How do I make my office attractive to random colleagues?
February 3, 2023 9:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to build my social capital within my department. How do I make my office a place where people want to stop by?

I'm already familiar with the bowl of candy. Is there any way to further bait co-workers to come in and say hello? Right now I'm thinking of buying a coffee maker and having free coffee once a week. Perhaps there is something slightly less in your face obvious that can lead to a slight uptick in foot traffic? No that I'm not open to obvious things that are proven winners. Thanks!
posted by Captain Chesapeake to Human Relations (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My desk was a well known repository of most office supplies: tape, scissors, staples, paperclips, labeler, paper punch, extra pens, pencils, pencil sharpener, safety pins, push pins, all manner of screws and nuts, cup hooks, tissues, dental floss, feminine hygiene products, string, wire, white out, glues, chains, post-its, strapping tape, laminate, name tag holders and lanyards, plastic baggies, pain relievers, bandaids, magnifying glass, lighter, bottle opener, screwdrivers, toothpicks, spare clean dry socks, umbrellas, trash bags, utility knives, grocery shelf clips, charged batteries, nail files, tape measure, letter opener, magnets, etc. I had a drawer called "The Magic Drawer" in which I kept most of these and many people per day stopped by to ask to use something from the drawer. And yes, I had candy, and it was most often chocolate. Yes, I admit I was an office supply junkie, but everybody visited my desk at some point. I was a well loved co-worker!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:59 PM on February 3 [10 favorites]

A really comfortable, non-office chair near but not directly in front of your desk. You'll be trying to kick people out before too long.
posted by Adifferentbear at 10:00 PM on February 3 [4 favorites]

Yes, if you can fit a small sofa and a plant or two, people will definitely stop by.
posted by Jubey at 10:06 PM on February 3 [4 favorites]

I took out the overhead fluorescent bulbs and added ambient lighting (floor, desk and table lamps). Two relatively comfortable chairs (not too comfy, I didn't want squatters, I worked long hours!)

Soft jazz music, plants, candy.

Stress toys scattered like Easter eggs among the plants, tables and low file cabinets. The Chairman especially liked the ball which, when bounced off the wall, sounded like breaking glass.

Rainsticks to fiddle with.

I repainted the walls a soft color, matched the low file cabinets to that color (had them sprayed) and people could lean or sit on them.

My desk was sort of a "V" so it didn't cut people off from me.

If I was working on something confidential or time sensitive, I had a funny note that I put on my closed, locked door.

The removal of overhead lights caused a ruckus at first, I just said they gave me migraines and would provide a medical note if anyone insisted -- they did not.

I loved my office, so did everyone else.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 10:56 PM on February 3 [5 favorites]

I had a lava lamp for a while and people often stopped by to comment on or look at it. It was relaxing to watch.
posted by emd3737 at 5:04 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]

I used to eat a lot of takeout for lunch, and I kept a drawer in my desk for extra condiments. Ketchup, hot sauce, soy sauce. After I got the reputation for being the sauce guy, I started looking out for more esoteric condiments. You need marinara? I got it. Poppyseed dressing? I’m your guy. As it worked out, I got to see a lot of co-workers at lunchtime without having to actually go to lunch without any of them.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:17 AM on February 4 [6 favorites]

Another way to attract colleagues is to have a skill such as knowing how to unjam the copier, add toner, and refill with paper. If you can't be the supplier of all things office supply, the knowledge of where everything is kept, will get them to come and ask you. I was the copier and laminator queen and everyone learned how to use them from me. Some stuff I forgot to mention that I also kept at my desk: a small sewing kit, blank greeting cards, nerd toys, pretty rocks, and funny photos, a blood pressure cuff and blood glucose test kit.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 5:39 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]

If they'll allow it, a small fish tank.
posted by bondcliff at 6:24 AM on February 4 [4 favorites]

"Drawer of useful stuff" was mostly my strategy, but for a while I also had a big tape-onto-the-wall coloring sheet up (something neutral and pleasant like butterflies or flowers) and colored pencils, and people could swing by and color in a few leaves or wings when they wanted a quiet little breather. That wouldn't work everywhere, or for every person, but it suited the sort of social capital I had to burn and the sort of interaction I wanted to have. A different colleague used to run innocuous polls on their whiteboard - the kind of thing you see libraries or coffeeshops have, "which of these two movies is better?" etc., and people would come by to cast a vote or leave a comment, which was sometimes fun and I think for him had the benefit of changing up every week or every month so people had a reason to keep coming back.

*Possibly* having fresh flowers or plants could be nice, but many years ago when I used to do that, I was less sensitive to other people's allergens and scent sensitivities than I am now. Probably wouldn't do it now; instead, in my pre-pandemic office-work world, I had some fancy origami flowers in a colorful pitcher. Also some fidget toys.
posted by Stacey at 8:56 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]

Among the things mentioned above, I also had a huge pump-bottle of unscented, lite (i.e. not a lot of greasy residue) hand lotion. Folks would stop by for a squirt and chat for a bit--I made it obvious by having it on the corner of my desk near the door. I'm not sure how that would go over in these days of concerns about germs, but it was very popular. I acquired it by accident because my go to source ran out of the smaller versions and I ordered online but didn't really pay attention to size. I kept tissues nearby as well. My sewing kit was very popular a more deluxe version with real spools of thread, scissors that worked, and safety pins, etc. I had even I people I'd never met show up to borrow it. Made some good contacts that way.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:12 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]

+1 to Nice Lighting.

I worked in an open plan studio setting and brought in the very cheapest ikea lamp with an incandescent bulb. I thought it would reduce eye strain and make things a little cozier. I did not expect to hear the steady sound of pleased people saying, “oh, nice lamp.”
posted by TangoCharlie at 9:52 AM on February 4

Nice lighting - a few incandescent lights. Not Ikea LED bulbs. Old school incandescent.
Turn off your overhead fluorescent lighting - twist the bulbs to turn them off, remove them completely, or cover with paper or a warm-colored scarf.
Comfy seat for a guest, angled so it's inviting.
Fidget toys near the seating.
Plants that don't make pollen or allergens. Pothos is a good one. Avoid ficus benjamina and lilies.
A whiteboard outside your cubicle with daily jokes or fun facts?
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:13 AM on February 4

Another vote for nice lighting - I don't turn on my overheard fluorescents and instead have a floor lamp and two table lamps with warm lightbulbs and am constantly being told by faculty, other staff, and students how much they like my office (my office is...not nice other than this - like, it is cluttered, there's literally nothing on the walls, I don't have plants, there's no window overlooking a nice space (there's no window period), my bike is shoved against the wall, etc.).

People love warm light.
posted by vakker at 1:53 PM on February 4

I used to replace my cubicle overhead fluorescents with better tubes — less flicker? Outdoors spectrum? I forget — and that alone was noticeably pleasant.
posted by clew at 2:07 PM on February 4

I had a coworker who grew up in a warmer and sunnier place and landed in Seattle. One winter, for his own self care, he lined his cubicle with a poster of a sunny green forest and put a mood lamp and some plants in there. Everyone wanted to meet with him in his own space and a lot of us would go there when he wasn’t even there. Recommended!
posted by centrifugal at 2:29 PM on February 4

Bowl of good chocolates or other candy?
posted by dabadoo at 6:12 PM on February 4

A manager I enjoyed working for had a stash of high quality chocolate bars and would always offer to share a couple squares whenever I came by.
posted by rouftop at 6:45 AM on February 5

A puzzle makes a great excuse for people to stop by and hang out while idly fitting pieces. Even better if they are unusual/interesting puzzles.

Beware the puzzle fanatics though, who will easily spend an hour or more actually working on the puzzle. It may be more company than you want...
posted by jpeacock at 9:08 AM on February 5

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