Ditching the Decs

A bit of fun for Christmas…and how we can give people some joy while saving the business money!

Gather round, Brethren, it’s been a while but the time has come to talk of matters of importance.

Hallowe’en is over. Retailers have turned to glitter, soppy (yet wonderful) adverts are on TV, and they have unleashed merry hell on the eardrums via the seemingly non-stop playing of Slade*. A track, that has, I’m convinced, been played continuously since 1973, the only thing that saves us is the January to November mute button. However, I digress….

In workplaces across the land talk has turned to Christmas.

If you thought how people use their desks is fascinating, just watch them negotiate the office decoration ritual. It’s a wonderful dance of people trying to recreate their personal tastes and usually trying not to trample those of others.

Fairy lights incite debates leading to a rota so carefully orchestrated between glowing pulse, static or psychosis inducing flash that it brings back memories of student flat shares, right down to the anonymous rule breaker who changes the setting with gleeful, mischievous abandon (we know who you are). You learn to love the dancing polar bear that plays one solitary, single, repetitive Christmas tune in faux jazz – while threatening to permanently remove its batteries with a spoon in an appropriately mock stern manner.

People stand on chairs on desks (no, really, I have seen this) to hang decorations from the ceiling. Decoration-making competitions result in a plethora of Santa’s Grottys (sic) and paper chain decorations festooning the motion sensors for lighting and security alarms. One interesting Christmas, blocking the fire route in an office containing over 2000 people, a real tree, about 5ft high, was discovered next to untended lit candles (“Because they are scented and we wanted to know what they smelled like.”) We never could figure out how they got the tree into the building…

It’s not that I have anything against Christmas, quite the contrary.  As a joyful consumer of all things Christmassy, I’m a sucker for it. But not between January and October**. And it is in those months that I have the longest, most drawn out debates about Christmas decorations with end users. Usually because decorations are to be found everywhere in the workplace. Dismembered limbs of fake trees are squirrelled away under different desks; scrawny tinsel and dangling ornaments are in plastic bags in storage units, in pedestals, in wardrobes, on wardrobes. Evverywhherre….

And there is always that one person who leaves their desk decorated all year round. Are they a Seasonal Buyer? Has their own particular interpretation of Christmas joy reached such disturbing levels colleagues are afraid to discuss 24/7 Christmas? Or are they simply too lazy to put them away each year?

And it all has to be moved with them when a space is churned.

“So,” say I to pretty much every department in a business, “this wardrobe…the one solely used for Christmas decorations…do we really need to relocate it?”

“It’s multi-use” they say, using my own language against me “When it is winter the decorations are up so releasing the wardrobes for coats.”

“And how often do you need to access it…?” Say I labouring the point with a thousand yard stare.

It lead me to conduct a study on how much it cost the business to store these increasingly ragged departmental decorations, very few of which tend to be bought with business funds. The maths worked as follows:

  • Cost of a new, fake, 6ft tree with lights and decorations, including square metre costs for one month duration in London’s West End: c.£320***
  • Cost of a new storage unit to store decorations, including square metre costs for 12 months office floor space in central London: £2000 PA.

Outcome: It costs less to buy new decorations each year than it does to store them. Ditch the decs. Keep Christmas fiends happy with new stuff, keep the grinches happy with ritualised seasonal destruction.

Merry Christmas!


*I’m sorry, I can’t link to that track. I just…can’t. Have this one instead. Or possibly this one. Or my personal favourite.

** Yes, January to October. Love Christmas, loathe Christmas shopping crowds. The gifts are bought (and this year wrapped) in October. It leaves more time for eggnog and hobnobbing.

***Allowing for a luxury, pre-lit LED tree at £100 and average quality decorations at £50. Inc VAT. Excl D&I. E&OE.


Bob and the Auditors

To resist change effectively, you need tactics and insider knowledge….

We battle-weary commuters come to know the patterns of our rush-hour comrades, not least because they mimic our own, right down to seat preference; anything over a year of taking (nearly) the same train, and targeting the same seats, leaves you knowing many of those you travel with by sight. Or you may break through the etiquette barrier and actually start conversing.

A friend of mine, let’s call him Bob, works in the city doing strange, incomprehensible things with global finance. He has more understanding about what I do – not least because he has an allocated desk, works in an office environment and has a rigid hierarchy structure reinforced by the provision of enclosed offices.

Recently, Bob and I met while striding down the platform to ‘our’ carriage.

‘Glad I saw you,’ he called out across the herd of stampeding wildebeest that are commuters on their home run, ‘I need your help. But we’ll talk when off the train.’ He performed a ‘never know who is listening’ finger wiggle at his head, narrowly avoiding clocking those nearby with his old-school attaché case.

A few minutes later we sat opposite each other. Initially, I was lost as to how he needed me. Our professional lives are polar opposites. I have no global interests worth financing (apparently, holidays do not count). Our work place theory debates have ended with his comedic sneer and a mock raised eyebrow. Then I twigged.

‘Oh God,’ I said, ‘You want to know how to stop the change, don’t you?’
‘Yep,’ he said, grinning, ‘You’re going to be my informant!’


His office has the work place consultants in. Strangers have been seen slowly walking through the offices, stabbing away at tablets while wearing broad, not exactly reassuring smiles while they scrutinise.

The train arrives at the terminus, our home station; we are last off the train and drag our heels up the long platform.

‘We’re having a storage audit,’ Bob said, ‘they want us to go paperless.’ He pulled a face. Bob went on to tell me that his field has contracts as thick as phone directories and as plentiful as the tomes stored in  L-Space. They refer to them ‘Oh, quite often’; his tone of voice and body language hinted otherwise.Bob's contract

‘I’m not bothered about a desk,’ he said, ‘I can work anywhere, but the contracts are a different thing. Is there a way I can argue for keeping them, what’s the lingo?’

“You want me to give you insider information,” I said “you want to know how to use their language against them as a resistance technique?”

Bob does not squirm very often (nerves of viperously competitive steel, that man) but I warrant that he does not get questioned about his work preferences that often, either. At least not by someone who knows this field, knows how to push his buttons and has a friendship that means a work place related grilling can be far more robust than those I have at work.

It turns out that his employer wanted everyone to transition to agile working; the cost efficiencies were attractive. Only the hand at the consultant’s tiller didn’t seem to be very strong.

Everyone has gone to non-allocated desking, however there are now more desks than there are people, the majority have successfully pushed to retain non-standard desks and chairs citing:

‘Questionable unique needs.’ said Bob.
“Despite the fact that the best solution for adapting to a desk lies with knowing how to use your chair properly.” said I, with dogmatic fervour.

Ultimately, allocated desking remains, albeit unofficially.

It’s a merry dance we lead, encouraging people that change has its benefits. In brutal honestly, I have probably heard every reason going why people cannot change and why the work place should remain static, or even revert to times gone by. There are times when I have been momentarily stunned, and times when the only way to stifle a laugh is to bite down hard. And the unfortunate fact remains that for every end user’s timed-to-the-minute report proving why change is not possible, any work place consultant worth their salt has a way around it.

When change reaches the individual, it needs a darn steady hand on the tiller to deliver that change effectively for the business, the stakeholders and the end users. Given the choice, none of us want change – unless we are leading it.

In my experience the best way to deliver change is for the client to have strong leadership in delivering the change message – and a commitment to sustaining work place change beyond the length of the project – combined with a bottom-up engagement and communication strategy. Engaging with a select, fair and representative group of end users ensures they feel more part of the process and are more ready for new working methods. The consultants will need a clear instruction of end goal, remits of the end users areas of influence, and a steely determination to challenge resistance while they guide people forward.

One person cannot carry a successful change, but they can certainly whip up support for resistance.

So, did I become Bob’s informant? Of course I did, the man stands his pub round without prompting.

Desk = Worth.

How we view our desk has a direct correlation to how we view our ‘place’.

desk - old

The chances are, if you’re reading this at work, you’re at your desk. That would be ‘your’ desk, allocated to you.

The desk is a fascinating institution that represents us more than we may realise. Having a desk says you have worth, that your employer recognises you as an individual. It can indicate if you have – or are assuming – a position of authority, are aloof or approachable, if you have trust issues or how confident you are. It can tell us something about your work/life balance and how you might handle change.

Think back to when you first had a desk, that day you were told ‘That’s your desk, that’s where you sit’. Would this be your first office job? What about when you started school?

So, here’s my example:

  • Junior School: Allocated desks. Sometimes in alphabetical order (mine was that kind of school….).
  • Secondary school: They took our desks away! We had lockers, and shared desks. And we demonstrated the power of human habit and created migration patterns with our desk use.
  • University:  Lecture halls were more like the Mobile habits we want to instil in people as adults. We design students had work tables; cue more migration patterns.

The desk is all about us as individuals. It’s about the ‘me’. My desk, my space, my things, my place. The desk is the one thing in our working lives where we can be sure to express ourselves, mark our place in other people’s awareness and firmly anchor ourselves in our understanding of our validity as employees. It is the physical manifestation of your employer stating you have worth as an employee, as such you are entitled to some of the employer’s territory.

Conversely, a desk of our own can be about our fight against The Man who tells us what to do and when to do it, it’s about sticking it to our need to be working stiff for lack of a private income, it’s about stamping our ownership on part of our employers environment.

That is not to say the desk is a bad thing, quite the opposite, it has a vital part to play in any field – and it’s not going to go away. It simply may not provide us with what we actually need to do our job effectively, efficiently and happily.



BackStory. Ish.

An ‘About me’ and how I came to be in this field.

Shortly after graduation I was invited back to my alma mater to teach. The brief was to devise a module that extended the curriculum. This was how space planning landed on my radar.

‘Plan your work, work your plan’ is something I believe in. You make your opportunities.

The plan included working for petrol money, learning AutoCAD in my personal time with a three-month deadline, commuting 80 miles a day, driving adventures in Bristol’s nerve-shattering rat-runs and building a experience-backed CV with intent. Within 6 months Project: Office Furniture called me for an interview.

These days, work revolves around work space strategy, efficiency and effectiveness to support the business through times both good and challenging.

And I love it; work is serious play.

Back when I started this blog in 2014, there were very few blogs about workspace. And as a blog is easier to run than a website, this blog was born. It will share learning on how space is used says more about the end user than they realize; about how you can give some fun back and encourage end user behaviour by the way you lay out a space; how a person’s psychological make up is the centre of our work space world, all while discovering that the desk has been immortalized in song (way to go Harry) so that’s what I’m going to write about.

Join me, it’ll be fun. Honest.