What does your office tell about you?

Did you know your office talks behind your back? It reveals lots of things about you – and if you knew that, you’d probably want to make some changes.

I don’t mean a private office at home where no-one is allowed except the family pet. I mean the office where you not only work but where you are seen working, where you are visited by colleagues and/or clients. That office is a very important and often under-appreciated part of your professional image.

Everything in your office should serve only three purposes:

  • Create an environment where you can work productively, and
  • Boost your professional image
  • Make a good first impression on a first-time visitor

The purpose of this post is not to discuss the ergonomic or any other practical aspects of office work but to take a closer look at few simple solutions for making you look really good.

Everything in your office that has no functional purpose, such as a desk or a filing cabinet, should only be there if it carries a message or makes a great conversation piece. There are many ways to draw attention to your achievements as a professional and a leader.

  1. Credentials

This very much depends on the industry.  But if you have a cool degree from a prestigious university, it’s probably a good idea to display it, even if you’re not a doctor or a lawyer.

  1. Books, magazines, newspapers


Reference books and professional publications, books and articles on leadership, management, team-building etc. are all good.


Use discretion in displaying any non-work related publications in your office: you don’t want anyone to think you’re reading them on the job.


  1. Family pictures


These are great not only to make you feel good; they also tell your visitors a little about your private life. “A little” is very important: if you are blessed with a large family, it is still a good idea to keep the number of pictures down to one, two tops. Crowding your desk and bookcase with a dozen pictures of children and pets not only makes your office look busy; it also draws attention away from other items which could otherwise boost your professional image.


  1. Other pictures

These only belong in the office if they make good conversation pieces to illustrate your professional or community standing. So pictures of you with company presidents, government officials, well-known industry experts are great. Pictures of you at the opening of an important local landmark or facility are also good. These pictures draw your visitors’ attention and lead them to ask: “So you’ve met…” or “You took part in…” These are also easy for you to bring up, e.g.,: “When I met…” or “In my previous role, I had the honour to…” or “When I spoke at the XYZ conference…”

Pictures of prominent figures without you in them have little value: you may admire them, and you may have met them, but they do nothing to boost your image – unless there’s an inscription for you.

Again: less is more.

Pictures of public, and especially political and religious figures may be controversial, so do think twice before displaying them in your office.

All other pictures, such as your last birthday party, you at a sports event, you in fishing gear with your best-ever catch, etc. are best reserved for Facebook.

  1. Trophies and memorabilia

Business-related trophies are good. Sports trophies, except for inter-office challenges, do not belong in an office – unless your work is directly related to sports.

Your trophies from school and especially your kids’ trophies don’t belong in your office.

Everything that can naturally lead to a conversation about your professional and leadership achievements is good. If you can prompt questions like: “So you’ve been to XYZ professional awards conference?”  or “So, you’ve been with the company for over 10 years?” – that’s good. Everything else should be out.

  1. Religious symbols

Unless you work for a faith organization, or are in any way directly and officially affiliated with a religious organization, religious symbols should not be visibly displayed in your office.

This is a very sensitive matter:  if it is important to you for moral support, position such items in such a way that only you can see them.

  1. Artwork and trinkets

As above, less is more, and much depends on the size of the office. In general, one or two pictures on the walls and one trinket per desk should be plenty. Accumulating many trinkets on your desk will make it look crowded, and it will make you look disorganized, and what’s worse  – childish.

If you have talented and prolific children, make an effort and limit the number of their creations displayed in your office to one or two. Keep the rest in the filing cabinet, and rotate them if you like, but don’t make your office look like a day-care centre.


That’s it. Really simple. Easy to achieve and very effective.


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