Office cube items to encourage conversation, interaction
June 15, 2016 11:33 AM   Subscribe

What do you have on your desk or in your cube that encourages interaction with your co-workers?

I'm going to be moving to a new city, but keeping my current job and working remote. I'll be returning to my cube at least once-per-month for meetings and likely more.

What do you keep on your desk or at your cube that encourages people to stop by, leave notes or just remember you're there?

I have a collection of those tiny magnetic balls that people will occasionally rearrange and it made me wonder what else I could add that would encourage colleagues to stop by.

Office environment is laid-back and casual. Cubes are the low wall variety.
posted by glaucon to Work & Money (37 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
posted by something something at 11:39 AM on June 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

Could you clarify what type of reaction you're hoping for, given that you'll only be in the office once a month? I have found the biggest conversation-starters at my desk are a cute/funny wall calendar, little stuffed animal magnets for each of my alma maters, and a funny mug relevant to our profession. But obviously those only yield interaction when I am present to have the interaction. I think a candy dish can also encourage people to stop by, although personally I have not wanted to bother with stocking one. I would be concerned about encouraging people to leave you notes, because it's possible you would not see the note to follow up for as long as 30 days, which sounds like it would be frustrating for everyone involved. Personally I would focus on:
a) building ways to make sure you're connecting with people remotely, either through something like Slack (if that's used in your workplace), scheduled check ins, etc. and
b) making sure you proactively connect with people when you're in town, by scheduling lunches/coffees/drinks after work with people you don't have explicit meetings with. Or just make it a point to drop by their desk and check in -- it's a lot easier for you to do that than to expect people to stop by your desk every day on the 1 in 30 chance you happen to be in town.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:41 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

-- A large white board, a marker, and an interesting question.
-- If your workplace culture allows -- printouts of good memes, with encouragement to add? I know someone who has a wall of cat-only ones, and it's truly mesmerizing.
-- Building on rainbowbrite's good point: If you don't use something like Slack to communicate, suggest it?
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:45 AM on June 15, 2016

I know someone who creates funny meme pictures and prints them out based on current events, upcoming holidays etc. Always seems to spark conversation and leave an impression.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:45 AM on June 15, 2016

Response by poster: @rainbowbrite - good question!

The reaction or goal here would be to encourage people to maybe leave notes, or to have items on my desk that people could rearrange into limitless designs, or to have items that just simply remind people as they walk by my desk that I'm still around.

And your ideas for staying in touch are very much appreciated. I am working to think about different ways I can do that and your suggestions are great!
posted by glaucon at 11:48 AM on June 15, 2016

I have a sign on my cube that is a circle and says "Bang Head Here." Lots of people stop by and faux-bang their head on it and say "I need one of these!" It's a big icebreaker (no pun intended).
posted by Melismata at 11:50 AM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have toys (Doctor Who minifigs), comical paintings of monsters, and pictures of my kid. Pretty much all of those have been effective conversation starters.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:52 AM on June 15, 2016

A candy dish is the #1 way to guarantee people will stop by your cubicle. After that, I think anything bright and interactive will get people to stop by and pick it up and play with it. I have a couple of squeezy rubber ducks whose eyes pop out when you squeeze them. People always love playing with them.
posted by xingcat at 11:52 AM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have a set of dinosaur figurines. People like to play with them often--make them look like they're fighting, make them look like they're dancing in my candy dish, make one of them eat the other, etc.
posted by phunniemee at 11:54 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have an android-shaped jar of jelly beans (specifically Jelly Belly) on my desk and there are a few coworkers for whom this this a big draw.
posted by GuyZero at 11:58 AM on June 15, 2016

Wifi connected digital photo frame, like people get for grandparents, etc. Email photos of yourself at remote location, handwritten signs that say "See you on the 20th", project photos if that's applicable. So many possibilities!
posted by donnagirl at 12:02 PM on June 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

One of my coworkers has this Cubicle Guest Book at her desk and it is amazing.

When I did the candy dish thing, people would leave me bags of candy to refill it with, which was great because keeping up a candy bowl can be very expensive. (which is why I stopped)
posted by kimberussell at 12:04 PM on June 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

Do you have a wall space? Put out a small poster with two uncontroversial things on either side-- Chewbacca vs. Bigfoot, Coke vs. Pepsi, Grumpt Cat vs. Success Kid, for example-- and "Who Should Win?" Put out a package of those color-coding dot stickers or the small post-its, and indicate that people should cast their vote with a sticker on the poster. When you get back, you'll have a visual representation of the office winner, and people will probably want to come talk to you about the pros and cons of each. It's interactive and starts conversations and people will probably start suggesting match-ups when they get used to the idea (don't be tempted into anything political.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:05 PM on June 15, 2016 [13 favorites]

For me, food always brings people around, especially when I don't want them around because I'd just like to eat my food in peace. I also have a calendar that people seem to notice, although the interaction about that usually just goes like: "Oh hey, it's a new month on your calendar." "Yeah, it's a new month in real life too." "Yeah." So that's probably not what you're looking for.

Some of my co-workers have whiteboards, and those get attention.

Off the top of my head, I think one of those wooden artist's anatomical models, a Mr. Potato Head, or a set of magnetic poetry would do what you're hoping for.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:06 PM on June 15, 2016

Magnetic poetry!
posted by TurquoiseZebra at 12:06 PM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

People can't resist playing in a desktop Zen Garden.
posted by NoraCharles at 12:18 PM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

posted by wenestvedt at 12:21 PM on June 15, 2016

I have an infrared non-contact thermometer on my desk. Everyone knows they can borrow it when there's a disagreement about the office temperature.

It's not really the right tool for the job (it measures surface temperature of something you point it at, rather than ambient temperature) but it's a fun gadget and fun to discuss the results.
posted by reeddavid at 12:29 PM on June 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

One of those jointed artist's mannequins.
posted by rhizome at 12:36 PM on June 15, 2016

Nthing candy - I used to have a plastic alien head candy dispenser (that I'd won on a company bowling trip) on my desk, and holy cow, it was like a bird feeder. People started taking pride in keeping it filled, too - there were a few who would make kind of a big production about presenting me with a giant bag of m&ms or what-not - so it took on a real community feel after a while. So long as I wasn't TOO busy, it was fun!

Candy. Candy candy candy.
posted by DingoMutt at 12:38 PM on June 15, 2016

Candy dish is definitely key. I read somewhere [citation needed] that people with candy dishes get more raises, so you might have that going for you, too. I agree that people also buy refills and that forms a sense of community, too. Another thing that has worked is a fun page-a-day calendar. Maybe one that asks a new trivia question, puzzle or riddle every day, like this one.
posted by LKWorking at 12:40 PM on June 15, 2016

I should add that I also had a variety of toys at my desk, and people did occasionally play with those, too ... But my action figures often ended up posed in, ah, indelicate ways when I wasn't watching - so be careful with what you go with, depending on your office culture.

(gotta admit, I really miss that office)
posted by DingoMutt at 12:42 PM on June 15, 2016

I find a cookie jar works social stop by wonders too. Er, with cookies in it.
posted by bearwife at 12:44 PM on June 15, 2016

At my brother's old job he had an enormous Lego bricks build set up in his cubicle. Over time people became fascinated with the narrative developing (he would make additions based on benign office happenings related to the work they were doing) and his co-workers would actually arrive with new sets to add after a trip to Target or wherever. People continued to interact with it even while he was on extended vacations and sabbaticals.
posted by xyzzy at 12:46 PM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

The real way to do this is with an always on two way webcam conference going at both locations, so when coworkers walk by your old desk they see your new desk and can chat with you etc.

But that kind of removes basically all the benefits of working remotely...

The non synchronous version suggested above (digital picture frame) is a great middle ground. Maybe turn your workstation into a slideshow viewer with an open chat window for passers-by to type in
posted by danny the boy at 12:49 PM on June 15, 2016

Can you make a giant cardboard cutout picture of yourself with a goofy expression, or at least your head and torso? Have a whiteboard next to it with a speech bubble containing greetings or a quote from you, and space below it for people to add their responses.
posted by Soliloquy at 12:58 PM on June 15, 2016

Get a Mr. Potato Head and keep a bowl of his parts beside it. I guarantee people will play with him. Update with new parts once in a while for flavor.

Optionally, get people to post photographs of the Mr. Potato Head somewhere, like a facebook page dedicated to your office Potato's antics.
posted by lizbunny at 1:00 PM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

My wife built a miniature tropical paradise. She covered a shelf with astroturf, added a low-light plant and installed 2 lawn flamingos on the top of the cubicle wall.
posted by jon1270 at 1:47 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're there once a month or so, could you spare 15 minutes a time to decorate your cube for whatever holiday/season is next? I work in my cube, so it's different, but people love to come see what I've put up. The dollar store is your friend! I keep each holiday's d├ęcor in a paper bag and store them in a closet at home, so it's like a kit all in one. You can add to it every year and I don't think I've spent more than $10 a holiday.

It's luau time right now! Fake plastic grass skirting on the tops of the walls topped off with fabric leis, cutouts of tiki drinks, a lifesize paper flamingo, and an inflatable toucan.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:02 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Magic 8 ball
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 3:45 PM on June 15, 2016

2lbs of silly putty was something that everyone would eventually come by my desk during grad school to poke at.
posted by porpoise at 5:03 PM on June 15, 2016

A small aquarium (not fishbowl), with either a Marimo moss ball or betta fish as a resident. You'd have to talk one of your co-workers into feeding your fish, of course.

Toys from Archie McPhee. I am sort of partial to the horse head mask, but they have a Fun Desk Stuff category as well.

A Rubik's cube. Maybe even a desktop skee ball? Or these Like and Dislike stamps?
posted by Ostara at 6:11 PM on June 15, 2016

Affirmation holepunch. When someone does something worthy of affirmation, pick up the Affirmation Holepunch and wiggle it at them in a supportive way.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:14 PM on June 15, 2016

See through lock
posted by allelopath at 7:21 PM on June 15, 2016

Poster of exotic cars that I got for free at a car show. Bentley, Rolls, Lambo, Aston Martin, everyone wants to talk about fancy cars.
posted by fixedgear at 3:35 AM on June 16, 2016

Jigsaw puzzles are great for a few mins of diversion and collaborative fun even if you are not around.
posted by mightshould at 6:51 PM on June 16, 2016

A slinky and some steps.
posted by kjs4 at 7:07 AM on June 17, 2016

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