Feng shui for the office
The concept of feng shui (pron. foong shway) is the Chinese art of creating balance in our environment through the placement of objects. Its goal is to help us arrange our surroundings to maximise harmony with the natural order, in any setting, be it in the home, workplace or the garden . . . or further afield. Here are some key elements.
1. Take the command position
In positioning the desk in the workroom or office space, think carefully about its relation to the door and the windows. It should be positioned so you can easily see the door. That’s called the command position, and it provides a sense of empowerment, so you always know when people enter the room. If you can't see the door from your desk, it implies life can sneak up on you, that you tend not to face problems directly, and that you’re easily startled and constantly dealing with unexpected events. In other words, you've yielded control over the space. Ideally, sit in the corner furtherest from the entrance to the room. Arrange your desk so you can see the door when seated. Keep your back toward a corner or a wall for ‘support’. If your back is to a window or any protruding structure or column, place a curtain or a room divider to simulate the effect of a wall or 'mountain' to support you. From the command position, you can greet people; they won’t be staring at your back or peering over your shoulder to see what you’re doing! Also, you don’t want to be twisting around to see who’s entering the room. If possible, don’t sit in line with the door, as you will be in the path of whatever energy is flowing your way. Sometimes you will want to avoid or deflect some energies! If working from home, don’t face away from the door; business will symbolically be coming to you through the door, so don't turn your back on it. Never arrange your workspace so you look straight out into a corridor or see the stairs, storage rooms, cupboards, lifts, escalators, or toilets.
The desk can either be free positioned in the room, so you can walk all the way around it or it can have one side flush with the wall. If you can, position your chair so your back is against a solid wall to create a sense of security. If this isn’t possible, try placing a row of lush plants behind your seating area. In any event, the desk should never be facing a wall. Avoid built-in desks, or if you can’t, place a mirror on your desk so you can see who’s coming in without turning around. (But, in general, don’t have any mirrors in your office, as they can reflect negative energy from clients to other people in the room, assuming you share the space. Even if you don’t share the space, they are unnecessary.) Always maintain control over the energy in your office space.
Another tip for the top of the desk is to employ the bagua: Divide your desk into nine squares (3x3), the far left corner at the back is the prosperity part of the desk. Place an amethyst crystal or an object that holds meaning for you. On that part of my desk, I have a butterfly pendant to symbolise freedom to fly about and as a symbol of rebirth. More on the bagua
2. Clear the clutter, keep everything well-maintained
Another principle is to live with what you like. It means not having anything in your space you don’t like — or don’t need. So, declutter. See Unstuffing Your Life. The main thing is holding onto something you don’t like or need will prevent you finding or having what you do like around you. Organise the paperwork and files to weed out the unwanted. Keep them in well-organised filing systems and storage cabinets. If you need to keep paper records, that’s their home. One folder of current work on or near the desk should suffice. With most office work being digital and computers having ‘filing cabinets’ too, keep files off that desktop as much as possible! They are clutter. Likewise, delete old emails and files. What you keep are your records. They are a tangible indication of your business transactions. Treat them well.
Remove viruses and malware from computers and, if you use a screen saver, make it one of landscapes, flowers and positive images. Keep your computer screen clean too. Even flat-screens, whether LCD or retina, can collect dust. Wipe the screen with a soft cloth regularly. A clean computer monitor screen is also a less of an eye strain.
Keep cords to equipment well hidden to eliminate clutter and the risk of tripping; secure them neatly behind furniture. Too many wires and cables represent chaos. Don’t ignore maintenance and repair broken items or replace them asap.
3. Use colour
A balance of colours is important. Too much of the one colour or similar, for example, cool colours such as blue and green or white, can leave you too relaxed. That’s not so good for workspaces; save the chillout colours and the whites for the bedroom! The reds, oranges, and yellows are friendly, approachable and lively, while dark blue and indigo/purple are classic, authoritative and sophisticated. Bright colours add enthusiasm and energy, but don’t make them too bright as very vivid colours can be too much for an office. Muted and pastel colours — for instance, soft yellow, sandstone, pale gold, pale orange, pale green, blue green — denote a more conservative, casual feeling. However, too soft and you may want sleep rather than work! Above all, your choice should make you feel comfortable and reflect the nature of the activity in the room, that is, what kind of work you do.
Dark rooms are to be avoided. Ceilings should be painted a light colour, since a dark colour will make you feel hemmed in or that there's a cloud hanging over you as you work.
Overall, balance light and dark colours, soft and hard surfaces, and smooth and rough textures in your choice of window treatments (blinds/curtains), furniture, and flooring.
Whatever colours you decide on, make sure they help you feel at ease.
4. Choosing a space and setting it up
A separate room in the house or a separated work space if working in an office is ideal as it minimises distraction and disruption, from work colleagues, or, if working from home, from household chores, the television, or family members who might want your attention. Also, if working from home, you might want to consider a separate entrance.
Make sure your furniture is fit for purpose and isn’t too big that any single item dominates the room. It’s good to have enough room to move around freely. Avoid furniture or objects with sharp angles and edges; have desk corners rounded or smoothed if need be. Or, reposition them so they aren’t facing you while you work or you don’t pass near them as you move about. Likewise, ensure the room is wired appropriately and has enough well-placed electrical outlets; minimise extension cords.
If designing your room from scratch, sketch out a floorplan. Draw approximate shapes and sizes to represent the major pieces in the room, such as the desk, chair, computer, peripherals, shelves and filing cabinets. Keep items you use most frequently close by.
Incorporating a water feature and plants into your workspace can improve the room’s atmosphere. For instance, you could add a fountain with moving water. A live plant can also help improve indoor air quality. And adding a plant or flowers, which symbolise life and growth, can breathe new energy into a room and help circulate what is already there.
5. Get the ergonomics and placement right
Make the space comfortable. Choose office furniture that’s sturdy and ergonomic. If sitting, choose an easily-adjustable, ergonomically-correct chair or opt for a mediball. (See Sitting).
The top of your computer screen should be at eye level or slightly below to minimise stress on your neck; wrist rests for your keyboard and mouse/trackpad can also be helpful if you do a lot of typing and mouse/trackpad work.
Avoid eyestrain by adding adequate lighting, positioned so shadows do not fall over your work. Natural lighting through the windows is best. When it comes to artificial light, opt for warm full-spectrum light bulbs. Avoid blue-spectrum fluorescent lights.
Because they don’t flicker and mirror how the eye sees, retina screens are best. Put your computer in the north or west area of your office to enhance your creativity. Place the computer in the south-east if you use it to generate income.
If sharing a space, whether at home or with other staff in an office setting, don’t sit back-to-back or face-to-face. If you can’t, try staggering your desks or creating a small barrier with a plant or other object to break up the space.
6. Add a personal touch
Photos, artwork and music can all add to the ambience of your space and stimulate creativity. In particular, include images and objects that are inspiring, such as pictures with mottos or images that symbolise what you want to accomplish. As different items have different energy, electronics such as computers, TVs and other devices have strong energy and need to be softened with objects that have soft lines and energy, such as nature and pictures. If working from a home office, even a lounge chair for relaxing can help. Just because you work from a home office doesn’t mean it has to look like a corporate office!
And remember, it can evolve over time as your needs and wants and desires change. You don’t need to spend a fortune on the room to make it work. It’s the little touches that count. And, as always, less is more.
7. The frame of the room
Watch out for overhead beams, lattice-like ceilings, the low side of a slanted ceiling, sharp angles from interior corners, and an overhead fan in a room with a low ceiling. While flat ceilings are ideal, you can use wind chimes and bamboo flutes when you have exposed beams or sloping ceilings. Pillars and columns may hinder the smooth flow of the office; again, screens and curtains can help. Improper lighting also acts as a barrier to effective work. Use full-spectrum lights and local lamps to light up the office space. Harsh lighting can cause eye fatigue while dim lighting can promote lethargy.
8. Beyond the room
Keep in mind what’s going on in the neighbouring rooms as well as outside the building. For example, what may seem like the perfect command position for your desk may not be so perfect if your office shares a wall with your kitchen or bathroom, and the toilet, shower, stove or refrigerator is right on the other side of the wall behind the desk. Another example would be an office in the front of a house very close to the road. Here, the command position might indicate placing the desk against the exterior wall, where traffic may make it difficult to work. In this case, you may find placing your desk so it is in the Command Position relative to the road, rather than the doorway, is the better option. In many cases a review of the pros and cons of a space may indicate that the best location for your desk may be one that is not quite in the command position, but that protects you from other influences.
This also applies to placing a bed in the bedroom. The best possible furniture placement in any room in your home often involves a compromise between several different feng shui guidelines. The more you know about how the different features of your home affect your space, the better able you will be to make the placement choices that are best for you.
If you work in an office, and it’s located in an area with derelict buildings and closed businesses, it’s not an auspicious sign. Try not to locate your office at the end of a deadend road. Follow the same bagua principles of feng shui in the office layout too. Place the cash and financial documents in the wealth area of the office. If you work from a home office, separate the home office from the rest of the living space to keep your business and personal lives separate; use screens or bookcases for partitioning.
The five elements of feng shui
In feng shui, there are five elements that attract energy and need to be balanced. These include:
Wood. Creativity and growth. Green. Trees, plants, or green objects.
Fire. Passion, energy, expansion, boldness, transformation. Red. Candles, especially red candles that enhance fire.
Water. Emotion and inspiration. Blue. Water or water features.
Earth. Stability and strength. Brown or tan. Rocks, carpets, old books.
Metal. Metal unites all elements, while offering focus and order. Use objects that are metal or white, silver, or grey in colour.
What to do if your options are limited
If you work in a cubicle and have limited opportunities to change the room layout, you can still employ some feng shui principles. Here are five that you can usually apply no matter what your circumstances.
Add a plant and/or water bowl with rocks in the bottom to your space
If allowed, add an oil burner to diffuse relaxing oils
Keep your desk clutter-free
If your back faces the door or entrance of your cubicle, try placing a mirror at your desk, so you can at least see the entrance
Invest in a good chair
The Bagua consists of the “ba" = 8 (octagon) and “gua" = area or trigram. These guas make up the octagon and signify eight areas of life: Prosperity, Reputation, Relationships, Community, Creativity, Knowledge, Lifepath, Helpful People. The ninth area in the centre signifies you, your well being, health and vitality. These nine elements are used to form a 3 x 3 square map. The Bagua map can be superimposed over the layout of your whole home or a particular room or a desktop, so you can make any adjustments to squares that represent specific areas of life, especially any difficult ones. The Bagua derives from the book of The I-Ching.
View and download the Bagua map as a pdf.
Feng shui means wind and water. Think of how they flow. That's how you want your space to flow. Free-flowing space creates free-flowing energy. To achieve harmony, you have to have balance. When we talk about emotional and mental health, we say we need balance. It’s the same with our physical surroundings.
Peace of mind and a piece of furniture in Ebony September 1995 by Laura B Randolph
Feng Shui Dos & Taboos by Angi Ma Wong
The Command Position by Stephanie Roberts