By Bogdana Boncheva
Just days away from moving to a new office, I was still apprehensive about the agile desk policy. According to this policy, everyone has to switch their desk daily, keep all belongings in a locker and choose a desk close to the people with whom we share work assignments.
As a Delivery Lead on a team with more than 15 developers, I could appreciate the opportunity of enhanced collaboration. At the same time, I was stressed out at the thought of not having my own personal space, since I have always worked in a fixed desk environment. I was also worried if so much moving and discomfort would not affect the creativity of engineers.
I decided instead of a long pros and cons list with prevailing cons, to keep a diary to manage my anxiety. I was, after all, obliged to try and work it out just to prove to myself I haven’t lost my adventurous spirit.
This is how my journey across desks and emotions evolved — over the course of the first two weeks.
Day 1: A new office ambassador took me around the fantastic new office and I got to pick a desk that met all of my criteria in terms of light, neighbours and cosiness.
Day 2: That perfect desk was no longer mine. I didn’t travel very far, I managed to move to the desk adjacent to the one I chose the day before. Despite the short distance, moving was hard. Disregarding all the jokes for lack of agility was a lot harder.
Day 3: I felt brave and moved to a new section of the room. While it took me more than 15 minutes to unpack all of my belongings, I did enjoy the freshness of sitting in a new surrounding. My team members were also quite brave and we enjoyed the guessing game: where would certain team mates sit when they come in.
Days 4 & 5: We all got much faster at unpacking. Agile heroes emerged — they got ready to work at their new station within 5 minutes from walking through the door. They switched to a completely decluttered desk with just a laptop on. They expressed it felt inspiring and liberating. I was no hero. I was devoted to personalising my desk, with as many things as possible to make it my own even if just for one day.
Week 2: I ventured into new territory — the floor of a different team. I sat at the most remote and barely populated side of the room. My isolation did not last long as I got invited by the Team Tech Lead to sit closer to the engineering teams, got introduced to all team members and got treated to nice sweets. I’m not sure if it was the new conversations or the new working environment, but on that day I managed to complete something important that I had been trying to solve for a month — to no avail. Better yet, was going back to my team the following day and receiving a warm welcome back, including treats and jokes.
While I still feel nostalgia for the desk I picked on Day 1, I am now comfortable with the new day, new desk and new beginning concept. The comfort level varies with different colleagues, I still cannot claim hero level. Still, developing this new habit turned out to be surprisingly easy.
Following these 2 adventurous weeks, I believe it is safe to say the agile desk policy may not be the solution to all problems, but it is definitely worth trying. It enhances collaboration, boosts creativity, elevates the mindset to a ‘breakthrough’ level and divorces mundane predictability at the workplace.
Sharing my struggles with colleagues has certainly helped. Some team mates did not want to try moving at all, while others quite enjoyed this new experience. People in technical and non-technical roles alike, found the agile desk policy very useful when collaboration on a specific task was needed. Everyone would understand why desks are switched, there would be no hurt feelings and no stuff lying around to delay working together.
What I found very interesting is that people like me, who were apprehensive in the beginning, did not find it that hard to adjust after all. All it took to realise the benefits of this unusual setup was to try it once.
Two months into this process now, it is not our second nature yet and there is some minor effort involved into picking a new working space every day. However, we managed to have a lot of fun in the process — sitting on someone’s desk of the previous day to prevent them from going back to old habits, hiding colleague’s stuff that got left out of a locker and other pranks really helped us bond and grow as a stronger team.
With my pros and cons list getting more balanced, I also realised that agile desking is not just about the moving and the changing, but about asking yourself daily “How far are you willing to go?” and push yourself to go further than planned.