An office is a home away from home. Large or small, fancy or plain, private or open, it is where many of us spend most of our waking hours.
No wonder we all become interior designers of sorts on a micro scale. Give an office worker a utilitarian cubicle or workstation - a corporate blank slate - and within hours it will reflect the occupant's individuality. There will be plants, chipped mugs filled with pens, photos of families and pets, favorite cartoons, and postcards from peripatetic friends - quirky possessions that humanize and personalize space.
These tchotchkes and mementos also claim territoriality. They put imaginary fences around an employee's tiny bit of corporate turf, as if to say, "This is my space."
And why not? As workers everywhere take the office home, converting spare bedrooms into offices, who can blame them for trying to bring a sense of home to work?
What a contrast to the sterile corporate landscape of the 1960s, as portrayed in the movie "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" (1967). Regimented rows of desks each held only a typewriter, phone, and steno pad. Even the company president's huge desk was largely bare, except for a photo of his wife.
Who could have predicted then that in the 1970s and '80s, the stern advice to women hoping to ascend the corporate ladder would be: If you want to be taken seriously, do not display photos of your children in your office. Mercifully, that stricture has disappeared.
What should a 21st-century office look like? The question ranks high on many corporate agendas these days.
A major exhibit this past spring at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, called "Workspheres," featured a survey of contemporary office design. Noting the changing balance between private and professional life, curator Paola Antonelli observed: "Work has become transportable and ubiquitous, almost a state of mind." Work, she added, "is where you are."
And in Denver, a year-long project called "Work[place] 2010" offers "an interactive, firsthand look at the future of workspace." The future, its designers say, involves "highlighting the integration of people, place, work, and fun!"
Even CNN joined the workplace discussion with a recent Internet poll, asking Web visitors: "How satisfied are you with your work environment?" Thirty-five percent of nearly 2,800 respondents expressed displeasure with their work space by voting for this option: "Do you have a match? How about a little lighter fluid?" Another 52 percent agreed with the statement, "My space could be a lot better, but a lot worse, too." Just 13 percent expressed satisfaction, saying, "I'm lucky. Human-friendly design, thoughtful planning here."
Last week The Christian Science Monitor newsroom moved back to its former space in the Christian Science Publishing Society, now completely renovated and modernized. After four years in temporary quarters in an adjacent building, we packed our belongings. For days, after deadlines and meetings, the old newsroom filled with the rustle of papers being sorted, the thunk of outdated files landing in trash bins, and the buzz of anticipation about a fresh start surrounded by handsome state-of-the-art design.
This week, as we unpack large plastic moving crates in our pristine new quarters, workstations already reflect a personal touch. Calendars, baseball caps, ceramic cows, snow globes, piggy banks, tiny teddy bears - the list of favorite objects goes on. What better way to domesticate a new home-away-from-home at work? Now the next challenge for many employees everywhere remains: how to make a study at home a little more businesslike.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor