The introduction of a clear desk policy can give rise to a range of reactions, from denial and panic, to the smug smile of the person who already clears their desk.
The fact is that offices and teams need a range of characters to function well, as any HR recruitment department will tell you. You can’t have a whole bunch of raving extroverts who are too noisy and have too many social events or a coven of introverts who need total silence with no-one knowing the name of the person sitting next to them. You need a mix.
And the state of people’s desks can indicate whether you have got the mix just right. At one end, there is the fanatically tidy type who has a desk that isn’t just clear but also cleaned with antibacterial spray each morning.
At the other extreme, there is the type of person that we didn’t have a name for until the American series “Hoarders” started airing on TV.
We know the problem with the hoarders: they are incapable of throwing anything away. It’s no good telling them that a clutter-free desk is a joy.
They get joy from knowing that right down at the bottom of the three-foot pile of folders and documents on their desk they still have that office reorganisation report from 1997. It will come in handy one day, they’re sure of it.
It’s no good pointing out to these people that the office has gone paperless and everything is available on corporate servers in the Cloud.
They will grin manically and explain that you are so right! And it means that they are the only person in possession of the original of such a thing, which doesn’t exist digitally and can’t ever be found again, except for the copy on their desk.
Where they can’t actually find whatever it is.
In the middle of these two extremes are a bunch of people who enthusiastically agree that a clear desk policy is a marvellous thing, but then completely ignore it.
They may think that the failure of the organisation to stick to its open-door policy, well-being policy, staff consultation policy and a dozen other corporate fads means that they can ignore this one too, and that it will soon pass over, like a rainy weather front.
Then there is the colleague who always has an immaculately ordered array of biros, felt-tips, pencils and other items for which there is absolutely no need in a modern office.
Other co-workers who find it amusing to meddle with the carefully arranged coloured felt-tips and replace them in the wrong order while the somewhat obsessive colleague is at lunch need to know that they are headed for an interview with HR and the Equality Officer, soonest.
OK, so clear desks can give us a sense that we have finished a day’s work and are ready to start the next in an orderly manner. Either that, or a sense of blind panic that we may have arrived in the wrong office. One or the other: take your pick.
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