Feng Shui For Everyday: Office Spaces

Dear Lynn,
I work in an insurance company. My office is a little cubicle. I like my co-workers and I like the job in general but I’m very uncomfortable with my space. All of us (except the owner and just a few others) are in identical cubicles. I don’t think any of us like this set up. If you have suggestions about this I will circulate the information. Thanks. — Cynthia

Feeling trapped in your windowless office cubicle? Try some feng shui advice to bring harmony to your office space.

Dear Cynthia,

Cubicle incarceration — the ultimate 8-hour-a-day corral. If I had a magic wand I would liberate all cubicles and their occupants. And a magic wand is a good beginning. While you can certainly introduce personal curios that improve the comfort index and remind you of being somewhere else, there is also much more that you can do to boost the quality of your daily surroundings.

One of the negative features of this configuration is having your back to the opening. With your back to the door you lack support and don’t know what’s going on behind you. Someone entering your space will already be in it before you know what’s happening. Cubicle dwellers are interrupted constantly. In fact if you were working elsewhere but had your back to the door you’d soon start interrupting yourself: Is the mail here yet? Does the dog want to go out? It’s because so much concentrated effort is required to really work in this set up. With no support from behind you lack the most basic backing and have forfeited the ability to have an informed, participatory sense of what’s going on around you.

Being in this cubicle in the first place indicates you’re further down the hierarchical food chain than those whose office is actually a room. A room arranged in a healthy way will provide the occupant with a wall of support behind them as they sit at their desk as well as something of a view to one or more sides. It’s called the armchair position in feng shui lingo. This is a set up in a commanding position of empowerment and focus. It’s no accident that the successful CEO will inhabit it.

Beyond lack of support, cubicles are windowless. You are literally up against a wall (three if you want to get really depressed). In any environment the imposition of visual limits assures that no visionaries will blossom within. As if the cubicle itself isn’t bad enough they are usually accessed off long, straight corridors far from any source of natural light. The latter is perhaps the single most important detriment to the overall mood of a cubicle, and completes the total disconnection from the outside world that is the cubicle’s signature.

Now for turning the situation around.

Expanded vision, vitality, some connection to nature and beauty, and support are what’s needed. Have you ever seen those mirrors that are divided up to look like window frames with panes of glass? These are great in this situation because they both expand your vision and sense of what’s going on around you and imply a connection to the outdoor world. If you put a plant in front of it, it will suggest a nature view and amp up the plant’s presence. Both good. You could also use fresh flowers to enliven the space.

Another possibility is artwork that suggests depth, symbolically expanding the area beyond its confines. You could take this further with a creative flourish I recently saw demonstrated in a small Italian restaurant that brilliantly addressed this challenge. There were two storefront type windows and the other three walls were dark. On those walls were painted framed windows with gorgeous cascading flowers. They were all different and the effect was evocative and almost enchanting. What a successful trick! The energy of a charming village restaurant was the result.

In terms of general ambiance try warming up your cubicle, space permitting, by introducing one or more small table lamps. Fit them with full spectrum light bulbs. This may make it possible to circumvent turning on the florescent vitamin D-sapping light overhead.

Regardless of what you end up doing in these efforts put a mirror or highly reflective surface just to the right or just to the left of the interior wall you face. (Don’t put it right in front of your face). Position it in such a way that without adjusting your posture you are aware of what’s behind you. It will give you close to a 360-degree view of your surroundings while suggesting a more open vista. You will experience fewer intrusive surprise visits.

Finally, the hero of your area will probably be your swivel chair. It allows the possibility of turning around to see the door and at least look at something besides a wall. If it has a high back, even better. It will become its own micro-environment.

I watched in fascinated horror at the “transformation” of a beautiful light-filled room in an old neo-classical building in Cambridge, MA. It was a transition in the use of this space from public research to probate court matters. First, the room was cleaned out and its beauty was more evident than ever. Light streamed in and the gorgeous views to an old restored courtyard and courthouses with vibrant gardens and pergolas were delightfully and fully visually accessible. Then it was freshly painted. Great beginnings! What happened next begins the pivot towards destruction of a magnificent indoor environment.

Intricate tile patterned floors were covered with institutional-grade grey carpet which exuded strong toxic off gassing. The solution? Time-released boxes emitting frequent bursts of cloying air freshener were placed every few feet around the room that can’t be turned off.

High partition walls were then positioned within the space that blocked out the natural light as well as the view from most of the cubicles within the room, creating an over-towering vertical sensation. These cubicle and partition wall arrangements seem to be created by an efficiency driven formula. Hide wires, hide the backsides of computers. Maximize surface area. The faux material finish on their walls is the same toxic material used in industrial indoor/outdoor carpeting. In the basement of this building dignified wooden office furnishings in keeping with its character were stacked to the ceiling like carcasses.

Most employees have to dwell in these instinct-damaged manifestations and must do so willingly. How unfortunate. Given the same amount of space there are many healthier possibilities. Someday perhaps creating workspaces will evolve to such an extent that office cubicles will be considered models of what not to mass produce. Work comfort index will be seen as the pre-curser to company excellence. The model of harmony will replace the model of efficiency.

Hi Lynn,
I have a small fountain and was wondering where would be a good place to put it. — Glen

Dear Glen,
How small? If it’s really small — say the size of a basketball — put it on a surface so it doesn’t look trivial down on the floor. If you can, place it near the door or entrance to your office or home. It will stimulate the flow of opportunities on your life journey, especially those relating to career. If you’re familiar with the bagua, it’s also well placed in the family/health sector or the prosperity sector. They are wood aspects and water feeds wood in the 5-element creative cycle.

Ideally the fountain is substantial enough to sit on ground level. It is water’s nature to seek the lowest level. The flow should be more than a trickle. In a large establishment it should actually be vigorous.

The late Lynn Taylor was a senior feng shui practitioner, teaching and consulting in the United States and Mexico for both business and home environments.