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20 AUGUST 2014
5 things I learned when I lost my desk

by Mike Stopforth: Entrepreneur and investor. Sometimes writer and speaker. Exploring how we lead, and how we should lead, in an increasingly complex world.

I haven’t had a desk at Cerebra for just over 5 months now.

Cerebra’s offices have a very open plan design to start with and Craig and I deliberately resisted the temptation of closed off offices (more about that here). I had, without much intention, occupied a desk in the far corner of the office behind the kitchen that gave me a good view of goings on until I was unceremoniously relegated from that spot to make way for finance staff who work closely with Craig.

No biggie, right?

Instead of simply moving into another desk on a permanent basis I decided to occupy open desks as and when they appeared, more as an experiment than anything else. Floating around the office took some adjusting to. A desk very quickly becomes a comfort zone. In a world where things change as often as they do, comfort zones are counter-productive at best. These are some of the lessons I learned from the experience:

1. Staff behave differently around “leadership”

I don’t particularly like the title CEO. It is useful because it carries with it the perception of influence and significance, but the truth is the definition of CEO is pretty broad. You don’t have to report a certain amount of revenue, or employ a minimum amount of staff or achieve a published list of successes to claim the title. You just adopt it. As businesses grow, so the responsibility and accountability of the title grows too.

Now, when people join Cerebra, they get introduced to me as the CEO and they believe it. Like I’m a different species. It results in a dichotomous loneliness – you’re relatively popular and widely recognised in the business, but nobody is really sure they want to connect with you because you’re that guy (or girl). As a result, either people avoid telling you the truth because they’re worried you’ll react badly, or they avoid telling you the truth out of some misplaced sense of protection for you. Either way, getting out of my proverbial ivory tower and spending more time in my staff’s comfort zone catalysed some very real, very beneficial conversations that I don’t think would have happened before.

2. Clutter occupies head space

Admittedly this might have more to do with my personality than anything else, but not having a desk means I cannot have any clutter. I have my Mac, my phone, a plastic folder with a few sheets of paper relevant to what I’m working on at the time and the Don. That’s all. When I leave at the end of the day they go with me.

Somehow knowing there’s no desk with a pile of paper and assorted rubbish I’ll never really bother to look at back at the office has cleared up head space for other more important thoughts.

3. Different view, different perspective

Our office is relatively small, but even the tiniest move can provide a different perspective. Being in different parts of the office offers me the opportunity to hear new conversations and watch how other people work together. This has a marked impact on the way I think and the ideas I have.

4. Openness

Not having a closed off office, or even my own desk, means I have to be far more conscious of my moods, my reactions to things (even an email I read or a phone call I take) and my knee-jerk responses to events happening around me. I think this is a good thing, and has forced a more deliberate and thoughtful approach to work and to the people around me (wherever I am in the office on any given day).

5. Ergoeconomics

Lastly, I think we grossly underestimate how our physical space at work impacts our emotions and productivity. Again, I think this might be a personality trait and that some people prefer a static, predictable and safe space but I love not having the limitation of a physical space.

It seems that the more “senior” we get at work, and more specifically in the corporate environment, the more closed off from reality we become. Perspective is everything, and there’s nothing like having your desk whisked away to provide perspective.

Cerebra is an integrated strategic communication agency that builds, engages and activates communities around brands. Visit our InfoCentre or website.

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