New furniture. Everything is neatly organized. Everything is in its place. And it is extremely tidy. New offices tend to look as if they are images in a catalogue or a photorealistic visualisation delivered by an architect – but this only lasts for a short while. It takes no more than a few weeks for slow, yet inevitable changes to begin creeping into a new office. As the lease term passes, the office acquires a life of its own: it is an organism straining to adapt to the dynamic movements of people, things and activities that fill it and shape the space.
Space design and fit-out changes resulting from organizational growth, filling the space available with things needed in everyday operations, as well as those that may not be indispensable, but are of importance for specific persons and teams as they help create private worlds that ensure comfort and individualism – these are the main reasons for office space transformations, albeit not the only ones. Managers have quirky, yet telling, names for these processes including ‘hoarding’, ‘comeinhandies’, ‘trenching’, ‘cabinet extravaganza’ and ‘cablemania’. Consequently, organizational spaces tend to look messy, cluttered and oppressive. It becomes more difficult to locate the required documents and items, and stubbing one’s foot against a random object on the floor becomes increasingly likely.
How do we cope with the visual littering of our office spaces? Some organizations implement clean desk policies, digitize their documents and transfer them to central archives. However, this is not a solution that will fit all companies. Which is why experts at BNP Paribas Real Estate propose 3 simple ways to fight these ‘common diseases’ that spread throughout our offices.
1. Say stop to mess. Have a periodic clear-out and arrange things in a practical manner
It is extremely difficult to fight hoarders. They collect things just because this and that might come in handy one day. Certainly, there is sometimes a business justification for this squirrelling-away habit, but not always. Sometimes it stems from organizational culture and the way that certain departments work. However, it also originates from the fact that tidying up is not seen as ‘proper work’ or a part of one’s work duties.
“The stories as to how mess is created in organizations sound like funny anecdotes at times, however, we mustn’t forget that in reality, they are a sign of serious business problems. The marketing department in one of the companies I researched collected various samples, which included those of food products. All the cabinets were filled to the brim, and some of the staff would stack them underneath their desks to have everything within reach and not waste time looking for what they needed. They really managed to fill the space underneath their desktops tightly. This well-stocked ‘restaurant’ started attracting ants that took a particular liking to the marketing menu on offer and it became necessary in the end to call for help of the pest control services”, says Karolina Dudek, Workplace Strategy Manager, Office Agency at BNP Paribas Real Estate Poland.
Workplace Strategy Manager
Karolina Dudek is a Doctor of Social Sciences (PhD) in the field of sociology, and a graduate of Warsaw School of Economics and University of Warsaw. She coordinated research projects at the University of Warsaw and at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, with a total budget reaching nearly PLN 1 million. She authored several dozen articles and the book “Networks of knowledge”, as well as co-authored the book “Cultural desert”. She is an editor and a university lecturer. More »
BNP Paribas Real Estate Poland
It is difficult to say how often we should have a clear-out. This would depend on the industry, size of the organization, and nature of the work carried out by specific teams. Nevertheless, it is worth implementing as a fixed feature in our calendars and ensuring that periodic tidying of the office space becomes an element of our operational activities, one that is planned in advance and well-coordinated. This will enable employees and teams to maintain order in the office and ensure staff feel comfortable as there will be no visual chaos to distract them. Additionally, they will not waste time searching for items.
“When the responsibility to tidy up lies with individuals, yet directors and managers fail to pay attention to it and there is no ‘top-down’ governance, there will always be more pressing things that need tending to”, adds Karolina Dudek.
“Office cleaning requires regularity and consistency. Mess has the tendency to amass, which is why our failure to tidy up on an ongoing basis means we run out of space and start putting things away haphazardly wherever there is room available. Thus, it is a good idea to implement a practical system for having allocated spots for different things in our office. The office supplies cupboard, irrespective of whether it is a separate room or just a cabinet within the open space, should be split into different zones: mailing and packages, archiving and printing, stationery products, electronics and small equipment. The intuitive arrangement of specific supplies, using compartments, trays and maybe even old boxes will enable easy location. It is worth examining the contents of our office cabinets and containers. We will frequently find items that belong in the storage room/cabinet or are simply broken and not fit for continued use. This way we will gain room for storing relevant documents and samples. As far as the kitchen is concerned, inspect the crockery, equipment and food products regularly. A lot of people bring in their own containers and dishes and put them away in random cupboards that no one ever looks at. This stashed away and frequently out-of-date food, broken crockery and heaping food container pile are the curses of virtually all offices. The ‘Friday Fridge Clean-Out’ is the time for getting rid of all unnecessary things found in the common kitchen. The ritual helps keep the space tidy and allows people to be independent and efficient”, highlights Emilia Adamczyk, Office Manager at BNP Paribas Real Estate Poland.
Nevertheless, remember that having a spotless office does not always pay. You have to find a happy medium. The practically thinking Americans turned organizational clear-outs into a business worth millions of dollars, with self-help books, training sessions and office decluttering and tidy-up services offered, as discussed, not without irony, by the professor of management Eric Abrahamson and the journalist David H. Freedman in their book on the hidden benefits of disorder. They put forward a theory that the costs of maintaining the perfect order might be higher than the costs of living in a mess. These will include the costs of resources and actual work to be carried out to maintain order, as well as the costs arising due to the fact that spaces that are too sterile constrain creativity. Thus, organizations have to find a balance between disorder and order from a business point of view.
2. Say stop to cabinet extravaganza. Invest in acoustic panels and plants
Cluttering space with cabinets happens in all organizations irrespective of whether the office is split into individual rooms or dominated by open space. This is how a unique form of theoretical open space is created, with individual offices fashioned from tall cabinets and bookcases.
However, there are different types of cabinet extravaganza. It frequently involves creating an architectural structure out of furniture that facilitates hoarding; however, there could be different reasons for it too. It could come from the need to create a separate space, in terms of its visual and acoustic characteristics, resulting from organizational growth, the addition of new staff and the fact that the office is becoming increasingly noisy and crowded. Bear in mind that unfortunately, it is quite easy to arrive at the direct opposite of the desired effect: empty cabinets have the tendency to behave like resonance chambers. Cabinets are also used by people to create their own territory when they are feeling insecure and need a certain psychological safety zone or when individual departments operate in the manner of conflicted ‘mini-states’, which is what we call ‘trenching’.
Notwithstanding the reason for cabinet extravaganza in the organization, it is a process that leads to an unproductive use of space. It can furthermore interfere with air circulation and result in stuffiness. Additionally, a large number of tall cabinets is an obstacle to natural daylight causing the office to become a dark and oppressive place. All of the above means that we should take a closer look at ‘cabinet extravaganza’.
“If hoarding is your problem, then before you purchase yet another cabinet, it would be worth having a clear-out. Maybe you have accumulated too many unnecessary items? If the issue is noise and lack of visual privacy, a better idea would be installing acoustic panels. Tall plants would work too, they not only look pleasant and help divide the space into smaller areas but also work well as sound diffusers”, adds Emilia Adamczyk.
“However, if the problem at hand is lack of cooperation between departments, or even conflicts, then it would be better to try and solve your genuine management related problems instead of hiding them behind more cabinets. It is usually a longer process, but it does bring more tangible benefits. It is sometimes difficult to diagnose a problem correctly without carrying out a detailed analysis of the organizational culture, especially that cabinet extravaganza can be contagious. To begin with, there is one department attempting to solve certain issues by setting up more cabinets, and then others follow their neighbours’ example and surround themselves with cabinets”, says Karolina Dudek.
3. Say stop to cablemania. Install cable ducts and trunking, clamps and boxes.
The last of the common diseases spreading through Polish offices is ‘cablemania’.
“The main symptoms are cables hanging in tightly woven garlands between desks, lush cover growing around floor boxes, as well as broken wall sockets. People complain not only because it looks horrendous, but also because dust accumulates beautifully in the tangled cables. Cablemania is straight out dangerous. It is easy to catch something in the cables and knock it over, or even trip, which is particularly relevant for female staff in high heels”, says Karolina Dudek.
Cablemania develops specifically well following space reorganization and changes in the way our desks are arranged. It turns out that the new layout does align with the location of floor boxes and wall sockets. The costs of adapting the electrical installation are quite sizeable, thus the much quicker and cheaper solution in the form of an extension cord is frequently chosen.
Fortunately, a wide range of products is available on the market to help us solve the problem of hanging cables. When purchasing desks, it is worth checking that they have holes with grommets or ducts through which you can run cables.
“Cables can be hidden in specifically designed troughs, holders and wire trays mounted underneath your desktop. Once your cables are untangled, split them into bundles and mount them underneath your desktop using clamps, velcro and ties. Large bundles of cabling will be easily hidden using cable ducts, while your power strips will fit in dedicated boxes. If your desks do not have cable routing holes with grommets, ask the technical department to help you with the issue. When it comes to selecting best-suited solutions to meet specific needs and requirements, consultants from the furniture company that has supplied the desks should be able to assist you”, adds Emilia Adamczyk.
A well-organized and tidy office means that you use your space effectively. Moreover, it creates a positive work environment: safe, motivating and enabling employees to focus, using well-lit desktops and with good air circulation. It is also a predictable place, where everything can be found easily and thus supporting the independence of those working in it to efficiently perform their everyday duties. If you strive for your office to be a showcase for your organization’s work and values, use the recommendations provided by the experts at BNP Paribas Real Estate.