Spring Cleaning at Work: Junk is not the Stuff of Legacy

How much junk is costing you money, and worse, cluttering up those spaces where good work, important and creative work, should be getting done instead?

True legacy isn’t in your physical stuff.

Take another look around you

Within the work I do I have the opportunity to visit a lot of different workplaces. I’m getting braver about pulling out my camera and asking permission to take photos, and not to publish them, but because my photos help me remember details about my visits with you: It’s quicker digital note-taking.

Weeks after a visit, I can look at the photos again and they give me different impressions: I see things I missed the first time around because I wasn’t looking for them. On a recent romp through my iPhoto albums, this is what I saw: A LOT of office junk.

On the other hand, I rarely see comfortable PLUS useful places for people to sit, and work together. In most cases, we don’t bring our team members home with us! (to work… more about that in a moment).

Have you stopped to consider just how much your office or workshop junk gets in your way these days, or takes up space? Can you imagine how much collaborative, synergistic huddle space you could open up if you got rid of it?

Make room for real work to happen

We managers need to give our people the room they need to work clean, to make creative messes, and to work co-operatively as they do so.

By “junk” I mean space squatters. I’m not talking about the cubicle warm-ups and dress-ups like family photos and other collectibles, but the stuff that was long part of conventional business practices and we don’t use any more. (That said, be professional: If you don’t want it around at home, don’t bring it to the workplace!) Here’s a small example:

Here’s a bigger one:

Both of these aren’t used as much anymore (or shouldn’t be) as we’ve gone digital: We simply print and keep way less paper than before. How many of you have a filing cabinet drawer in your office that has never, ever had a hanging file folder in it because it’s filled with snacks for break time? And these two are just small, common examples —at least that filing cabinet is used for something. I see tool belts collecting grime in workshop rafters because mechanics are now working with computer chips, and conference rooms with too-small tables and too-few chairs because a healthy chunk of the room is “dressed up” with overhead projectors, clunky chalkboards on rollers, or given to storage space (for more junk).

How much are you paying to continually straighten, dust, and clean around all that stuff?

Worse, how much are you still using it, because it’s “still too good to throw away.” The problem with your frugality and pack-rat habits, is that you allow the old process connected to that junk to proliferate, keeping you archaic in your thinking as well.

Think old, act old, produce old. On the other hand, leading encourages making your newness. Those people you call your “greatest asset” huddle in corridors or alleys to exchange their ideas, or sadly, not at all.

[From the archives: An idea is a fragile thingDon’t get New Ideas caught in the ASA Trap!]

We work better at home: Why?

Here’s something else which happens: I hear it constantly, with people feeling it’s okay.

It’s not.

“Oh, that’s the stuff I’ll take home to do. It’s easier and faster with my mac”

or” “where I’ve got xyz software and our internet firewall doesn’t slow me down”

or… “where I have more space to lay everything out and take a good look at it.”

I dare you: In your next staff meeting or team huddle, ask your people how much work they are still doing at home because it’s tougher, or takes longer to do it in the workplace itself and on the clock. Ouch.

Then ask them how often they eat at their desks, or while at the fast food place parking lot, or skip lunch altogether because you don’t have a lunch room for healthy brown-bagging, where they can dish with each other about their ideas instead, feeding body and mind, AND spirit, and talking about how they Live with Aloha.

Our 2010 Stuff Probation is over

It’s March 11th. Kick out the weekends, and we’ve had about fifty work days this year. We’ve had enough probationary time for some quick decisions.

Start your spring cleaning early, and get more aggressive about it than you’ve ever been before. Have your rule of thumb be: “If we haven’t used it in 2010, we’re not gonna, and it’s outta here.” including holiday stuff —buy it new this year, and help our economy: Set a new revenue goal for the better work you’ll be doing so you can afford it. Donate what others can use, and throw out the rest, and stop thumbing your nose at occasional items you’re better off renting those rare times you need them.

Give your people new tools, and better software.

Give them room to talk to each other, huddle, and create.

Do vibrant, dynamic, remarkably exciting legacy work!

Create space for energy to build, and it will. Remember our energy mantra?
From 3 Ways Managers Create Energetic Workplaces:

  1. Be Contagious, for Energy begets more Energy
  2. Avoid the Middle and Work on the Edges
  3. There can be no Basic Standards, only Extraordinary ones

Most office environments aren’t designed for that right now: They are proliferating maintenance-type busywork instead of the work which is connected to accomplished behaviors.

Twenty, thirty, fifty or a hundred years from now, your collection of office and workshop antiques will not be your legacy. Or will it?

Photo Credits: What do you call it? by Ulla Hennig
Tu Filing and Storage by Eric Acevedo and Chefs by Barto on Flickr

sayalakai_rosasay My mana‘o [The Backstory of this posting]
Each Thursday I write a management posting for Say “Alaka‘i” at Hawai‘i’s newspaper The Honolulu Advertiser. If this is the first you have caught sight of my Say “Alaka‘i” tagline, you can learn more on this Talking Story page: About Say “Alaka‘i”.


  1. Anne says

    Wow, Rosa, thanks for this post!

    In the office I work in, we used to have a conference room, which we all used as a lunch and/or break room…somewhere to go and have lunch together. Well, that big room w/ that big conference table eventually got divided into two office spaces…and now no one rests at lunch time but goes out by themselves to eat at fast food….or they just stay at their desks and work/eat. It’s really sad. The body/mind need a break from the computers and I miss those times of camaraderie. To make matters worse, the refrigerator and water cooler have been delegated to the “janitor’s closet” where no one wants to stand (no table/chairs) in there and talk amongst the cleaning supplies and electrical wiring.

    Human beings NEED a break room…A quiet, comfortable place away from the machines…I’m going to pass on this post to the higher-ups…

    And thanks for the de-cluttering pep-talk! I needed that, too!! :-)

    • Rosa Say says

      What you describe is all too common Anne. We can all empathize with people needing office space, however there are a lot of sacred cows which have long had an unspoken, unwritten “hands off!” rule attached to them, and shouldn’t, especially as work systems and processes have changed. Not only are we more digital, we’re more mobile. Not knowing anything else about your circumstances there, I wonder if an older, bigger office for one person could be shared with another, and made into two so that your multi-purpose conference room can be the new sacred space for the reasons you have shared?

      I know that there can be a lot which happens in office politics (to be blunt, it’s selfish space squatting), and sometimes, the best thing an Alaka‘i manager can do is bring in an objective third party to completely redesign the space for everyone: New design has gone far, far beyond the option of knocking down all walls and erecting cubicles!

      When money is tight, we go back to putting our heads together, and making the honest discovery of how much an “we’re in this together” attitude truly exists in a workplace team, or doesn’t.