Today, about a quarter of the employees in our office uprooted themselves from their usual corners and chairs, and switched desks at random. I moved from my comfortable, quiet corner with its multiple monitors and comfortable keyboard and mouse to a much busier desk in a high-traffic area. Here's what I learned.
Now, just to stress the point, this wasn't hot-desking; this was a dozen people in our 60-strong office uprooting themselves for the day and swapping desks with each other for the day. Simple as that.
So yesterday, I cleaned up the old teacups and wiped off the old coffee stains to ready my desk for someone else to work at, and this morning, I sat down in a new chair at a new desk around less familiar faces.
1. Don't expect to fit into a new workspace perfectly. My new desk was set up for the laptops that most of the staff in our office use, where I'm usually on a desktop PC. Swapping desks meant I had to change the way I worked, and to use the laptop that I usually lug around to events and work on when I'm not at my desk. Not having two monitors meant I couldn't have my email and site stats on a secondary screen like I usually do, for example.
2. Other people might set up their spaces very differently to what you're used to. The desk I was sitting at today was much nicer than mine is — it has a plant, guys. It doesn't have a footrest like my desk does. It feels very foreign. Because I'm sitting in more of a thoroughfare, I have to be careful to push my chair back under the desk when I walk away. These are all small considerations that I haven't to make in the past.
3. You're going to feel rude not talking to the new people you're next to. Within our own corner of the office, we talk shop all day, and we have half our conversations in the office Hipchat and half in the real world. At a new desk, I'm on my own — talking entirely to my team in Hipchat, and talking IRL to everyone else. The team that I'm sitting in the middle of has their own conversations, and I feel bad not taking part — but they're talking about work, and I don't know their work. It feels weird!
4. All the noises and creature comforts you're used to are gone. At my desk, I have a Dyson desk fan pointed at myself that runs all day — it frustrates some of the people that work around me, but I like the constant breeze and the white noise, which blocks out nearby conversation. Instead, I had the clatter of keyboards nearby, and it was a little distracting. I don't have my desk drawers, with all the cables I usually use, nearby.
5. You won't be anywhere near as productive as you usually are. Because I'm not at my normal desk with my desktop PC, I'm working on a little Samsung Galaxy Book 2-in-1 tablet. I don't have dual monitors, I don't have my mechanical keyboard or an external mouse. I'm getting about half as much work — in terms of pure words on paper — as I normally would. I'm still productive, but not to the same level of refinement that I am at a workspace that I've set up over the last two years.
6. You're going to hear a load of different conversations. My temporary desk was much closer to our office's communal chill-out area, and especially at lunch, It meant that I actually had lunch out of the office rather than at my desk like I usually do, just to escape the hubbub. But being more central in the office meant I overheard — and took part in — more work conversations than I usually do in my quiet little corner.
7. It's a good opportunity to learn how other parts of the business work. Despite what might seem like a lot of complaints above, I've genuinely enjoyed working from a different part of our office. Instead of sitting with our combined Gizmodo/Lifehacker/Kotaku editorial teams, who just write with their heads down all day, I was in between our office admin and Shopstyle pods, and the vibe is very different. People talk about different things, and it's been useful to break out of my usual bubble. If you have the opportunity to do the same in your office, you might learn something.