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How do you keep a tidy desk when you have a flexible workspace?

You know the story. You arrive at the office in the morning, look for a desk for the day and unpack your laptop from your bag. Connect your keyboard and mouse and ensure the monitor is connected to your laptop. Your workspace is ready to be used… Well almost, because your colleague who sat at the desk yesterday left it completely clean. The same way you left your workspace yesterday. So, you go back to your safe, locker case, or trolley to retrieve your documents, pens and post-it notes.

clean desk
New Ways of Working
New Ways of Working (NWoW) concerns flexible working in terms of time and place. So, no more fixed workspaces, but flexible workspaces instead. That could be at home, while travelling, or at the office. Your employees themselves decide when, where and how they achieve the desired output. New Ways of Working gives your people greater control and responsibility. This is one of the factors that increases employee satisfaction. At the same time, it reduces facilities and ICT costs. But there is a downside too. 

The New Way of Working is not entirely free of obligations or without rules. Many organisations opt to combine the New Ways of Working with a clean desk policy. However, A clean desk requires a degree of explanation, communication, new skills, aids and modified workspace concepts.
The New Ways of Working contributes to the autonomy of employees. Compliance with organisational policy and the right combination of tools and technology to optimise productivity are important. That way, employees are able to optimise their own performance at work, as a result of which they are more satisfied, motivated and creative.

But this autonomy and flexible working does mean the organisation must make clear agreements with its employees about what employee autonomy covers and what flexible working entails.
What exactly is a clean desk?
Under the clean desk policy, employees are expected to leave a clean and tidy desk behind at the end of a work session and to pack away things like documents, writing materials and personal items, or take them along. In some cases, policy dictates that the desk be left clean and tidy every time you leave it, even for a one-hour meeting. This way, workspaces are used efficiently, they do not remain occupied unnecessarily while the user is absent.

Offices that have switched to The New Way of Working often look professional and well organised and make for an inspirational environment, particularly during the period shortly after completion. Regardless of their work activities, employees are expected to choose a suitable workspace every day; a flexible workstation, a place to deliberate, a place to concentrate, et cetera. Our modern-day technology enables employees to work anywhere, even at home. People work digitally to a large extent and availability of physical archiving space is usually greatly restricted. The locker case, trolley, or laptop bag serve as a personal work archive. The CleanDesk policy applies too, because every workspace must be available to everyone.

clean desk policy example
Inextricably linked
The New Way of Working and a clean desk are inextricably linked for 9 out of 10 organisations. One of the main reasons cited is the protection of company information. Confidential documents or privacy-sensitive customer data pose a business risk. In addition, a cluttered and messy desk does not make a professional impression on colleagues, visiting clients, or the outside world. An empty desk creates ‘’calm’’, which enables people to work in a simpler and more orderly way.

Nevertheless, the Nationale Werkplekonderzoek (national working conditions survey) shows that 38% of employees actually regard a feeling of “homeliness’’ as the most important aspect of an office workspace (2011). 47% of respondents regard personalisation of the workspace as important. Scientific research by the University of Exeter (UK) shows that employees are happier when they can organise their office workspace themselves.
Additional issues
Facilities often emphasises elements such as hygiene and cleaning costs. Desks that are covered in documents, folders, a keyboard and mouse cannot be cleaned properly or quickly enough, with reduced hygiene and/or high cleaning costs as a result. The office is teeming with bacteria and fungi. Office chairs, carpets, plant pots and keyboards are a veritable breeding ground. On the face of it, that can do no harm because bacteria and fungi are everywhere. But in excess of 500 bacteria per cubic meter is regarded as an unhealthy workplace.
Additional issues
What do you need for a successful clean desk policy?
If your company adheres to a clean desk policy as part of The New Way of Working, ensure your employees are able to store their things when they clear the desk. That could be a trolley or a central area with locker cases, for example. But the issue of whether or not to supply employees with personal keyboards (partly on account of hygiene reasons) is also a worthwhile consideration. Personal keyboards and mice are also stowed away and make the desk even tidier.
Locker case
A Locker case is another solution. It is actually a personal storage box for office accessories. Contract workers thus always have their office materials to hand. You take them out of a centrally-located cupboard before you start working and put them back when you are finished.
A laptop trolley has sufficient space for storing a keyboard, mouse, laptop holder, pens and documents, in addition to a laptop. That way, you always have your work accessories to hand. And you leave a clean desk behind for the next person.

Should employees have personal (wireless) keyboards or not?
Considering the aforementioned hygiene issues, it is not surprising that more and more organisations are opting to give all employees a personal keyboard. In addition to the ergonomic prerequisites that need to be considered for the right choice, environmental impact and costs also play an important role. Wireless keyboards offer employees freedom, but at the same time, pose challenges for employers (ICT management, emissions and environmental impact of batteries). Some suppliers have responded by introducing compact keyboards that are both wireless and chargeable. A solution that benefits hygiene, the environment, cleaning costs and user comfort.
The New Way of Working & a clean desk policy are two concepts that complement one another perfectly. A clean desk is even a must from the employer’s perspective. Employees sometimes view a clean desk as a hassle and a nuisance. This can be avoided with effective communication about the rules and where necessary, making the right tools available.

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