Personal decorations for your office cube are seen as “territorial markers,” writes BPS. But more than that, researchers have found from a recent study that these trinkets help build relationships within a company by creating visual icebreakers.

Researchers Kris Byron and Gregory Laurence interviewed 28 people across a number of professions in various workplaces. The study was a deep dive into the items these people left in their workspaces from Star Wars figurines to MBA certificates, going through each piece that stood within their cubes asking about its significance.

They found that the trinkets acted as ambassadors for workers, helping workers express their personalities to others within the office.

Byron and Laurence photographed each of the participants' workspaces, examining how these spaces looked from an outsider's perspective. They found that most conversational pieces were displayed where they would be noticed most. When the researchers spoke to the participants about these conversational trinkets, they expressed how important they were to building relationships within the company.

In a Big Think interview, Sam Gosling, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, explains the important psychological comfort we gain by personalizing the space around us:

"People tend to be happier, healthier, and more productive when they can bring other people's view into line with their own. ... They want to be known. It provides them with more predictability. They know you know how to react to them, and the interactions go more easily when everyone has a good understanding of who is who."

When Byron and Laurence, the researchers behind the present study, conducted interviews of workers who had personalized their office space, they were told that businesses preferred clean, sterile workspaces as evidence of cleanliness and order. But that approach ignores the personal connections which grease gears of business relationships. They write:

"[Businesses] want to have such strong relationships with customers but they’re taking away the personal elements that I think can lend towards building those types of relationships with clients."

It's an interesting thought; companies often want to present a certain image, while building good relationships between workers. However, office parties may not be the only way to do that — letting your workers add a little office flare may help in the day-to-day. As an introvert who once worked in a corporate office building, being able to personalize my workspace was an important part of meeting and bonding with the people I worked with on a personal level. Without them, I'd have been the loner in my office.

The researchers note that "organizations would be unwise to put excessive limits on employees’ personalization of their workspaces."

To read more about the study, check out BPS.

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