Andy Kelk

A home away from home

Look around any office and you’ll see that people love to personalise their space. Like any other office, we have our fair share of personal effects – family photos, fishtanks, novelty items, printouts of webcomics, funny signs (although we’ve stopped short of the “You don’t have to be mad to work here…” variety). It’ll probably come as no surprise, then, that one of the hardest points of the move to Agile & pair programming was the move away from people’s “home” desks.

As mentioned in a previous post, we’ve significantly changed the office layout and are continuing to change with an investment in new desks for the developer pairs to work at. When looking at plans for the Agile areas and assessing the usage of space in the current layout, one thing that soon became obvious was that everyone having their own large desk with a desktop computer and two monitors on when they are pairing for most of their day is not an efficient use of space.

When you come to the bare bones of people’s workspace requirements, they need three things: firstly, a desk at which they can pair with another developer; secondly, a desk they can work at if they’re not pairing (using their MacBook); and thirdly, somewhere to keep their personal items. This can be achieved with a number of “hot” desks that people can rock up at with their laptop and a series of storage areas (cupboards, drawers, etc) for people’s belongings. Personally, I like the idea of hot desking – a change is as good as a rest after all. Even with a desk of my own (strewn with CVs, documents, books and coffee cups as it is), I often find myself lodging in a spare meeting room or sitting in reception in order to get things done away from the distractions of my “normal” work environment.

My concern though is that there’s a risk of de-personalising the work environment if nobody has their own desk. Where do the USB missile launchers, fake fishtanks and kindy masterpieces go then?
There are other things to consider when people lose a “home” desk, such as what happens to the phone they used to call their own? One of my team recently ran into this problem:

I’ve lost my old desk phone. I left it behind after the 4th or 5th desk move, and have no idea where it is. However, people still call it, and leave messages.

I checked my voicemail today, and found a message from the 25th May; my Dad is waiting at reception.

Another of my team spoke of the change from his contracting days when he deliberately made his work area a very personal space in order to offset the feeling of impermanence that contracting can bring. Now he finds himself as a full-time employee but without so much as a picture on his desk.

Ideally I’d like everyone to have some kind of horizontal space they can call their own. It doesn’t need to be a full-sized desk, after all they’re only there 5% of the time; but there should be somewhere you can return to and feel like you’re on your own turf. Ultimately it’ll come down to getting the best possible area for the pairing areas and working out what’s left for personal space, but I’ll do my best to give everyone a home away from home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *