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What your workspace says about you (with bonus quiz!)

Ruth Hartnoll   —   28 June 2016   —   Content & Social

E B White at his desk

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

E. B. White

The above picture is the writer E. B. White writing in his office. Isn’t it brutally minimal? There’s his rickety desk, his well-worn typewriter and an ash tray. Even the view from the window seems to match its stark framing.

How does White’s space make you feel? Some of us are mentally sticking post-its everywhere, others are reaching for headphones to tackle all that quiet. White is stoic in that picture. The only purpose of that room is to write; how very singular of him.

The modern workspace, of course, doesn’t look like this. Distractions abound, desks are often in communal spaces where your desk faces the main flow of human traffic; solitary writing huts they are not.

So, what does your workspace say about you? Are you a mono-tasking solitary hermit who likes to shut everyone away with headphones and angry glances out of the corner of your eye? Or, are you a chaotic, paper-strewn nester that’s got several living things competing for space under your desk?

Not only are we going to give you an insight into what your desk says about you, we’re going to take a look at some of the desks at Access HQ. Plus, there’s a quiz at the end - embrace your desk personality and share it with your friends. 

The Cluttered and Lived in desk 

Art worker - Phill Watson's desk

Condiments, Science Fiction and LBC Radio feature heavily on Phil’s desk.

Sriracha sauce, the lunchtime read, strewn paperwork behind two screens - it can only be the cluttered and lived in desk. Research from Princeton University has shown that a cluttered work environment makes it harder for you to concentrate on your work, as your brain is competing with all the noise around you. As Unclutterer puts it;

“When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information.”

However, clutter could also suggest a level of dedication to you work - you’re just too busy to clean your desk. So, whilst you may get distracted by your Deadpool figurine for a few minutes, really, you’re always thinking about The Work.

Organised and lived-in desk owners are often found working late into the night - their desks are an extension of their homes. 

Creative director - Sarah Parker's desk

Fresh fruit, Darjeeling tea and a giant screen are a must for Sarah.

The Organised Nester’s desk

Content manager - Ruth Hartnoll's desk

Style guides, figurines and inspirational quotes surround Ruth’s desk.

Post-its act as reminders, books are stacked in height order, drawers are labelled - it can only be the desk of the chronically organised. Having an organised desk signals someone who concentrates best when their desk is clutter-free. However, this particular type of organised person also enjoys getting their personality across. It’s not just stark white space and bare walls; there are figurines and quotes from favourite books. Their desktop background is often of a family pet.

It has been proven that cleaning makes us happier. A good house cleaning, or desk organisation session, is akin to physical exercise - by organising your life, you’re releasing endorphins and rewarding yourself for your hard work.

Cleaning is also proven to help quell negative feelings. 

Not only because of the endorphin release, but because it brings a sense of control to a chaotic situation. Organised nesters also tend to have better immune systems - less dust means less chance of contracting an illness.

However, being super-organised can have its downsides - you over file and over organise and inevitably end up deleting the email you need, or losing the original hard copy of something. Sometimes, a little clutter is ok.

The Transient Worker's desk 

Head of Account Planning and Management - Phil Fraser's desk

Endless paperwork, local pride and tasty snacks make up Phil’s desk.

The transient desk owner is often out on the road, using their desk as a makeshift paper-storage facility. Laptops are constantly on charge. Snacks are perpetually being eaten. The occasional family photograph may exist, or a nod to their hobbies, but ultimately the transient desk owner is focused on the task in hand. Paperwork is piled in order of importance. From the outside these desks may look disorganised; but it’s actually a fine-tuned system of gravity-defying paper stacking and constant snacking.

“Transient desk owners are often good at thinking on their feet and coming up with quick fire solutions.”

The transient desk owner is a hybrid of the organised worker and the chaotic nester. They focus on the task in hand as they’re so often leaving the office to go to a meeting. Their worklife is a fine juggling act of family phone calls, organising train tickets and presentation documents.

Transient desk owners are often good at thinking on their feet and coming up with quick fire solutions. 

The Team Player’s desk

Project Manager - Ash Johnson's desk

An inflatable flamingo, cold brew coffee and a custom pizza box makes up the DNA of Ash’s desk.

The team player’s desk looks like every good night out the company has ever had. Easily mistaken for the cluttered and lived-in desk, The team player’s desk is in fact a finely tuned machine. Owners of these desks are able to produce the exact thing you’ve asked for, even if, to the untrained eye, it would look as if nothing could be found. The clutter on these desks are often punchlines to inside jokes, or memorabilia from the last office bonding night.

To suggest to remove these items to a team player can cause actual pain. Researchers at Yale found that hoarders find it physically painful to let go of items they have a significant emotional attachment to. 

As Mikael Cho puts it in his article, How clutter affects your brain (and what you can do about it);

“...(there are) two areas in your brain associated with pain, the anterior cingulate cortex and insula, light up in response to letting go of items you own and feel a connection towards. This is the same area of the brain that lights up when you feel physical pain from a paper cut or drinking coffee that’s too hot.”

So, never ask a team player to remove their inflatable flamingo, or their custom pizza box - you could be causing them psychological damage in the long run. 

Want to know which desk personality you are? Take our quiz and find out!


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