As I am placed at my second field education site, I have gotten a better idea of what makes a social worker’s office comfortable for clients, and allows for beneficial communication and collaboration. This is, of course, assuming that as as social worker you have an office to work with. I understand some are not so lucky. The tips and themes below, will nonetheless, be able to loosely apply for cubicles. Enjoy, and feel free to let me know what elements you use to make your office a space and enjoyable space for you and your clients.
Invest in comfort.
Comfort is my number one tip, and the overarching goal to a workplace. This is not just for clients to feel welcome and open up, but also for the social worker. We have difficult and grueling jobs. We need our own offices to feel comfortable, safe, and a place of quiet retreat. Add throw pillows, have warm lighting, get a soft blanket. If you’re feeling particularly great, buy appealing furniture, such as a couch and set of chairs, as well as an area rug. When working with young kiddos, having furniture items being darker color may be beneficial, or ensure that any messy work is done at another table. Aside from your desk, and if the space allows, have a smaller table you can meet clients at, almost like a coffee table. I don’t have an office of my own that I am able to decorate, as I am only an intern, but my dream is to also have my own stash of snacks and a Keurig, accompanied by a collection of my favorite mugs. This could also include a mini fridge with juice boxes and water. (I realize this is an ideal situation). Also having lovely smelling candles, or an essential oil diffuser can significantly add to the feeling of comfort, welcoming, and openness. Essential oils can also be chosen that specifically are stressing relieving or calming. It’s these little elements of our environment that can impact client relationships.
Part of instilling comfort into your office is adding color. I am a person that loves a neutral aesthetic, but color adds happiness and welcoming. I enjoy the blush pink tone, Especially when working with children, and even with adults, you don’t want them to feel like they’re in an unwelcoming, uncomfortable office just to check off an appointment. Color adds dimension, and people can see that effort put in. Not just the color of the walls, or accent pillows, but having beautiful plants or flowers in your office can add that color and sense of life as well.
Personalize the office, but be cautious.
In social work school, I have often been told to be careful when displaying pictures of your children or family members. This could depend on the client population as well, but I do think this is good advice to assist in keeping the work-life balance and separation. If you do have family pictures, keep them on your desk, facing away from clients, or put them away when you have appointments. You could also have your computer background be a family picture, while the ones hanging up are of coworkers, nature, etc. Another aspect of personalization is in the details. What color scheme do you like, what is the aesthetic your’e going for?
Have a bookshelf.
I have a complete love and passion for books, social work books in particular. I feel a sense of joy when I see an office with a large bookshelf. Having book shelf is also a simple and easy way to have reference material at the ready, and creates a good image for clients. On the bottom shelf, you can also have kids books that are easy-to-reach. Social workers are in a position of power with clients, and they know that. Allowing them to see a lot of books, and understand that we have a plethora of knowledge and education behind our skills can be reassurance to them, as well as help them understand that success can come from education, therefore helping them create goals and aspire higher.
Pictures & Artwork.
Along with personalization, the walls of your office can be decorated with artwork from the children you work with or your own children, inspiring quotes on resiliency and strength, and anything in between. You can find the below pictures on my ETSY shop, as they add a cute element to any office feel.
Art Supplies, Games, Toys.
On that extra table that isn’t desk, if space allows, this can be the area where pictures are painted, crafts are made, and games are played. Crafty scissors, construction paper, paints, brushes, stress balls, board games, cards, anything. If you’ll be painting in session, you can get creative and hang up a string and use laundry clips to simultaneously show off and dry the art. Whatever allows for fun and rapport building engagement!
Cleaning Products & Organization Elements.
Having a little bin is very handy. At home, I have handy Chlorox wipes, a hand-held car vacuum, and a spray air freshener. I’m also highly intrigued by shelves, files, binders, and bins that allow for creative and cute organization. Utilizing these same things in an office space can result in efficient work, decreased stress, and a beneficial work environment.
Self Care Goodies.
This one is mostly for you! Self care goodies could include the whole office and the comfortable space you made it. You could also have a pair of slippers you sneak on when you’re doing paper work, a little nook with a chair and side table, a journal, speakers for music. Bring a yoga mat with you and do some stretches at lunch, have gym shoes with you to walk and clear your head. Create a do not disturb sign to give yourself five minutes of quiet. Any items you personally need to feel good, and assist in you being the best practicing social worker possible!
Your Credentials & Diplomas.
The pride and joy of any social worker. What we worked so hard for, and paid so much money for. Display your credentials, license, and diploma proudly and in cute frames (frames are VERY expensive, so get creative). Something that I am looking forward to is framing and hanging each of my diplomas from community college, a SUNY school, and then Columbia. That progression motivates me, and is a good reminder that any huge goal has steps to take to get there. Again, this can also serve as a motivational factor for clients, showing them there is more out there and that education, or any type of training and schooling is valuable and useful.
I hope this post serves as inspiration, though I understand it is quite idealistic. Whatever your office space looks like, even if it is simply one desk in a crowded space, make it your’s. Get comfortable, look at the details. It will not only serve you and your mental health, but also allow clients to come to you and have a sense of relief, as well as give them a much-needed break from their lives.
May your week be great, and your social work skills be on point and thriving.
~Laura Swanson, BSW
Disclaimer: None of the images in this blog post are mine, they were found in a Google Search.