I’ve worked in a lot of offices throughout my career. When I started work, everyone had an allocated desk, which you sat at every day. We had a shared connection underneath the desk, which – if you were lucky – you could use to get a dial-up internet connection.
You can tell a lot about your colleagues at their desks. Later in my career, it became a clue as to personality types. My Meyers-Briggs profile is INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Judging), one of the rarer personality types. My desk reflected the Feeling part of my personality profile and included a small jug with the words “Oive just come up from Zummerzet” that one of my best friends bought me for luck in my first proper job.
Today, it still sits proudly in my home office.
The Judging (Planner) part was also evident with lists and post-it notes on the monitor. Other desks were so chaotic they made me twitch. Arguably, it reflected their Perceiving preference, which denotes someone flexible and adaptable. People with a ‘P’ profile are colleagues that I have grown to love the best. I am a strong J, and I like order, so unexpected events can throw me – I can handle a crisis, but it wears me out.
Your postcode, not your full address
Recognising that profiles such as INFJ (there are others) aren’t definitive is vital. One excellent coach I worked with said they are “your postcode, not your full address.’ It’s where you’d prefer to be, but you can work outside your comfort zone. It is essential to recognise when you’re outside it, draw in colleagues with different profiles, and excel in those situations.
I’ve come to value Perceivers who love crises and excel but find planning challenging.
Another type of profiling is Insights, which uses colours. I am Yellow, Green, Red, Blue. Each has a shorthand phrase to sum up, what they mean. Yellow is Involve me – it denotes big-picture thinkers. Green is Show me you care (emotion, again), Red is ‘be brief, be bright, be gone,’. These are typically leaders who have laser focus. Blue denotes attention to detail.
I used to display my bricks in order on my desk, although not everyone did. It is helpful to know what people’s preferences are so you can adapt to their styles. I’ve worked with many reds, and asking how they are and chatting at their desk drives them crazy. They just want you to tell them what they want. By comparison, people coming to my desk and asking for things without sharing the niceties first was something I could find wounding.
Open-plan office – zoning matters
Fast-forward a few years, and due to pressure on office space and a toe dipping into flexible working, we had to hot-desk, which was a radical concept only a few years ago. The office was open-plan but included zones where you could go and work if you needed quiet time or make a call and had break-out areas for informal meetings and more formal spaces.
I was once on a committee responsible for planning these zones and tried to build a case for more quiet areas. It was a role I volunteered for because my workspace matters to me. Typically (or stereotypically), committees don’t attract introverts, and I recall many discussions about shared working spaces, which is excellent, but some of us need quiet.
To return to my postcode comment, Introverts can work collaboratively – I am often mistaken for one – but find being around people tiring. We need time to process information quietly while extroverts process it out loud.
For fellow Introverts and those who manage them, I recommend Quiet: The Power of the Introvert in a world that won’t stop Talking, a fantastic book by Susan Cain.
Covid-19 – the shift to hybrid and remote working
Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdowns changed everything. Hybrid and remote working is no longer perceived as a luxury and is the norm.
Software that powers this new way of working has exploded. According to Statista, the number of Daily Active Users of Microsoft Teams, for example, has grown from 2 million in 2017 to 270 million in 2022. Online video-conferencing platform Zoom was one of the fastest-growing apps in 2020 and 2021, with active meeting participants growing by 2,900%.
It facilitates over 3.3 trillion meeting minutes every year.
The number of Daily Active Users of Microsoft’s Teams has grown from 2 million in 2017 to 270 million in 2022.
In short, more of us now work from home. I’m fortunate to have a separate home office and, as when I was at work, you can tell a lot about me from it. The office has become a place to hang things my family might not appreciate in other areas of the house. For example, the commemorative Elvis plate my Mum gave me on my 18th, leaving cards from magazines where I worked, a typewriter and my festival top hat (bartered for in Camden).
Much of this paraphernalia is visible when I’m on a Zoom call. As a freelance writer, editor and consultant, I’m torn between keeping it on display or using the ‘blur’ feature so people can’t see the background.
On the one hand, it says much about me. On the other, it could invoke Unconscious Bias so that people make judgements about me that may be incorrect.
I judge it on how well I know the person I communicate with.
If I know them well, the blur is off. If it’s a new relationship, I blur the background. It’s also worth remembering that some people may prefer cameras off due to personality preferences or for other reasons – and that’s OK, too.
An ergonomic approach
The other thing about my home office is it's set up the way I need it to be. I've recently invested in an ergonomic chair after experiencing backache, I have a laptop stand, a separate keyboard and a space for my technology.
I wonder – what does your desk say about you?