Why your own desk makes you less productive

In the information age, desks are terrible and expensive throwbacks to the industrial world of mass production and division of labour.

Desks were very places to produce, or process work – but a post-industrial world relies on the development and sharing of ideas, not the production of goods. Having your own allocated slot in the machine is not conducive to collaboration and, due to natural pair-bonding that occurs as a result of physical location it actually removes any benefits associated with the economies of skill and experience scale.

Additionally, the natural territorial divide desks create can generate loneliness at work which further reduces productivity, increases isolation and kills moral. All of this smack bang in the middle of the office.

In the traditional office model you are forced into using meetings to gain consensus and share ideas. Most meetings, as we know, are toxic and rarely collaborative. Working together needs digital tools and open working frameworks that celebrate our differences and encourage individuality in thinking.

We increasingly live out our lives using the digital space and the workplace is becoming ever more detached from that space. Companies restrict access to digital services, don’t encourage device independence and force us to work 37.5hrs per week, divided equally amongst 5 days. When we can work anywhere, and on any device we become liberated from the old mass-production model.

It costs an estimated £15,000 per annum to house a single employee in an office: Including desk space, commuting, infrastructure and human resources support. If that money was invested into the right digital tools, such as Podio and Basecamp, to enable people to work when, where and how they liked, companies would see a huge jump in productivity.

In 2010, we started the move to location-independent working – it’s not easy and the investment was significant (approximately £5k per staffer in the previous year). During 2012 we made the switch-over, or should I say, the switch-off as we became liberated from desks, and the office, and the commute, forever. Even bearing in mind the cost to migrate, we immediately saw a £35k saving for the company and another £5k per person as the morning commute, parking, lunchtime at Greggs/Pret A Manger and all the other elements associated with productionised office environments were removed.

Still want your own desk?

By Martin Dower