Dear Matt: Most cubes are pretty boring. What subtle makeovers can I incorporate into my cube to make the eight-plus hours spent in it each day more bearable?

Matt: Since workers spend so much time in their cubes it's no surprise that each individual wants to make their workspace feel like home. When it comes to cubicle decorations, policies vary greatly with Twin Cities employers. Some are conservative, such as one company that doesn't allow more than three personal photos on one's cube walls - and some are more open - allowing whatever one's creative mind can muster up (and still be professional) - such as one Twin Cities worker who has his own goldfish at his desk.

Cubicles are often an extension of a person's personality and interests and a chance for employees to show who they are or what's important to them outside of work.

"We've had a fish-themed cubicle and a Beanie Baby cubicle," said Mary Huss, an HR generalist for Twin Cities-based EMC Publishing. "Employees like to add plants, some photos and a few other homey touches. We allow humidifiers, heaters and fans. Some employees like to bring in a lamp to give it a different light and warm up their cube. Although we have a lot of great artwork in our building, some of the best artwork has always been those in cubicles done by employees' children."

When it comes to decorating your workspace, many managers encourage their employees to infuse their individual workspaces with personality, but be sure to err on the side of caution, said Susan Thomas, regional vice president for Accountemps in Minneapolis.

"Displaying inappropriate personal décor, like offensive calendars or political posters may alienate others," said Thomas.

When decorating a cube, keep these tips in mind, said Thomas:

  • Be aware of the potential to distract or offend colleagues. Express yourself, but keep it from creating controversy.
  • Sit in a chair near your cube to get a perspective on what others see when entering your cubicle or office.
  • Clean your workspace so it's visually appealing not only to you but also to your guests.
  • Store supplies you need close at hand, and move things that are used less frequently out of the way.

According to a recent OfficeTeam survey, 83 percent of respondents said the neatness of an employee's workspace at least somewhat affects their perception of that person's professionalism.

"Keep in mind that your colleagues' opinion of you hinges on more than just your workspace décor," said Thomas. "While you may know just where to find things, a few minutes spent organizing each day will not only improve the impression you're leaving on colleagues, but may also increase your productivity."

- Matt Krumrie
Twin Cities freelance writer specializing in career advice