How to Prevent the Harmful Effects of Working in a Windowless Cubicle
Sitting in a cubicle and never seeing sunlight during the workday is unpleasant to even think about—and sitting in a flourescent-light cube can have terrible effects on both our work performance and overall attitude. Yet there are ways to counteract the effects of cubicle sitting, even if you can't sit in a sunny office or work from home.
Admit it: despite the countless articles you've read on the virtues of getting away from your desk, you still eat lunch at your keyboard. Yet there's a reason so many people emphasize this idea: staying put is detrimental to our bodies and immune systems.
We already know that sitting is deadly, but did you know that your desk is a dangerous germ zone, too? Sure, custodial crews come by and do a quick sweep every evening, but they aren't killing any disease-laden germs in the process. According to Market Wire, the average workplace desk contains 400 times the bacteria of a toilet seat. Each time you stay in your seat, you're essentially rubbing your hands and food on surfaces grosser than a toilet.
To force yourself to get away from both your screen and its germs, try turning lunchtime into a walk. By taking your sandwich outside, you'll grab a bit of fresh air and a reprieve for your immune system. Even making a change as simple as moving your mealtime into the employee break room can help you ward off illness and food-loving bacteria. And, of course, breaking out a cleaning wipe or two daily isn't a bad idea, either.
Fluorescent lighting doesn't make anyone look good, and it has even worse effects on our eyesight. A recent study conducted by Brazilian scientists proves that living a life devoid of natural light leads to a host of psychological, emotional, and physiological problems.
The study's researchers tested just how much cubicle lighting played a role in workers' lives. They discovered that employees who worked without a window nearby exhibited higher stress levels and symptoms of depression—but the effects didn't end with the workday. The cubicle workers also slept worse once home for the evening.
We know that sunlight and windows do wonders for our moods and morale, but what can you do from a dimly-lit cubicle? Swap out your desk lamp bulbs with vitamin D or UV ones that are designed to mimic natural sunlight. Originally intended to offer the sun's vitamins for those suffering from seasonal affective disorder, these sunny lightbulbs are the perfect way to bring the outdoors into your cubicle.
Can't stand staring at the ugly gray walls that surround you? Working in the same, dull space is impacting your head: when you grow tired, bored, or even desperate for a distraction, it's impossible to find relief and allow your eyes and brain a quick break. What your tired mind needs is a change of scenery.
Try redecorating your cubicle and its contents to surround yourself with images and items that will improve your mood. According to research conducted by Rachel Kaplan at the University of Michigan, creating a fake "window" within your cubicle will both offer your eyes and brain a break and improve your mood. Fill your picture frames with views of nature—just avoid buildings, roads, or other structures—and cover those blank walls with larger posters of scenic locales.
If you really want to change your surroundings, you can change the scenery around you every few weeks or so. The more "new" and unfamiliar you introduce to your desk, the less constrained you'll feel while working.
Sometimes, even a change of scenery can't help, and we just need to break out of our boxes—and if you do so at work, you'll improve your mood and productivity.
As Jack Wallen writes for Tech Republic, literally changing your workspace can offer enough of a boost to break you out of a cubicle rut. Allen suggests packing up your laptop and creating a makeshift office in your company's open community spaces. Spread out and work on your presentation in an empty meeting room, or move your pages of reading to the building's courtyard. Working in a less familiar setting will offer a new mindset, and, if done every few weeks or so, can help lessen the life-sucking sensation of being trapped in your cube.
Of course, before you start camping out around the office, check with your boss. You don't want them to think you're skirting your workload by sneaking away from your desk!
Taking more breaks is beneficial no matter what kind of office you work in—but they're particularly advantageous when suffering in a cubicle.
In the same piece for Tech Republic, Wallen notes that the typical workday schedule of two short breaks and one longer lunch break will only cause you to fall deeper into sluggishness. The more you change up your day, the more you'll reinvigorate yourself and return to your tasks ready to work. And, as Wallen suggests, moving will help your muscles from slacking off, too: "Just get up and get out of that cubicle throughout the day. Taking strolls around the company won't just get you out of your cubicle; it will give you a bit of exercise you desperately need."
No matter how you choose to take your breaks, make an effort to get a little active throughout the day. Go for a quick walk at lunchtime, or do a few neck and wrist stretches as you wait for a fresh pot of coffee. Entering different environments will help draw you out of those familiar walls, even in small amounts.
When faced with daily life in a cubicle, things don't have to be so dull and flat; with a few small changes to your desk space, you can create an environment that staves off that sleepy, slow feeling and helps you stay positive and productive.