Control of office space

I think I'm sitting in my home office. It's actually the local coffee shop. I've just read an article titled Designing Your Own Workspace Improves Health, Happiness and Productivity. It tells me that "Studies have revealed the potential for remarkable improvements in workers' attitudes to their jobs by allowing them to personalize their offices." Why do I need to personalize my space? Well here's the answer: Because "When people feel uncomfortable in their surroundings they are less engaged — not only with the space but also with what they do in it. If they can have some control, that all changes and people report being happier at work, identifying more with their employer, and are more efficient when doing their jobs."

Oh, but my employer wants me out of the space for all kinds of reasons that add up to a whole range of cost and efficiency savings plus the noted productivity gains. (If you're interested, another article I read lists all the pluses of having a mobile workforce from both employee and employer perspectives). So, when I go to the bricks and mortar office where my employer is based I don't have an office. I am one of the growing band of mobile workers who books a hoteling space and sits as and where.

But here's my question: if I can't I personalize my offices – which today are:
• The coffee shop I just mentioned
• The train I will be traveling on to meet with a client
• The hotel space in the 'real' office
• My space at home where I do a lot of my work

will I be unhappy, less engaged, and less productive because I can't control my space? After all, I'm reading "If employees can have some control, [over their workspace] people report being happier at work, identifying more with their employer, and are more efficient when doing their jobs. Well, as a passenger, I don't have a lot of control over Amtrak. So what can I do to feel in control of my workspace – wherever it is – in order to be happy, productive, and engaged.

Thinking about this I realize that, of course, my back pack is my office space. How could I be so dumb as not to instantly know this? It reflects my work habits and personality – anyone could take a look at or in it and get an impression of who I am. So, here are my twelve tips for personalizing and feeling in control of backpack office space:

  1. Get a good backpack (or wheely bag) that has pockets but not too many. I've found that a square backpack works best for me. It seems easier to find things in than the traditionally curved ones. One I like is by Kenneth Cole.
  2. Do not to fling things randomly in the bag but to put the items back in their 'own' pocket. (I've learned this the hard way!) That way you won't be searching through a jumble of stuff when, for example, you need a pen because someone is about to tell you an address or important piece of info.
  3. Have small baggalini's for stuff within the pockets. I now put my small travel mouse in a nylon bag because it kept falling apart when it was loose in the pocket. You can get little ripstop nylon bags in multiple colors which helps locate them in the depths of a black backpack.
  4. Get a travel mouse – it makes life a whole lot easier than trying to work just with the laptop keyboard. Mine is a gigaware one and the receiver stores in the mouse so no fear of losing it – at least I haven't yet and I've had it several years
  5. Carry a basic office kit of supplies: mine includes highlighter pen (you can get a nifty one that also has flags in it for marking pages. A pencil with eraser, small stapler, scotch tape, paper clips, small pair of scissors. I put these in a small clear box – rather like the pencil case I used to have at elementary school with compartments.
  6. Pack a bamboo reusable cutlery set from To-Go Ware. Mine was a gift from someone so it's both a reminder of him and incredibly useful. It means I don't have to use disposable stuff, it's easy and light and come in a case made from plastic bottles – so sustainability all round.
  7. Stick on each of the various tools of the trade that you need at all times: laptop, power cord, blackberry, notebook, mouse, ear-piece, etc. a sticker with your name and phone number on each item. I've had my power cord and my ear-piece returned when I left them places because the finder was able to contact me.
  8. Tag the backpack with a luggage tag or identifier that really speaks you. Mine has just a simple red heart one but every time I pick up my pack I am reminded that my daughter gave it to me. You can also get photos made into luggage tags which is the equivalent of photo on desk. It's very easy when black backpacks are so lookalike to seize the wrong one from an overhead bin.
  9. Always have a few documents or stuff in hardcopy to work on. If your battery fails, or your standing in a line or you have to switch off 'all portable electronic devices', it's a good use of time to be reviewing, researching, catching up on reading or whatever.
  10. Develop the mindset of 'anywhere is my office'. Small personal touches – color of your luggage tag, pink crystal stapler, or silver rhinestone computer mouse (yes you can get these!) will help you feel you've personalized your space
  11. Clear out the backpack every single evening. It's amazing how many items you can inadvertently collect in a day – business cards, napkins, receipts, pens, documents you don't need after the meeting you just went to. Don't let it get cluttered up.
  12. Carry a couple of empty Ziploc or small plastic bags, and a ripstop folding nylon shopper, and a packet of travel wipes – they all come in handy. (Take my word for it).

Mostly I feel in control of my backpack as office space. Days it's not so good are when one of the zips gets stuck in a paper tissue, or when I accidentally put it down in a pool of spilled coffee (but hey, I have wipes!) or when I forget my rule of putting everything it's correct place and spend a long time searching for my locker key which has fallen to the bottom of the last pocket I look in. But oh well, bricks and mortar office life is full of small irritations and backpack office life is no different. For me the pluses of it totally outweigh the minuses of it. Give it a go sometime – you'll never look back.

NOTE: The piece I was going to post this week on useful websites I've come across will now appear on April 11.