditional work hours faded.

Technology advances our convenience factor and leaves “the old way” behind. As a result, we don’t use landline phones, desktop computers, or fax machines as much—if at all. Office workers stand at desks, answer email on smart phones at the grocery store, and instead of gathering at the traditional water cooler, carry personal water bottles.

Here are other office customs altered or made obsolete by the digital age:

Coffee and tea breaks. Like the water cooler, there used to be a communal coffee pot. Now, employees go to Starbucks or Tim Hortons for their java fix. It’s an opportunity to get out of the office and perhaps catch up with a colleague.

Filing cabinets. As we work on the go much more often, we are keeping files electronically, and not in paper format, file folders, or binders. So if you don’t need to physically file paper anymore, don’t like it, have time, or just don’t want to, get rid of the filing cabinet to make space for something else. Like a popcorn machine.

An individual office or workspace. Conventional places to work have evolved from employees having their own space, to sharing them. While having a door and ceiling is often a status symbol in an organization, many companies want to level the playing field: collaborative spaces signal a new office culture.

As such, Millennials often line both sides of long tables tapping away at their laptops, usually at a start-up. And while some companies pack staff into cubicle spaces, many head offices set up extra workspaces for visiting employees.

For those who have an office, those are changing too. Many employees only need a small desk, a chair, and a laptop. It’s becoming rare to need a pen, staple remover, notepad, or even a schedule book. In a world of stuff, we are paring down.

The Office Building. If you were to take a poll of where each employee was one day in 1977, almost everyone would be in the office, or out smoking. If you took a poll in 2017, workers would be scattered: getting coffee, at the gym, at a seminar, working from home, on a conference call to France, FaceTiming a colleague in Japan, collaborating over a ping pong table, visiting a satellite office, or on a company brainstorming retreat.

Clearly, digital advances have impacted the way we work and changed our corporate culture. Yes we’ve given up some privacy, but gained flexibility, freedom, and self-determination. I think that’s exciting.

Making Your Office Yours

As a new employee, you probably walked into your office or cubicle, and got right to work. After logging into your computer, you may have checked out the office supply situation.

You most likely didn’t go much beyond these steps. Most employees don’t adjust their chair or computer monitor to the right height, consider the best furniture configuration, sanitize the keyboard or mouse, or ponder whether they need everything in the space.

Given you sit in your workspace for years—potentially decades—these are important missed opportunities.

Most people don’t think of changing their office set up when walking into a new job. And some people don’t have that option (cubicle or built-in furniture). Yet, workspaces are not calibrated for YOUR highest efficiency—yet your needs will be different than the last employee.

So if you have some leeway, what should you do to make the office yours?

Consider where your desk faces. Most people don’t like colleagues or clients approaching from the back. Others don’t mind. Some people want to hide their computer monitor for privacy, while others need it visible to visitors. Only you can decide the best desk placement, so think about what you need. For example, if you have a window, it’d be refreshing to face it, but only if there aren’t people constantly standing or walking by outside, which could be distracting. Experiment with different options, and ensure you have an ergonomic set up.

Get rid of your filing cabinet. As we move further toward digital files only, we don’t need to physically file as much. If you are a low paper generator, and can make do with digital files only, make space for something else. For example, a small meeting table and chairs. You might even spring for a mini fridge to keep pop, water, or your lunch.

Put up those photos, degrees, and awards. So many employees have the best intentions of putting up framed posters, autographed pictures, and your children’s paintings, along with business-related frames. But that task often goes down the to-do list. Time to pick them off the floor, and make arrangements with the office manager to have them hung.

Add some personal touches. If it’s part of your job to review reports or publications, consider a reading chair, floor lamp, and side table. If you are an avid coffee or tea drinker, bring supplies and place on a tray so you can make it right there. Saves time, and money. And you may make new office friends!

Whether you are an employee, executive, or small business owner, it’s a great time to refresh your work life and set up your office how YOU want it. Make it yours.

Organizer's Picks for Best GTA Office Stores

The lazy days of summer are soon coming to an end, as we enter the last long weekend for a while. I urge anyone with an office or workspace to take a look at your space, and see where you could make improvements. Time to get ready for the crazy pace of autumn (yes, already)!

I have compiled a list of my favourite places to shop for office furniture and accessories in Toronto.

CB2 (651 Queen St. W.)
An offshoot of Crate and Barrel, this airy, uncluttered space is one of the best places in the city to get stylish, affordable, modern desks. Their well designed filing cabinets, console tables, and bookshelves can amp up your home office too.

Structube (5233 Yonge St.)
This store has a large selection of funky, modern, colourful chairs, whether you need one for your desk, reception area, or for meetings. They always seem to have one that is stylish, but ergonomic and adjustable, and often on sale. Gotta like that.

Space Solutions (660 Eglinton Ave. E.)
If you have an odd-shaped space, or want to start from scratch, visit this 31-year Toronto business for custom built-in desks, bookcases, and shelving. I love that you can choose the finish, material, or fabric to get exactly what you want.

Haworth (55 University Ave.)
If you are a big or growing firm, this ideal place can plop a staff café, library, conference room, and even strategy room into your space. This company has already worked out the details of optimal workspaces, offering complete furnished spaces. You don’t have to design it yourself!

Solutions (2329 Yonge St.)
To make your work life easier, storage containers and desktop accessories warrant a trip here. Just like the American chain, The Container Store, in Canada it’s where Professional Organizers shop. Another location opened at 256 Queen Street West in May 2018, and they have plans for further expansion.

IKEA (15 Provost Dr.)
Once your desk is set up, to remain productive every day, IKEA has perfected practical, fashionable, and yet reasonably-priced office accessories. Organize your monster paper piles with containers, media boxes, and magazine files.

Helping Employees Who Unexpectedly Leave

My volatile manager was screaming at me, fists pounding on the desk. After sobbing in my office, I left ill for the day, coat and purse in hand. However, my Doctor had a different idea, and put me on stress leave. I left everything behind.

At one point, I needed a phone number, so I asked a colleague to retrieve my Rolodex containing personal and professional contacts I had built up over my Public Relations career.

Astonishingly, my manager refused to hand it over until she rifled through all my business cards, including friends, Brazilian wax experts, and medical specialists, deciding which ones were “their” property.

It’s just stuff, but leaving personal items in my office gave this supervisor yet another chance to bully and humiliate me. Yet I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be back.

Every day, employees unexpectedly go on sick leave, get fired, laid off, and sometimes, die.

These workplace traumas often leave employees and companies wondering what to do with that person’s workspace. What is a respectful amount of time to leave it? Who packs it up, and during or after work hours?

That’s where a Professional Organizer can help. We are trained to be impartial, non judgmental, and efficient. We work with an HR professional to reset the office.

Or, where allowed, directly with an employee who can rely on us to confidentially help sort through what’s personal, what is company property, and provide guidance on what can be tossed. We pack really, really fast too.

Organizers can also work with the employee via phone or Skype when he or she doesn’t want to go into the office. We even carry out the boxes of collected items and bring to clients, out from under the watchful eye of former colleagues, saving them from a possible uncomfortable conversation.

Before you are faced with such a scenario, I suggest thinking about, and acting on, what’s important. This could be regularly updating contacts off the company phone, keeping personal bills or pay stubs in a locked part of your desk, and not getting into the habit of keeping personal documents on the company computer.

When your job is terminated, Human Resources (HR) usually has security walk you out, or stand there while you take your most important belongings. The rest of your personal items are sent home after someone sorts through your office, cubicle, or locker.

This is the physical side of what happens when an employee abruptly leaves an office. But what about the emotional? This source of help is a mental health expert.

“Employees generally want to get out fast,” according to Sam Miller, a workplace trauma counsellor in Toronto who talks with dismissed workers. Aligned with the Employee Assistance Program, Sam is also an independent consultant.

He reveals some employees need to work through guilt or shame, or are re-traumatized if it’s happened before. “I am there for support and to address specific concerns,” he says. “I make sure the affected employee is managing and is okay. Confidentiality and discretion are key because I work for them (the employee).”

What is fascinating for him, Sam says, are those people who don’t run out. Some employees are relieved, others are angry, or cannot process what is happening, while others need to talk it out.

Sam says it’s a good idea to speak to him, take time to absorb their new reality, and when they are ready, make a plan. Those first few days, especially if they feel angry, is not a good time to make decisions, he says. Instead, step back and evaluate the situation first. Employees can always reach out for further assistance to a counsellor.

“Having a well thought out and organized plan helps mitigate risks to mental health in the workplace, allowing employees to cope and ultimately, heal,” Sam says.

And that manager? I moved to a different branch of the company, and met the best boss I ever had.

Organized Workspaces Bring Relief

Famed psychologist and talk show host, Dr. Phil McGraw, once suggested that given our stressful pace, home should be a soft spot to land. I believe we can apply this feeling to our workspaces too.

After organizing an office recently, the client walked in, paused to survey the changes, and exhaled a prolonged “ahhhhhhh.” He said work tomorrow would be a joy as he walked into a clear space.

He meant literally.

Before that weekend, boxes were stacked on his office floor and papers piled high on his desk. He had no room to read, write, or make notes. Worse, he couldn’t meet anyone in his office because even the chairs were littered with reports and magazines.

Now with a clear desk, and an unimpeded path to it, this President and CEO could focus on the tasks at hand. All he had to do was maintain the space.

But the crazy pace of his work meant he couldn’t always keep up the system, so now we go in every few months to reset the space. Each time, he jokingly reports his wife always knows we’ve been by, because he is in a better mood.

Another client recently saw the floor of his storage unit that had previously been scattered with equipment, construction tools, and office supplies. He had been walking on top of everything to get to the stuff at the back of the unit. Upon seeing the transformation, he said he felt the stress fall right off his shoulders.

These reactions are why I do this—why professional organizers do this, in fact. We love to help both at home and in the office.

Like the two clients mentioned above, people should have their workspaces set up for comfort, practicality, and function. Make the space yours. And if you need help, well, you know who to call.

As a professional organizer, I work to meet clients’ goals, whatever they may be. The fun part is working together to figure it out.

Is Your Desk Messy or Organized?

I lose my mind when my desk starts to get messy. I can’t think, or focus, especially with projects piled up, dancing for my attention.

I know I'm not alone too, with a 2011 Princeton University research study finding physical clutter distracts us, which lessens our work performance and increases our stress.

Alas, some workers find tidying up far down their list of priorities. While some may argue a messy desk can inspire creativity, I would side with self-made lifestyle guru, Martha Stewart, who is both creative and organized. Another uber successful professional with an organized office is famed fashion designer, Ralph Lauren.

If you tend to be messy, this professional organizer recommends you have a system to help you remain productive at work. While I am not a big fan of paperless either, I feel there comes a breaking point when mess overwhelms you, impedes your work, or space. It can be frustrating to navigate around a pile of boxes every day, or literally shuffle papers around trying to find something.

I support whatever works for you, but when a “messy” style hampers your work life, I would channel my inner Dr. Phil and ask: “How’s that working for ya?”

Maybe you can’t find a receipt to get reimbursed, that new contact name, or password you need. Perhaps your desk hasn’t been dusted, cleaned, or had food containers removed in a long time. These are signals it’s time to declutter.

We understand entrepreneurs, employees, and executives have little time to organize. Business owners have the extra stress of fulfilling many roles (marketing, accounting, webmaster), with administrative tasks often being pushed to "later". These less enjoyable tasks can slide without a system. Disorganization begins, and that can interfere with job performance. See how that works?

We spend 35 to 60 hours in our offices each week, at least seven hours a day. That is an average of 2,000 hours a year. Why not make those hours the most productive?

Given we spend a third of our lives working, many people are overwhelmed as soon as they step into their office, and that’s not a good start to the day.

A physical change in your work environment will shift your perspective. While we recognize not everyone has the time—or desire—to organize, the backlog and clutter can be paralyzing. And it may only take a few organizing sessions to help reset your space and restore order.