A Clean Sweep: What Your Office Says About You

June 29, 2021


Is your office orderly, or do stacks of documents give it the feel of an archeological exploration into the ancient history of your organisation?

If you’re reading this from your office, take a quick break from your computer. Stand up, give yourself a good stretch and then step away from your office or work station; take five minutes for a walk. While this is something we assistants – aka sedentary workers, if you talk to an occupational therapist or a kinesiologist  – should do repeatedly throughout each work day, I suggest it now so that you can take a walk down the hallway and take a look at others’ offices.

Without being intrusive, check your impressions of colleagues’ offices or work stations. Are they pristine, cluttered, or somewhere in between … and what impressions do such appearances provide you about the people therein? Unless you work for, or closely with, your CEO or another senior executive, you don’t want to stroll into their offices. Nor would you run your finger along a VP’s bookshelf checking for dust whilst inwardly salivating over the artwork or views, or give anyone the wrong impression about why you’re patrolling the corridors. You can, though, conduct an inobtrusive environmental scan, as it were.

After eyeballing the executives’ offices, turn your eyes to those of their EAs or PAs; then have a gander at some of the work stations of the office manager or other administrative professionals who work in or near the C-Suite. Artwork aside, how do the assistants’ environments compare with the executives’ work areas? Next, stroll back to your digs and view them as would someone visiting you at work for the first time.

What does your office say about you, and your work habits? Would you be comfortable having your spouse/significant other or a good friend see the environment in which you spend most of your waking hours?

If you were an executive considering prospective candidates for a new job opportunity or promotion, would you mentally shortlist someone with a work space such as yours?

In other words, does the organisation of your office help or hinder your personal brand? If you’re an EA with an impeccably organised office, good on you. If you’re cringing, though, at the realisation that those assorted stacks of reading materials, expense claims and must-read articles more closely represent a barricade around your work station than anything else, take a deep breath whilst simultaneously kicking that box of shredding materials beneath your desk and mentally adding yet another item to your to-do list of jobs to tackle.

Some assistants may consider a pristine work environment, with a clutter-free desk, an indicator to your boss that you haven’t enough work to keep you busy. Others may subscribe to the Laurence J. Peter school of thought: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what is the significance of a clean desk?”  Further compounding the matter is the fact that many assistants are recipients of frequent piles of paper from others in the office – including those executives whose  offices we EAs ensure are spotless and perfectly organised.

It’s easy to become so caught up in multitasking that, while aware of the shortcomings of our environment, we fail to prioritise it as an important reflection of our professionalism.

If you’re among those EAs who buries her/himself in making others look good, to the detriment of your own reputation, make a point of developing new habits. Some assistants schedule periodic purge-and-declutter dates in  their calendars. If you’re among those who have been optimistically hoping for some quiet time, perhaps at the cusp of the upcoming holidays, to purge and reorganise, why wait? Invest a bit of time on a weekly or daily basis, beginning now, to tame the beast that is your office. Check in tomorrow for some strategies to ensure your office represents you, and your personal brand, in the best possible light.

About the Author:

Shelagh Donnelly educates and inspire assistants on topics ranging from meetings and minutes to business acumen, cybersecurity and working with boards. She helps assistants nurture their adaptability, productivity and resilience in order to enjoy the career and continue to add value even as roles evolve. An international speaker, Shelagh worked with C-level executives for more than 25 years and is recognized for her governance expertise. Shelagh founded her globally read Exceptional EA website in 2013, and is the author of the upcoming book, The Resilient Assistant.   

This article first appeared in Exceptional EA, a globally respected professional development resource for administrative professionals. Visit to find out more and tell her we sent you

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