A spectre is haunting Europe. It is the spectre of the spotlessly tidy desk! For "Crammed-Deskers" unimaginable, perhaps even a violent intrusion into the wellspring of their creativity, for "Clean-Deskers" on the other hand, a godsend. Is this a dictatorship of order or an act of self-defence against the Post-It reign of terror? Let's discuss the pros and cons of each position.
The work station, say the tidy-desk fetishists, is essentially our brain projected into the world. "The content of your brain is almost magically reflected on your desk", argues Simplify-Your-Life - author Werner Tiki Küstenmacher.
And you seriously want this reflection to be utter emptiness??
So yes, of course my desk is chaotic. Like my brain. I hardly think it is practical to put each distinct thought into a separate drawer and then label it. Why should I do that with each individual item in my work environment? It is always a pleasant surprise when something that one had completely forgotten turns up again! A memory of a child's laughter. Or the payment form for the radio and TV licence fee from September. These are the little aha moments during the workday that the "everything-has-its-place" fanatic will never experience.
We live in a culture which is comprised of mash-ups - i.e. our ability to creatively combine existing elements. Everything Is A Remix – this is a long-known fact in the creative industries!
But if you force me to banish these elements to their assigned solitary confinement cells - on the left the newspapers from 1997, on the right the IKEA catalogues from 2008 - then you are taking away my chance to gain eureka-type insights, resulting from a combination of unexpected elements.
Employers expect Out-of-the-Box Thinking? Then they have to permit Out-of-the-Box Storing... As a matter of fact, a recent study confirms that untidy people are better organised, more focussed and able to find simpler solutions to problems. Their mind perceives the chaos in their environment and creates an internal balance through increased concentration and clarity.
What's more, an empty desk is simply unwelcoming. So smooth, so lifeless, lacking all individuality. Let’s face it: We are hunters and gatherers. It is against our nature to spend our whole day sitting at a desk - but, if we do have to adhere to the cultural consensus of a division-of-labour society, then we should at least be allowed to continue hunting and gathering. Even if it is only for the lost Post-It note!
Google helps on the Internet. But the search machine able to sift through the stack of documents on a desk simply has not been invented yet. This has a noticeable effect: Employees spend over ten per cent of their workday searching for lost documents, reports and the like. This time could be used to work more efficiently or to go home earlier. In a nutshell: An untidy desk - especially in the age of desk-sharing - is simply unfair and inconsiderate towards colleagues.
Talking of "Desk sharing": This concept can't even get off the ground without a generally accepted and enacted Clean Desk Policy! Because even if you can navigate through your pig sty, that doesn't mean you should expect others to do the same. Moreover: Why on earth should I have to blow the crumbs of someone's breakfast bagel off our shared keyboard? That is an absolute No Go.
An office is not a living room, which can be closed off for visitors if necessary. It is a hallmark of the company - with countless business partners coming and going, and thus gaining first impressions of the business. We should do everything necessary to ensure that these people are not scared away by document stacks and bits of breakfast bagels lying about. Just as we would never leave confidential documents lying on our desk in such a highly frequented room...
Less is more.
You don't need to be a Feng-Shui master to know that energy can come from reduction, that a calm environment, cleared of all superfluous items, enhances our flow of energy. We all yearn for order - even our chaos colleagues. They just won't admit it!
And just in case you want to rehash the old Einstein argument that "a genius thrives in chaos": I don't know whether Einstein had a cleaning lady. But offices generally do. And she will either steer clear of an untidy desk when cleaning, or she'll push the document stacks to one side, wipe the desk clean, and then return everything to its approximate place.
Hmmm. I wonder whether the "genius" will still be the master of his/her chaos then? Care to bet?...