How To Make It Look Like You're At Your Desk

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You don’t need to be in the office to get work done—but sometimes it’s a good idea to make it look like you’re there.

As many office workers know, there are many advantages to being viewed as the person who is always at their desk. In some companies, you can accrue significant career capital if people think of you as someone who regularly arrives early or stays late. Other companies value face time (or, as is more often the case, “butts in seats” time) even if it’s easier and more productive for workers to complete their work literally anywhere else.

So it’s worth knowing how to make it look like you’re at your desk when you’re really at home or at a coffee shop or—if your office is just that miserable—at a job interview.

Easy tricks

There are a couple of easy tricks you can use if you only need to step away for a little while. Disabling your computer’s sleep mode, for example, can keep that screen glowing long enough for you to sneak away and make a personal call.

However, some offices prefer employees to log out of their computers any time they step away from their desks for even a minute or two (for security reasons, natch). In that case, you’ll want it to look like you’re still in the building even though your monitor has temporarily gone dark. Try to make your desk look like you’ve just stepped away to get a cup of coffee or use the restroom—maybe you’ve got a few papers spread out with an uncapped highlighter on top, or maybe you’ve got a strategically placed doughnut with just a single bite taken out of it. Nobody would leave the office without finishing their doughnut, right?

Sneakier steps

Most people will think of doing something obvious like tossing their coat over the back of their desk chair—but if you really want to commit to this ruse, you have to take it a step further. If you carry a purse, satchel, or briefcase, for example, leave it in plain sight (while taking everything you need with you in a smaller, second purse). If you wear comfortable shoes on your commute and change your footwear once you’re in the office, make sure everyone can see that your “commute shoes” are still under your desk.

Think about the way you can tell whether other people are still in the office or whether they’ve left for the day—do they leave their earbuds plugged into their computer’s headphone jack? Do they always have an insulated lunchbox or a half-empty bag of almonds? Do they take out physical files or paperwork in the morning and put those documents away before they leave? Learn other people’s “tells,” and then ask yourself whether you have similar tells you can actively manipulate.

Getting help (from coworkers and friends)

If you want to take your manipulation even further, you’ve got to think like a team player. Self-improvement site Farnam Street tells the story of how one employee paid the office cleaning staff to make it look like he was at his desk:

Someone we know once made an investment with a nearly unlimited return by gaming the system. He worked for an investment firm that valued employees according to a perception of how hard they worked and not necessarily by their results. Each Monday he brought in a series of sport coats and left them in the office.

He paid the cleaning staff $20 a week to change the coat hanging on his chair and to turn on his computer. No matter what happened, it appeared he was always the first one into the office even though he often didn’t show up from a “client meeting” until 10. When it came to bonus time, he’d get an enormous return on that $20 investment.

If you don’t want to get the cleaning staff involved, you could always ask a trusted coworker to cover for you. They could move the papers around on your desk, swap out the coffee in your mug so it’s always steaming hot, or take a second bite out of that doughnut.

At this point I should probably clarify that Lifehacker takes no responsibility if you put any of the above hacks into practice and, instead of getting bonused, get fired. But if you’re looking for tips to help you sneak out of the office every once in a while (especially if you’re hoping to use that time to get your work done and “exceed expectations”) we are happy to provide. It’s Evil Week, after all—though I, personally, hope you use these hacks for good.


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