Earlier in my career, there were a couple of occasions where I had to share an office.
The roles that eventually gave me a room of my own were head of sixth form, deputy head and head. I soon found that the way you arrange your office and how you use it – including how often your door’s open or closed – reflects your leadership priorities and how you manage relationships.
A head I knew and respected once said to me, ‘Daytime is for people; evenings and weekends are for paper.’ That’s certainly how it was for me. As a head of sixth form, my office door was open whenever I was in there alone, unless I was negotiating an especially tricky telephone conversation. People would often call in and speak to me – to ask questions, tell me something, share a moan or a joke, and occasionally tears. Giving time to all this was important to me; the emails and the contents of my in-tray could wait until the end of the day.
Upon becoming a deputy, I surveyed the office layout I inherited from my predecessor. Walking through the door, the working desk was ahead of you and the deputy sat behind it. There was only one other chair in the room, on the opposite side of the desk facing her.
I opted to move the working desk so it was under the window; that way, I could look out into a courtyard area where staff and students tended to circulate. It also meant that if someone came into the office to speak to me, I could turn to face them without the barrier of the desk between us. I additionally asked for two easy chairs and a low table for a corner of the room, so that when I met with staff, pupils or parents one-to-one we sat next to each other, on comfortable chairs, with a table for our drinks – and occasionally a box of tissues…
As a head, I sought to arrange my new office in a similar way, with extra chairs for small group meetings. I gave some thought to what I wanted on the walls – artwork and photographs that lifted me and a noticeboard on which were displayed cards I’d received, as well as important information. I’ve always kept plants in my offices (I like greenery) and fresh flowers. There would always be fresh fruit too, so that I’d be tempted to nibble at that, rather than the cakes and biscuits that regularly made their way into the staffroom. I further asked to have my name on the door, rather than my title.
Think about it – what does your office say about you?
Jill Berry is a leadership consultant, author and former headteacher