Don’t abandon the office just yet

A fascinating debate has been sparked by BHP Billiton’s shift to its new office tower in Perth, a move which has been accompanied by the release of an 11-page set of rules about what employees can or can’t do at their desk.

The rules are very, very specific.

Chewing gum and throat lollies are OK to consume at your desk, but chocolate is out.

Cold soup is fine, but don’t you dare try and drink a hot soup at your desk.

One A5 photo or certificate can be placed on the desk, but only one.

And at the end of the day, a total of eight items may be left on your desk, so that it is ready to be used by the next occupant.

Today we’ve got a great story from LeadingCompany looking at whether the policy promotes productivity, but essentially the idea is that the “clean desk” policy promotes workplace flexibility – anyone can use any desk at any time, which is important if you’ve got staff from different areas (such as the mines) making short stays at the office.

The food policy – which basically boils down to the idea that hot food should be consumed in a common area – is all about getting people talking over lunch.

Both are nice ideas, but whether they really require the support of an 11-page set of strict rules is debatable.

However, it is worth noting that CEOs at several big companies – including big four bank NAB – have embraced the idea of giving up the corner office in favour of a hot desk or a clean desk. Or a hot, clean desk even.

Entrepreneurs always like to watch what the big end of town is doing, but I reckon this is one trend to avoid.

Having your own office isn’t just a status symbol that separates you from the rest of your staff – the office door is actually an important business tool.

For an entrepreneur struggling to deal each week with thousands of emails, hundreds of questions and countless little decisions, having the ability to shut the door and get a bit of time to actually focus on a task is priceless.

Productivity experts always talk about having periods of no distraction during the day to ensure you actually get things done – without an office door, this is simply impossible.

Having an office and an office door also allows entrepreneurs a space to hold private – and occasionally difficult – conversations. Having an office means employees know there is a safe, private environment where they can talk with you.

Does having an office and not being out on the “shop floor” mean you’re not one of the team, or above the rest of the team?

I’m not sure that’s right, but I would say there are times when a leader doesn’t want to be part of the team and does need to be above the rest of the team.

So be careful giving up the idea of the office. Once that door is gone, you’ll miss it!


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