Debate: Should we all have clear desks?

21 December 2015 -


We’ve all been the victim or perpetrator of a cluttered desk piling onto our colleague next door. Here, Professional Manager spoke to people on both sides of the divide to see if clear desk policies had a place in the modern office

Matt Scott

When it comes to clear desk policies, LEGO’s London office is trialling something more extreme than banning piles of paper. The toy brand has removed the notion of employees having their own desks and managers working in offices and instead is experimenting with the concept of ‘activity-based working’.

LEGO chief operating officer and executive vice-president Bali Padda says: “We have introduced an entirely new way of working in the new office. The biggest impact is that the traditional, physical concept of a ‘department’ has dissolved and this encourages cross-organisational collaboration even more than we are used to in the LEGO Group.

“All employees have to get used to the fact that they do not have a dedicated desk, and that their activities during the work day determine where they are – not what department they are part of. Once employees have placed their belongings in one of the lockers by the office entrance, they can either go to a meeting room, one of the quiet zones if they wish to concentrate on a specific individual task, or they can choose to work in one of the office areas where employees can discuss things more freely or have phone conversations.”

The new way of working means that if a member of staff vacates a desk space for more than 90 minutes, they have to clear away their belongings to make it available for someone else. Padda said that this means the space in the office is used more effectively and collaboration is improved by employees regularly meeting more of their 120 colleagues around the office.

Padda says: “For us, this is a move towards an office culture that embraces the diversity of the entire organisation and offers a work environment that allows employees from very different parts of our organisation to learn from each other and thereby allows us to think and act more holistically – ultimately making better decisions.”



“You are at your desk for eight or nine hours a day so you shouldn’t make it that everyone has to have a completely clear and standard desk set-up. That’s going to negatively impact your staff ’s feelings when they arrive at work.

“The only rules we have about desks are: no confidential paperwork can be left out; and paperwork is kept to a minimum.

“Aside from that, we leave people’s desks up to them. Some like plants, photos and trinkets, others like nothing at all. Different people work better in different surroundings, so we let staff decide how to manage their own space.

“Personally, I do believe in ‘tidy desk, tidy mind’. However, if you’re relaxed and feeling comfortable in your surroundings – whether or not they’re tidy – you’re more likely to get on with work and be able to concentrate on what you are doing.

“You shouldn’t enforce strict rules to make sure people have tidy desks; they should do that out of habit. Thankfully, we’ve never had to ask anyone to tidy their desk up – yet.”



“Having a clear desk policy can help people be more efficient and work faster. It can also help them to enjoy the work they’re doing and be more peaceful and calm.

“Psychologically, if everything around you is clean and tidy, it makes your head feel clean and tidy, structured and efficient. You know where everything is without having to sift through a pile of papers. And it’s more efficient, as you don’t waste time looking for things. From an environmental perspective it is important to try and have as many things stored digitally as possible.

“When clients come into our office, they see our clear desks and it makes them feel like we are a tidy, efficient and professional group of people.

“If you have a mess everywhere it just makes you feel frantic and out of control. I have previously sat next to people with messy desks, and my structured way of working has been an inspiration to them. “It has helped them aspire to tidy up their desks and work more efficiently.”



“Many big-name organisations are innovating with new collaborative working environments in which collections of like-minded businesses can come together, connect, and benefit as a group. Offices no longer need to look like, well, offices.

“Space can be divided up in far more interesting ways. Our project with The Office Group created many different styles of workspace under one roof. Areas for quiet individual work, group spaces, even kitchen tables. Increasingly, people want to work in a space that feels more ‘coffee shop’ than ‘head office’.

“Office design is no longer just about efficient desk layouts and storage solutions, but broader issues such as place-making [people collectively reimagining their workspace], flexibility and the creation of environments that attract and retain new tech-savvy employees.

“Technology is the single biggest factor improving business efficiencies. High-speed connections and 24-hour access have already facilitated more agile and efficient ways of working, and technology is the single most influential factor in the evolving design of the modern workplace.

“Increasingly, businesses are tailoring their workplace to create an attractive environment that is both conducive to new ways of working and provides conditions that harness productivity through collaboration and idea-sharing.

“Up until recently, the tech sector powered the workplace revolution, but today new office environments aren’t limited to trendy warehouse conversions. New-style workplaces are becoming commonplace in all modern office developments, even the more ‘conventional’ business sectors.”

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