The Anywhere Desk

Did you know that your desk speaks volumes about you? In this episode of Remote Works, explore the 5 physical desk types and how good digital design can help workforces succeed in work and play.

PODCAST | 25m
May 12, 2021
S3:Ep4

Executive summary

  • Find out the five desk personality types and how they can help design physical workspaces that improve employee experience.
  • Learn tips and insight into how digital design can make work lives easier.

Featured voices

Lily Bernheimer
Environmental Psychology Consultant
Space Works Consulting

James Bulpin
Senior Principal Engineer
Citrix

Melanie Green (host):
We tackle a lot of big issues on this podcast. Sustainability. Burnout. Security. The things people are thinking about now. That’s a LOT of macro. So, in this episode - we’re going to get a little more - micro.

Gaetan Harris:
I got these Philips Hue lights in my office, and one of them sits on my desk and another is in a lamp in the corner in my office.

Melanie Green (host):
Today - it’s all about one of the most important elements of work - the desk.

Gaetan Harris:
I couldn't live without them because they provide me with these different moods that I need to kind of set throughout the day.

Melanie Green (host):
And how a lot of us are recreating that space - wherever we’re setting up to work.

Gaetan Harris:
If I need to be a little bit more concentrated than I turn on a really white light, and if I need to maybe chill out and relax a little bit, then I'll put on something a little bit more orange or red, and I can just kind of set the mood based on the kind of activity that I need to do. And I think they're just really vital to setting like a good vibe for work.

Melanie Green (host):
That was my colleague Gaetan. Before we started working from home permanently, we were in a big open concept office in East Vancouver. That space had a LOT of ambience. There were lush plants everywhere. Sometimes, Gaetan would make sure the thirsty ones were watered. There were floor to ceiling windows that would swing all the way open during the summer. Gaetan and I worked side by side on a long wooden desk facing those windows all day long. We’d soak up the natural light. Now that we’re working from home, he’s recreating some of what we had in the office. For many of us, our workspace has become more than a single spot where we sit down and fire off a few emails or file an expense report. These days with the help of the right tech - it can be whereEVER we need it to be. For me, that’s home - for now. But a lot of people will be working in more than one space as things open up. That could mean splitting the week between office and home, working in a coffee shop, or even a hotel room. You could say that our workspace - in all of its iterations - is the stage of the grand theater that is our work life.
So today - it’s all about the versatile desk. What makes our workspace the place where we can really connect with our job? And how do our choices about tech help or get in the way?

 

I’m Melanie Green. This is Remote Works, an original podcast by Citrix. I asked a few other colleagues to share what makes their work space - their own, no matter where they are. Their answers were a little surprising. We’ll hear from them in a few minutes. As for me, more than anything else, I need to have a pen handy. It's gotta be just the right pen too. Because of course, it’s much more than just a pen. The pen has been a constant throughout my whole life. It connects me with the very first desk I ever had. I was eight years old and my home was in the Caribbean. Trinidad to be exact. In my room, I had a small writing desk made of sturdy bamboo. I can’t tell you how much I loved that desk. I even remember the smell. It has this exotic fragrance of bamboo. Soon after I got my desk, the very first thing my mom gifted me was a calligraphy pen. I still have it today. I have fond memories of what seemed like hundreds of colored pens strewn across that desk while I was doing my homework. I even wrote poetry there. Everything was possible sitting at my desk with my pen in my hand. And you know, think about all the great things that have been done by people sitting at a desk with pen and paper: Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech. The Declaration of Independence. Darwin’s theory of evolution. The desk is like a launching pad of great ideas. If I sound like I’m making a big deal about the role played by a pretty basic piece of furniture, well, I get it. But it turns out, I’m not alone. A few years ago, there was a study in the Academy of Management Journal that looked at personalizing workspaces. Some participants kept a special piece of art nearby to spark creativity. For others, it was a gift from a client, or something more personal, like a family photo to give emotional support when work got busy. Researchers found that those personal items - helped people to work better because they were better able to focus on their goals and values. The interesting thing is, when we can work from anywhere, we seem to need those touchstones more than ever.

Lily Bernheimer:
I'll be honest. I am pretty extroverted and sometimes I'd really just rather go and meet up with a friend rather than tidying my workspace at the end of the day.

Melanie Green (host):
That’s Lily Bernheimer. She’s an environmental psychologist and writer. Lily says our workspace set-up becomes even more critical now as we work in a variety of places. And that we need to know how best to set up our space so we can thrive. Being a psychologist, Lily figured that knowing a little more about ourselves - would help us think about our space. She came up with five personality desk types. They were originally designed for people in coworking spaces. Are you ready for the five personality desk types? Okay, here goes: The Clutterer. Clutterers are extroverts. Their space is often messy, chaotic and full of knick knacks.
The Minimalist. The Minimalist - as you might have guessed, is tidy. Organized. Structured. They’re conscientious and cautious. The Expander. The expander has a dominant personality. They love to be in the center of the room. They make it clear that THEIR space - is THEIR space. They can also encroach on their co-workers spaces. The Surveyor. These people are introverts. They like to have a space where they can have their back to the wall.
And finally - the Personalizer. They’re creative types. They have style and they like to keep things simple and uncomplicated. What do you think your desk personality type is? Let us know. Use the hashtag CitrixRemoteWorks. Well of COURSE I immediately wanted to know which personality desk type I was. So I sent Lily Bernheimer a photo of my desk.

Melanie Green (host): I don't know if you've seen the photo. It's relatively small. It's got a wooden top, some metal legs. I have my two screens on there and a lamp and my headphones and usually my phone, but I was taking the photo at the time. I'm terrified to ask this Lily, but what do you think my workspace says about me?

Lily Bernheimer:
I'm seeing here in the photo, everything you've mentioned, I'm also seeing that you have a few plants on the shelf above the desk. It looks like you have a Rubik's cube and some other kind of figurine. A little guy with a little helmet.

Melanie Green (host): It's Marvin the Martian.

Lily Bernheimer:
Marvin the Martian! Okay. We've got Marvin the Martian. and you have a very interesting looking clock here. It looks like it's maybe made of recycled pieces of metal or something like that.

Melanie Green (host): Fun fact about that one when our office closed, that was actually in our offices and it's my office memento now that I work from home,

Lily Bernheimer:
That is great. And something that I may get back to later, something I recommend for everyone that they have little reminders like that, of their workspace, if their workspace is something they miss things about to get them in that working mood. But as for what your desk says about you, I think I'm seeing a strong kind of personalizer imprint here as well. With personalizers, we tend to see a good array of different types of items. Not just plants or not just books on one topic. And that's what I feel like I'm seeing here, you have an array of some plants. Maybe these are even some rocks or stones from the beach or something up here.

Melanie Green (host): Yep. Nailed it.

Lily Bernheimer:
And you've also taken care to have task lighting - something that I very much recommend for everyone. It looks like you've got a really nice warm lighting quality there. Sometimes personalizers and extrovert Clutterers can be confused with each other, but your desk is very orderly looking here. So it's not the minimalist, you do have a good number and variety of things, but they seem pretty clearly placed and not all over the place. I've done this before with some people sending me pictures of their half eaten sandwich and yesterday's candy wrapper there. So yeah, I'm, I'm gonna have to, gonna have to guess - personalizer.

Melanie Green (host):
Plenty of people don’t have a dedicated workspace. For anyone going between office, working on the road - in the coffee shop - and home - Lily has some advice.

Lily Bernheimer:
I mean, there's a few things that people can do. You having that little memento from the workspace on your desk, that kind of thing is great to cue that part of your work identity, your work mode. And then have little rituals that you can use to facilitate getting into different parts of your day and different parts of your psychology.

Melanie Green (host):
Lily’s idea about rituals - really works for me. I have a coffee break at the same time every morning, no matter what I’m doing. And Lily’s idea about having momentos to put us in work mode - reminds me of my colleague Annie - and the thing in her workspace that has a lot of meaning for her:

Annie Reuter:
It's a gold lucky cat that I picked up at a night market in Hong Kong. And it just reminds me of a really great trip and times when we could travel. You can hear it waving when it gets under the light.

Melanie Green (host):
And when it comes to working from home, we can use personal objects for different, very practical reasons too.

Lily Bernheimer:
So many people are sharing their home workspaces with family members. Children, housemates. That is still an important thing that you have something in your desk workspace area at home that you're using to signal to your family members or your kids that this is my work area. This is where I need to be in professional mode.


Melanie Green (host):
Creating a psychological space to get into work mode - is more important than ever. To help create that space - wherever we’re working - Lily came up with a checklist.

Lily Bernheimer:
So I call it the BALANCED checklist. And that's because it's a way of thinking about the many different factors we need to balance to create the best space. And also of course, because it forms a handy acronym. So the B in the checklist stands for Biophilia. Biophilia literally means love of life and refers to the innate attraction that humans have for the natural world.

If you are sitting inside and you look out and you see a view of a tree just simply gazing in a tree for a few minutes, has the capacity to lower your stress levels to decrease the circulation of stress hormones in your body. Decrease blood pressure. And at the same time, it can enhance your concentration and enhance your ability to focus. So it's like this crazy combination, both decreasing stress and increasing focus at the same time. Workers who have a good view outdoors have been found to form up to 25% better as measured by mental function and things like memory recall. So the number one thing I tell people is, first of all, if you set up your workspace, is it in a room that has a window? And then also, can you set up so that it's easy for you to look out the window? You've got a few little plants right there and some other natural elements. You've got wood material on your desk. You've got a little rock collection or something up here.These are all biophilic elements that can help you both focus better and decrease stress. That's a lot about the first point on the checklist Biophilia, but then we go onto the first, - A stands for atmospheric qualities. So things like lighting, temperature, air quality, smell, the L stands for layout, just making simple, quick assessments, like, is your desk position so that you're easily able to look out a window. The ‘N’ stands for noise. So - big issue people are dealing with these days, both in terms of having too much noise in their home workspace from other family members learning, working at home, but also sometimes from not having enough noise. For a lot of types of work, absolute silence is actually not the most productive. If you're doing more creative work or more routine work, like sending very basic emails, then having a moderate level of some classical music in the background, something like that, can be really be helpful for productivity and can also help like drown out other background noise that may be distracting.

Melanie Green (host):
The C’ in Lily’s checklist stands for Cohesion. The E stands for Energy - and the D is for Design. Check out our show notes for more about the Balanced Checklist. Lily encourages anyone working from different spaces - to think about the checklist, as well as their own individual needs. If we have the right tools and knowledge about ourselves - Lily says we can work just about anywhere.

Lily Bernheimer:
So many people probably will be using more combinations of working from home some of the time going into the office, but really having a need for those third spaces like co-working spaces when we can get out into the world again. In terms of the, some of the factors I've talked about, it, it can be a little bit hard to personalize your space at a co-working space if it is a hot desking model where you don't have a defined desk where you just, come in and, set up your spot every day. One of the things that you do have control over in a hot desking coworking space is where you choose to work. And so thinking about, are you a Surveyor, is it important to you to have your back to the wall and know that no one's gonna sneak up from behind you and surprise you when they try to start talking to you or are you more of the type of person who it's really important to be sitting near the window and be able to look near the window? If you're more extroverted then maybe you like sitting at the middle of the crossroads of the whole space where you can easily chat with people while they're walking by, and if you're more introverted, then you may really be happier sitting more off on the periphery somewhere. So that's one thing from all of this that people can definitely, feel some sense of, control over even when they're in a coworking space where you often don't have a lot of control.

Melanie Green (host): I am always very interested in how technology fits into conversations, particularly with work. Lily, do you have any insights into what thinking should go into how we organize our tech in the space that we work in?

Lily Bernheimer:
I think probably having fewer different pieces of technology on our desk is good for lessening distraction. I mean, we hear so much these days about how our phones and computers and all the notifications and all the social media is really hurting people's productivity. I like the simplification. I think that's good and it's probably good from a focus perspective.

Melanie Green (host):
So a few succulents, a lucky cat and a statue of Marvin the Martian - these aren’t guilty pleasures. They’re critical elements for our workspace. They’re psychological tools to help keep us grounded. And now that we are grounded, we are ready to work -- and to get the job done. To do that - just about everyone needs access to technology. And the tech we work with can either get in the way and distract us - or it can make everything run more smoothly.

James Bulpin:
My name is James Bulpin. I'm senior principal engineer in the emerging solutions team in Citrix.

Melanie Green (host):
To get things done, the right technology has to be there, working alongside us, supporting us. And there are many ways to set up our tech to suit our own personalities and needs. For James - it all comes down to design.

James Bulpin:
Do you spend ages trying to do something, trying to find something, trying to achieve some task, but you're struggling to find the right way of doing it? You know, which dialogue should you open? Which buttons should you click? And I sometimes find myself when doing that, getting very frustrated with that. And you know, sometimes that frustration kind of destroys my mood, you know, so I can find that it kind of puts me in a bit of a bad frame of mind for getting other things done. Whereas if I'm using something that's been well-designed and what I mean by well-designed is, it's intuitive - the things that I really need are the things that are most obvious.

Melanie Green (host):
Psychologists have recognized that distraction is one of the causes of fatigue and anxiety. It’s our brains trying to sort out what’s important and what’s not. Subconsciously we are always analyzing our surroundings and looking for possible threats. That kind of thinking came in handy ten thousand years ago -- but now it makes us look up every time there’s a ping or a message or an alert -- and we lose our focus. James Bulpin says that we need our tech tools to help sort out what’s important and what’s not.

James Bulpin:
The key for me there is about prioritization of the things that matter. But the other part of it, and kind of the reverse side of it, if you like - is removal of distractions. So for example, using messaging tools like Slack or Microsoft teams or using email to avoid continual disruption and distraction, I make sure that those tools are not as prominent as I know some people like to have them. So for example, I've disabled notifications from Slack, such that I don't get pinged every time somebody sends me a message or every time there's some new chat in one of the teams I'm part of. But every now and again, I'll go check and see what I need to look at. The way I've done that is by adjusting the notifications that are being sent to me and also critically not putting one of those applications on its own monitor which is a common mechanism. So for me, the setup really is a combination of - prioritize the things that matter and sort of downgrade, if you like - the things that could be sources of interruptions.

Melanie Green (host):
Fewer interruptions mean that it’s easier for our brain to kick into deep-thinking mode. That’s for problem solving and abstract thinking. For James, a good workspace prioritizes his tasks. It’s all about time and attention.

James Bulpin:
More recently over the last year or so is I've got what we call the activity feed. So right in the middle of my workspace, when I launch it, I've got a list of notifications or feed cards, which are things that the system has determined, are relevant and interesting to me. So for example, today, when I launch my workspace, one of the things that I see at the very top of that feed is a note to say that a ticket within our ticketing system that I filed has had a comment added, uh, that I may need to look at. So typically the sorts of things that you might end up seeing in email but delivered here in an actionable way. So when I click on that notification that actually pops open what we call a micro app which is a small application that opens within the workspace itself that contains just the information that's relevant to what it's trying to achieve. And what's really nice about that is that I’m able to do that right from within Workspace app without having to go to some other application. So I kind of think about it. Is it sort of bringing together different sizes if you like - of access to the different resources. I've got my snacking - with these notifications - just giving me little updates. LIttle actionable things I can do. And then you've kind of got the eating, if you like, when you've got access to one particular application, and then you've got the dining with a desktop where you kind of got everything available within that one desktop. So you can really use the different resources depending on what it is you're trying to do and also which type of device that you're using at any one time.

Melanie Green (host):
So consistency -- one workspace for everything. That helps James Bulpin slip into the zone -- so much so that he needs a little nudge to remind him to get out at the end of the day.

James Bulpin:
I'll give you one example, particularly working from home as, as I have been for about a year now, I sometimes find it very difficult to end work. So I get to the end of the day. And I think well I’ll just do this one more thing, or I'll just answer this other email. And before I know it it's eight o'clock and that's obviously great for what I've achieved in those last couple of hours, but it's not sustainable. It does lead to burnout. And we know if you take a longer term view of an employee's productivity, that it's important to avoid that kind of thing. So one of the things that I like getting is a little notification at I’d say five, six o'clock - which isn’t say telling me to stop work, but it's asking me how my day's going. So one of the ones that I use - at the beginning of the day, it tells me what I've already said I want to achieve during the day. You know, basically a list of tasks. And at the end of the day, it pops up to ask me how I'm getting on and that sort of nudges me to think about stopping, but also gives me the opportunity to kind of tick off some things, which is actually - for me personally, I find that quite a good way to get a feeling a sense of achievement.

Melanie Green (host):
Nothing like getting up from your desk after a long day and feeling like you’ve really accomplished something. I love that feeling. I feel that we’ve accomplished a lot on our macro look at the workspace. We’ve covered it all. Or almost all. There’s been one big omission - in my opinion - that coffee cup I have to have close by - wherever and whenever I’m working, we can’t forget the importance of a good hot cup of coffee to power the workday. My colleague Wanyee agrees.

Wanyee Li:
For me, it's this smart mug that keeps your coffee warm, no matter what. So it's this cup, it comes to the coaster and you can plug it in and then whenever you put the cup on the coaster, it'll heat up whatever is in the cup. I don't think I could ever go back to using one that's not heated.

Melanie Green (host):
Honestly, if I can find a heated mug - my life will be complete. I might never leave my home office again! I’m Melanie Green. You’ve been listening to Remote Works, an original podcast on Fieldwork by Citrix. Subscribe and come back in two weeks. `Next time - a deep dive into making well-being a priority wherever you work. A top Red Bull Racing Performance coach will be here to share some expertise. That’s at Citrix dot com slash remote works.

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