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What Happened To All Those Office Knick-Knacks and Tchotchkes With Work From Home?

Family pictures. Squish balls. Little dinosaurs. Action figures. Company awards. Crayon drawings from little ones. Cat calendars. All that stuff that once “personalized” our work office or cube when we had a work office or cube — what became of it?

As many companies quickly pivoted to Work From Home (WFH) and shut down their office operations they asked their employees to clean out their workspaces and take things home. Home, to their, um, new “offices.” That included not only books, files, records, and other items they needed to do their jobs, it also meant all those things with which employees adorned their desks, offices, or cubicles.

The bobbleheads. The Magic 8-Ball. The coffee cups with witticisms like “You don’t have to be crazy to work here — we’ll train you!” The ersatz Dunder Mifflin-branded paraphernalia. Trinkets. Gewgaws.

How many of those items are currently occupying space in employees’ home offices, which are sometimes just a spare bedroom or a dining room table?

Is there even table or desk space available for the little fake flower bouquet, the Disney World souvenir, the miniature Rubik’s Cube, the homemade pen holders, the miscellaneous bric-a-brac, the tchotchkes from the last offsite team meeting? What about the steel ball “perpetual motion machine,” which actually has a name — Newton’s Cradle (I did not know that before…).

Newton’s Cradle

Scarce Desktop Real Estate

Desktop real estate can be a scarce commodity at home so perhaps many of those knick-knacks are still sitting in boxes collecting dust. Or perhaps they are in a landfill somewhere, even the proudly saved name tags from those many conferences attended in the pre-pandemic era. Since no co-workers come to the home office, what’s the point of displaying little gadgets and gizmos that once served as conversation pieces or which simply differentiated your cube from all of the others?

Is company “flair” even relevant for the home office beyond one or two little things that might remind us of life from the former office days? Who else really cares? Certainly not the family pet or the six-year-old daughter. When extended family come to visit, do they really hang out in the home office and would they even ask about something like the Office Space pseudo-iconic red stapler on the desk or the faux reset button?

And the walls. How many inspirational or humorous signs or posters that once embellished the wall space at the office do WFH employees want to hang on their walls at home beyond a couple of things that serve as a backdrop to disguise the spare-bedroom-turned-office for Zoom calls? Having something work-related on a wall in addition to that bookcase in the background populated with largely unread books creates that much-needed touch of professionalism for the WFH associate, but beyond that…

How things have changed with the pandemic. Or have they?

My Own WFH Story

Once upon a time (2007 actually) I also transitioned from the company office to a home office. I had built a house a farther commuting distance away from our DDI regional office and had designed a room to be an actual home office. File cabinets. Bookshelves. A whiteboard. A dedicated landline. A dedicated printer for work stuff so the other printer downstairs was reserved for personal use.

Although I also maintained a cubicle workspace desk at work I would only go in every couple of weeks for meetings (this was in pre-videoconference days) so I brought many of the desk/office baubles home to decorate the new home office. Prominently displayed were the fuzzy dinosaur and the miniature Audi convertible model (I was driving the full-size version).

And I did hang some things on the walls — some company VIP award plaques; a thank-you from a local nonprofit I had served; a few framed photos. It had a real office feel to it although for several years I probably spent more time in airports than I did in that home office.

Fast forward to 2015 — we sold that house and built another one, again with a dedicated home office. But this time things were different. All of the knick-knacks and office accouterments from the former home office had been packed into boxes and this time they stayed in the moving boxes. The new home office was spacious and functional but austere, even boring. No fuzzy dinosaur, no granddaughter-made popsicle stick pencil holder, nothing on the walls except a few pictures from overseas trips.

I’m not sure why I abandoned the fun stuff. Perhaps the novelty of personalizing my own home office had worn off, had gotten stale. Maybe after 40+ years in the workforce and having worked out of 20 or more offices in that period, the idea of decorating my workspace just didn’t seem very important anymore.

With the WFH trend becoming permanent for many associates I wonder if all of that office culture stuff will soon seem like office clutter stuff like it did for me. Perhaps I should ask that question of my Magic 8-Ball from my former home office if I only knew which box in the basement it’s in.

About the author: Mike Hoban is a business topics writer and leadership coach/ advisor. He is actively working at becoming a world-class grandpa to his five young granddaughters. In addition to his 35+ years experience as a leader, consultant and business owner he has also published extensively in Fast Company and wrote a business column for 12 years. Many of his recent commentaries — including several about leading during the COVID crisis — can be found on his LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-hoban-b5756b6/He can also be reached at mjhoban99@gmail.com.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

Mike Hoban is a West Michigan-based leadership coach and advisor who also writes about business topics.