8 December 2016 | Nigel Oseland
Is the traditional office desk obsolete? That slab of wood that most office workers sit at is getting smaller.
Recently, I worked with an NHS trust where the standard workstation was 1,200mm but the FM team was rolling out 1m 'school' style desks. Add the use of tablets, laser keyboards, and virtual reality goggles and it's not hard to imagine a world without people sitting in rows.
In the 1990s, when I was a junior consultant, our office was undergoing refurbishment. Mysterious 'voodoo' technology called Wi-fi was being introduced. As young consultants we spent most of the time on client sites and only visited the office to socialise or have a team meeting, I said we didn't need desks.
The office layout could consist of a bar with stools, formal and informal meeting spaces, a breakout area with sofas and a coffee machine, reading space, and a print/copy area. The Wi-fI and the 3kg ThinkPad allowed us to sit anywhere in the office and in the local café. But we ended up fitting out the office with workstations leaving little room for meeting and social space. The desk has never been an attractive option to me, or my peers.
But perhaps the desk is not just a flat surface to type on. There are 'go to' people we need access to and there is comfort in knowing where we can find them. When in the office, teammates need a place to congregate and this still tends to be a cluster of desks in a familiar area rather than in some breakout space or meeting room.
Certain personality types are more productive in a set place. Some associate their desk with (job) security, one of Maslow's basic human needs. One element of the desk not researched is the relevance of personalisation - is it territorial, for comfort or security? Consultants and designers must acknowledge psychological and personal differences and ensure that we accommodate them to maximise workforce performance.
The physical nature and the purpose of the desk is changing - "it's a desk, Jim, but not as we know it". The desk is more likely to evolve than become obsolete.
Nigel OselAnd is founder of the Workplace Change Organisation and Workplace Unlimited