Hot desks, cold pies and chocolate bars

taskmasterAs Taskmaster readers will know by now, there’s recently been some renovations up at Taskmaster Towers. This has led to the inevitable question of where everyone is going to sit.


The seating arrangements were eventually resolved through a secret questionnaire.


However, one suggestion persistently reared its ugly little head like a competitive eater at an all-you-can-eat buffet: “Why not try hot-desking? You know, instead of allocating desks, anyone is free to sit at whichever desk they claim. It’s first in, first served seating, just like at a small town country roadhouse.”


Just like diversified conglomerates in the ‘60s, kanban production charts in the ‘70s, paperless offices in the ‘80s or open-plan workspaces and corporate downsizing in the ‘90s, it seems that hot-desking is currently the “chef’s special of the day” of management techniques.


“You should take up hot-desking because… well… you just should” seems to be the argument of many of its proponents.


Then there’s the “Diet Coke” version of hot-desking, known as clean-desking. In essence, aside from a very short list of items that are permitted at a desk, anything else gets thrown in the garbage by the cleaners at the end of the day. While you might have a regular photo frame, your desk must be clean enough that someone else can use it.


Of course, this just leaves one tiny, nearly insignificant question: Does it actually work when it’s applied in practice?


Well, in evaluating the answer, Old Taskmaster came across a couple of excellent articles on the subject by Myriam Robin from Leading Company and Justine Humphry at The Conversation. The answer is no, albeit a qualified one.


The short answer is the methods don’t work for the same reason most people think Soviet-style housing commission flats and the Melbourne Docklands are such architectural disasterpieces. They’re soulless.


People like having a sense of place and space. They’re more productive when they’re in their “nest” than when they’re in some soulless space outside it. Just make sure, as Kath Walters points out, people eat their cold pies and chocolate bars in the lunch room.


In their book A Perfect Mess, authors Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman make a compelling case that creative chaos and a low-level of messiness can actually be more productive than perfect organisation. Messy people take heart: You’re more productive than your neat-freak brethren (at least according to Abrahamson and Freedman).


The moral of the story is simple. If you’re looking at clean-desking or hot-desking, make sure you look at the other side of the story first. If you still want to go ahead with it at your start-up, try it on a small-scale trial basis with a few of your staff before you order the special of the day for everyone.


Get it done – today!


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