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What does the layout of your desk say about you, and how can it impact your work?

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If you’re in work, take a look at your desk. What do you see? Notepads, paper and stationery scattered across the place? Or a few orderly files, a cleaned-out coffee cup (on a coaster) and a well pruned potted plant?

Here’s a closer look at what your desk space says about your work – so even if you’re not operating a clear desk policy, don’t worry: you might just be a creative genius.

Judge and dread

Cleanliness matters: research carried out by digital marketing software company Marketo found that 57 per cent of American workers admit that they judge co-workers based on how clean – or how dirty – they keep their desks. Nearly half of all those asked admitting that they have been ‘appalled’ by the messiness of certain colleagues.

The same study found that 90 per cent of workers believe clutter has a negative impact on the work, with 77 per cent saying that it negatively affects their productivity. Perhaps now is the time to have that clear out.

A riot of ideas

Or perhaps not. Psychological scientists at the University of Minnesota found that a messy setting can have positive outcomes, particularly when it comes to creativity. They asked participants in a study to come up with new uses for table tennis balls.

In a messy room, the ideas people came up with were judged to be more interesting and original than by those who generated ideas while sat in a tidy office space.

Kathleen Vohs, who was part of the team of research scientists, believes their findings suggest that being in a messy room encourages creativity. “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” she concludes.

Read more on the office environment:

Safe and tidy

Vohs says her research shows that a more orderly environment will breed more sensible decisions. This might not be good when it comes to creativity, but on the other hand it suggests order promotes rational thought.

In one test, participants were asked to complete questionnaires, some in a tidy office, others in a messy one. Both groups were asked afterwards if they wanted to donate money to charity or be rewarded with a snack. More of those from the clean office chose to donate the money. Orderly environments, Vohs says, “encourage convention and playing it safe”.

Break the mould

The research points towards principles that can be incorporated in to interior office design. Creative companies should consider how a small dose of disorder can promote imagination and resourcefulness, while the opposite applies to orderly, minimalist spaces.

Of course, very few businesses work in such regimented terms. The ideal solution is to create a dynamic, textural office space that promotes productivity across the whole company. It’s a delicate balance, but achieving it, as the science suggests, can have huge benefits for the entire office and the people who work in it.

Richard Sanderson is furniture director at office design specialist Peldon Rose.

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