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Clean/tidy desk policies can have productivity, cost, security & compliance and visual benefits, as well as helping a company to switch to the paperless office. But there are both positives and negatives to consider.
“Tidy desk, tidy mind”, as the saying rightly goes. Albert Einstein’s comment, on the other hand, serves as a perfect riposte: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Two quotes that neatly sum up the differences in opinion over tidy (or clean) desk policies.
As the name suggests, a tidy desk policy requires that employees clear their desk of documents and other clutter at the end of each day or when they have finished using them. And an increasing number of businesses are now laying out that policy officially, mandating that workers have to keep their desks tidy.
An example is University College London Union (UCLU), whose staff are required to clear their desks at the end of each day in a bid to promote data protection. That kind of ethos is one of the main drivers for adopting a tidy/clean desk policy. There’s also a feeling that having clear desks is better visually; something that’s likely to impress workers and visitors alike.
Keeping desks clear of documents can also increase security. How often have you left a username/password combination scribbled on a post-it note and attached to your monitor? Or a sensitive document on your desk because you’re not finished with it? That information can be seen by people who shouldn’t see it, so ensuring it’s off your desk at the end of the day helps keep the business secure.
One of the biggest arguments in favour of implementing a clean desk policy is that of information management and pushing the business towards a paperless office. Workers can spend hours looking through drawers and filing cabinets for documents they need. A clean desk policy will encourage the digitisation of documents, which, when indexed, are far quicker and easier to find.
Not only does this make document management far more efficient, it reduces costs associated with printing such as maintenance, paper and toner. From a compliance point of view, it’s also far better if businesses can manage all their documents digitally.
Of course, a tidy/clean desk policy isn’t for everyone. Some workers will simply prefer to have their desk cluttered with papers and so on, and disorganised people may actually be more productive if their desk if covered with the documents they need to use. What one person would consider messy, another may find to be the perfect filing system. And for many, their desk at work is a very personal space, so dictating how they manage it could have a negative impact.
There are pros and cons to implementing such a practice – some workers will embrace it and some will not. So it’s important for a company to be able to spell out the positives if it wants to push ahead with a tidy desk policy.