Prior to relocating as an employee of our Canberra office, I had made a few short business trips to meet the team and the customers here. I had a fair idea of what to expect in the new place. That was three years ago. The role was going to be different but I was mentally well prepared for everything. Almost.
Ours is a small office and at any point of time there would be a max of 50 people around. Others would be either working from home or with customers, I would think. The office space is organized into named desks (name printed on a steel name plate atop the mounted desk screen), hot desks (anyone – usually travellers – can occupy, temporarily) and meeting rooms.
I used to randomly take a hot desk when I was a visitor. Now, moving in as an employee of this office, it felt strange when I learnt there wouldn’t be a permanent desk for me. Should that affect me ? After all, I had spent many years in this company working in different offices, travelling to various places, working from airport lounges, customer offices and from home too. And what is my work anyway: read mails, take calls, meet people and occasionally get to do some inspiring stuff. Should a permanent desk matter ?
I found a spot. It was in a corner, facing the window with a nice view of the traffic-less street surrounded by other buildings and a bunch of eucalyptus and maple trees. The next day too, I managed to position myself there. The third day though, I was late. When I found another guy settled down nicely in my (?) desk, I felt like a child whose candy was snatched away.
Berating myself for being silly, I quietly occupied the next available hot desk. It was a dull place far way from the window. No scenic view to provide any inspiration – unless you count the potted indoor plants. The desk was messy too. You are expected to clean the desk when you go, especially if it is not yours. Then it became clear to me. That was some clever guy who knew how to mark his territory. Fair enough. I moved away.
In the meantime, work kept me engaged. I made quite a few acquaintances, new connections in the office and outside. The new role turned out to be fascinating. The family too, settled in nicely in a new country.
While I worked on many business cases and helped secure deals, I also managed to secure a permanent desk, eventually. It did not matter that the steel name plates ran out of stock. I settled for a simple print out of my name on a piece of paper (bold font, though), perched on the mounted partition of the desk. My desk. Or my portion of that long desk that houses three others as well.
I decided to sprawl the desk with things. I got my daughter to make a couple of crafts for display, and the usual stuff: coffee mug to keep pencils I never use, print outs that should have been fed to the shredder long ago and the many wires and chargers.
Recently, I reflected on this behaviour and did some googling too. There are two opposing schools of thought regarding this question: Should employees have their own private space or be part of an open environment that encourages dynamism and collaboration. I think however, our primal instinct to secure a physical territory far outweighs the need to be socially connected.
It is funny and silly. Only until you find your desk taken away by some stranger, leaving you to look for a spot near the window with a view.