Modern research does support the old saying that a tidy desk equals a tidy mind. Essentially, having a tidy desk stops the mind from being distracted by clutter. It, therefore, allows it to focus better. That doesn’t mean that your desk has to express absolute minimalism. It just means that it has to be tidy enough.
The benefits of a tidy desk
A lot of the benefits of a tidy desk are totally practical. Tidy desks are more secure. It’s harder for someone to access items or data without it being noticed. They’re also more hygienic. If your desk is visible to others (even if only by Zoom), then it looks more professional.
Tidy desks are unlikely to be health-and-safety hazards. In particular, papers will be stored away from heat, cords will be tidy and sharp objects will be kept safe. Tidy desks can also help to reduce basic office costs. Because people know where everything is, it’s less likely that resources will be lost or wasted.
Adopting a clear desk policy
Clear desk policies ensure that any employees within the workplace clear their desks of any belongings or clutter, either when their shift finishes or at some point throughout the working day. Clear desk policies can help businesses to keep workspaces much tidier and organised for the benefit of staff morale, as well as organising what documents are needed within the workplace, and what aren’t.
Balancing tidiness with personality
There are many benefits to having a tidy desk but there is also one potential drawback. An excessive emphasis on tidiness can be demotivating for some people. This is particularly true for creatives.
Firstly, they often need some form of stimulation to spark creativity. Secondly, they may need to capture inspiration when it comes to them. This can generate a lot of clutter. In principle, this clutter should only be temporary. Even creatives can clean up after themselves. In practice, it can end up sticking around for a very long time.
The solution to this is to set ground rules and give people as much freedom as possible in how they implement them. This may require you to provide different storage solutions for different people. For example, some people may be quite happy to drop everything into closed storage and shut the door. Others may prefer to see what they have.
You may find that some (possibly many) employees could benefit from guidance on how to organise their desks effectively. There’s a reason that organisational guides are so popular on the internet. Many people, including creatives, would love to be more organised but struggle to make organisation work for them.
Understanding organisational styles
Just as there are different personality types so there are different organisational styles. Accepting these different organisational styles and working with them is often the key to keeping desks tidy and employees happy.
You can generally figure out an employee’s organisational style by asking two key questions.
- Do you prefer to have everything put away or do you like to see what you have?
- Do you prefer to have items in large groups or in detailed categories?
Once you’ve worked this out, you can provide (or recommend) organising solutions to suit each employee.
Employees who like closed storage
Employees who like closed storage tend to get on well with traditional office organisation solutions such as closed bins, drawers and filing cabinets. Employees who like to keep items in large groups may simply need some dividers or bins. Employees who prefer more detailed categories may need a larger range of storage options.
Employees who like to see what they have
Employees who like to see what they have tend to be the ones who create challenges for office organisation. They tend to be the ones with notoriously untidy desks. These desks may (or may not) work for them. They can, however, be literally painful for other employees to look at.
For visually-oriented employees, the key to success is often to split out items they only need occasionally from items they need often. Items they only need occasionally can be put into open-top and/or clear storage containers. They can then go into the same closed storage solutions as employees who like closed storage use.
Items they use regularly can be on the desk but need to be corralled so they are tidy. Again, this generally means putting them into open-top and/or clear containers. This keeps everything visible but within designated spaces. It also means that the items can be put away at the end of the day if that is office policy.
Having inspiration zones
Some employees, particularly creatives, may want, or even need, sources of inspiration to be able to work effectively. If so, it’s usually counterproductive to try to fight against it. Instead, accept it and make room for it, literally and figuratively.
Allow these employees to have inspiration zones where they can have their clutter. Just keep the clutter under a reasonable degree of control. For example, use open-top and/or clear containers. These inspiration zones don’t necessarily have to be at employees’ desks. In fact, there can be a case for putting them elsewhere. This in itself can provide stimulation.
Dealing with paper-loving employees
Even though the 21st century is clearly a digital age, the paperless workplace is clearly still a long way off. Employees may not do everything on paper by default anymore. There are, however, still a lot of employees who can generate a lot of paper for various reasons.
Some of these may be able to be addressed by technology. For example, if employees are printing out meeting notes, then giving them tablets may allow them to stop. With that said, it’s still generally more comfortable to do extended reading on paper rather than on a screen.
In other cases, however, employees need to use paper to express themselves. Again, this is likely to be particularly true of creatives. Scribbling thoughts on paper is a bit like thinking aloud but more acceptable in workplaces.
With this, the best approach is often to allow employees to create their clutter. Just insist that it’s tidied up as soon as possible, at least by the end of the day. If employees don’t know what they want to keep, have them photograph the paperwork. That way, they have the image, but the paper can be recycled.
Making time for tidiness
Last but definitely not least, if you want employees to keep their desks tidy, give them time to do so. Encourage staff to see keeping their desks tidy as part of their work, not something they do if they have the time.