Leadership & Productivity

Productivity secrets: 16 business leaders share what's on their work desk

18 min read

14 November 2018

Editorial Director

We asked 16 business leaders of startups, established companies and multinational giants what their work desks look like, and what it means to them. Here's why they keep their workspaces the way they do. 

Have you ever wondered what some of the most influential business leaders work desk looks like? Are they tidy or messy? Do they have pictures of loved ones or gadgets close to hand? And why do they keep their desk that way? Is it a place of function to get work done, or an area of creativity and a home away from home? Let’s find out.

Monika Bhasin, GLYD

Monika Bhasin is a founder of GLYD, an app that connects travellers with local guides.

Here's what's on GLYD's Monika Bhasin's work desk

Here’s what’s on GLYD’s Monika Bhasin’s work desk

“My desk represents my day: double screens to multitask on a zillion open windows, Chinese stress balls for when work gets a little overwhelming, my vision board to keep me focused and driven day by day, a legal pad to always note down to-do lists or any other notes I need to remember.”

She also has pictures of her husband and dogs on her desk to remind me of how much she’s loved and blessed. She also has a golden crown full of beauty products (“to remind me I AM the queen!”).

Bhasin also has a bunch of phones on hand for testing GLYD in quality assessment, as well as whichever book she’s reading in her spare time. “I’m reading The Gift of Fear. Fear isn’t always a bad thing, it drives us to be our best sometimes.”

Rupert Hunt, SpareRoom

Rupert launched SpareRoom in 2004 in the UK and in 2016 expanded it across to the US, leading to them having offices in London, Manchester and New York.

Here's what SpareRoom's Rupert Hunt's work desk looks like

Here’s what SpareRoom’s Rupert Hunt’s work desk looks like

He tends to move between SpareRoom’s offices in London, Manchester and New York and he also works from home when he needs quiet time to work on something particularly sensitive. “This is the desk in my 18th century home in East London,” he says.

“One thing I always have on my desk is a good mic; much as I hate them, video calls between offices have become really important.”

Above his desk is a photo of his grandfather’s wagon on the farm his father and he grew up on. “Both my grandfather and my dad were huge inspirations to me growing up, both were butchers and successful businessmen, and I like to keep a bit of home with me.”

Michael Krayenhoff, The Inner Circle

The Inner Circle is a popular global dating and socialising website, that aims to provide a quality over quantity experience.

The Inner Circle's Michael Krayenhoff's work desk looks like this

The Inner Circle’s Michael Krayenhoff’s work desk looks like this

Understandably, Krayenhoff’s desk is his compass for navigating the challenging world of entrepreneurship and dating.

“The orange book is my bible of Dutch courage. Its where the magic happens,” he says.

“The cards from former members about their weddings and babies are the ultimate reminder of the purpose of the job.”

He also keeps tabs on Inner Circle babies, children born from couples his dating website brought together. “Many passed my desk so far,” he adds. He also prominently displays the many awards his company has won over the years. “The awards are a welcome recognition from the industry and a reminder to keep innovating.”

Jeff Kelisky, Seedrs

Jeff Kelisky is the CEO of Seedrs, with a long track record in building, scaling and leading successful technology businesses. His goal for Seedrs is to unlock and capitalise on the opportunities that the asset class provides whilst leading the company through its transition from startup to scaleup.

Seedrs CEO Jeff Kelisky’s work desk

His desk features a range of personal, memorable and inspiring flourishes. From his toy Snoke, a gift from his son, to his daughter’s SpongeBob SquarePants keychain, Kelisky keeps reminders of special memories from his children to keep him grounded.

Kelisky’s desk also features a range of books, including The Hard Thing about Hard Things, Scientific Progress Goes “Boink” and Uncle Petros and Golbach’s Conjecture.

His desktop includes pictures from a special day when he met Andy Murray and his son got to play a game with him.

James Constantinou, Posh Pawn‘s Prestige Pawnbrokers

James Constantinou is a founder of Prestige Pawnbrokers, and a star of Channel 4’s Posh Pawn.

Here's what Posh Pawn star James Constantinou's work desk looks like

Here’s what Posh Pawn star James Constantinou’s work desk looks like

“My desk is large and imposing in my office,” he says.

“On my desk I always like to have three calculators. It annoys me when I can’t find one so I’m better having three within easy reach.”

“I have a pair of binoculars which I’m currently appraising as it looks like they were used in World War 2, some Jack Daniels chocolates given to me on my birthday, a dirty coaster as you can’t get the staff these days, a lovely large magnifying glass for looking at intricate stitching on handbags, a mini moto bike ornament given to me by my partner’s children which I hold very dear, diaries dating back to 2011, a mini sports car as everyone who knows me knows how much I like a nice set of wheels. Then the usual pens, pads and my PC.”

Rebecca Newenham, Get Ahead VA

Rebecca is a founder of Get Ahead VA, a virtual assistant business support agency.

Rebecca Newenham, founder of Get Ahead VA keeps her standing desk tidy

Rebecca Newenham, founder of Get Ahead VA keeps her standing desk tidy

“I have a height adjustable desk which allows me to sit or stand,” she says.

“I try and keep my actual desk as clear as possible. My essentials are my iMac, VoIP phone, pen pot, notebooks, light, glasses, sunglasses, my ‘to do’ list and two candles to adapt to my mood and enhance concentration.”

Elliot Gold and David Kosky, Work.Life

Elliot Gold and David Kosky are co-founders of Work.Life, which provides vibrant workspaces for businesses of all sizes.

Elliot Gold, Co-Founder Work.Life

Elliot Gold, co-founder of Work.Life keeps his desk clear

Gold’s desk is centred on his laptop – his mobile office. He keeps a number of personal effects and work items on his desk, including a bank pin reader, a notebook and his to-do list – which he’d be lost without.

Work.Life’s co-founder David Kosky likes to keep his desk clear, with a few bits of greenery and close to a window with lots of natural light.

David Kosky, Co-Founder of Work.Life

David Kosky, co-founder of Work.Life believes in a clear desk policy

Bhavin Shah, Central Vision Opticians

Bhavin Shah is a behavioural optometrist, children’s vision specialist and CEO of Central Vision Opticians.

Bhavin Shah, CEO of Central Vision Opticians

Bhavin Shah, CEO of Central Vision Opticians keeps toys on his desk–for work!

“Unlike a normal optometrist, my desk is a treasure trove of visually stimulating tools, equipment and toys that allow me to help to improve people’s vision. Even adults get to play with the toys.”

Carly Thompsett, Anaphase Store

Carly’s business,  Anaphase Store, is an online business that designs slogans and prints, supported by the Prince’s Trust and is based in Cardiff.

Carly Thompsett, Owner of Anaphase Store

Carly Thompsett, owner of Anaphase Store keeps her home office all about work

Thompsett is a sole owner, so her desk is full of “random stuff”, she says, including her invitation to Buckingham Palace from May, the certificate she received for passing an employment law course and an article from the paper she was featured in.

Andy Lawson, BoroughBox

Andy Lawson is founder and CEO of BoroughBox which is reinventing the supply chain for the independent food and drinks businesses. It’s a digital marketplace that connects thousands of customers to independent food and drinks businesses each month. The company has a rapidly growing fulfillment division that offers logistics solutions and enhanced retail and distribution opportunities for the businesses on the platform.

Andy Lawson, Founder & CEO of BoroughBox

Andy Lawson, founder & CEO of BoroughBox keeps his iMac and PC on hand

“My desk is the non-fancy but invaluable hub from which I operate,” he says. “Tucked into the corner of our warehouse is the office, with me tucked into the corner of that. My PC is there for standard work alongside the landline phone and mobile for calls.”

“The beaten up old Mac usually has Google Analytics humming away for real-time website visitors, and the CCTV unit helps me monitor any lost couriers in the warehouse.”

Besides that, there’s nothing fancy, just essentials, he adds. “Headphones for webinars, mug for tea, calculator for number-crunching and two bottle openers for wine and beer … in case I lose one!”

Michelle Kennedy, Peanut

Michelle Kennedy is a founder of the community app Peanut that connects like-minded mothers.

“What you can’t see in this image are the boxes of Peanut swag tucked behind me, which makes the office extremely ‘cosy’,” she says.

Michelle Kennedy, Founder of Peanut

Michelle Kennedy, founder of Peanut, keeps her work desk on-brand

“One of my investors recently gave me some Goopwellness supplements, and I’m not just saying this, I honestly feel better, I start every morning with them.”

“Also on my desk is a photo my best friend took (he’s a keen photographer), it’s a peanut on lines of code, and I couldn’t think of anything more perfect.”

Sam Bruce, Much Better Adventures

Sam Bruce is an owner of Much Better Adventures, a travel company that helps people to arrange proper adventure holidays with handpicked local guides, supporting conservation with every booking.

Sam Bruce, Founder of Much Better Adventures

Here’s what Sam Bruce, founder of Much Better Adventures, keeps his work desk

“As an adventure travel company, we thought it would be very appropriate to set up Much Better Adventures as a fully remote company and so our staff work in places like Tenerife, The Alps and around the UK,” he says. “We do however have this permanent base in London by Old Street, in the heart of the tech startup community.”

“Given the flexibility, nobody, myself included really has their own desk, but we do have a slackline for phone calls and an office pug called Dizzie.”

Jason Droege, UberEverything

Jason Droege is a vice president and head of UberEverything where he leads the Uber Eats team. Uber Eats works with over 160,000 restaurants in 350 markets across 35 countries and delivers food in under 31 minutes. Droege’s expertise as a successful founder and business leader across e-commerce, enterprise software, and internet services helped him lead the team that created Uber’s first app outside of rides.

Here's what's on UberEats' Jason Droege's work desk

Here’s what’s on UberEats’ Jason Droege’s work desk

Droege enjoys testing Uber Eats features by delivering Eats meals via bike and ordering lunch from local San Francisco restaurants, so it makes sense for him to keep little mementos from each of these eateries.

He also enjoys collecting artifacts from the past few years, including when Uber Eats recreated the pizza delivery service Little Nero’s Pizza from “Home Alone”.

He regularly visits international Uber offices and picks up items like Uber Eats refrigerator magnets.

Aron Gelbard, Bloom and Wild

Aron Gelbard is the founder of the second fastest growing business in the UK – Bloom and Wild.

Here's what's on Bloom and Wild founder Aron Gelbard's work desk

Here’s what’s on Bloom and Wild founder Aron Gelbard’s work desk

Gelbard believes less is more. He keeps his desk pretty tidy to declutter the space around him and as well as his mind. He has a pretty hectic schedule looking after Bloom and Wild’s growth markets in the UK, France, and Germany.

Instead of lots of florals, he has a small pot of Jamie succulents on his desk which just needs a spritz every other week. Easy!

Cally Russell, Mallzee

Cally Russell is CEO of Mallzee, a non-retailer shopping app with over 1.5 million users and featuring hundreds of high street retailers. Since launch Mallzee has won tech and retail awards including being named by Apple as the best new app.

Cally Russell, Founder and CEO of Mallzee

Mallzee’s Cally Russell’s work desk has an inspiring view

Mallzee operates an open plan office, which he says is important for startups. “We are always bouncing ideas around the team on how we can improve and iterate our products.”

“The picture on my desk is of Dunoon Grammer School – given to me recently when we were visited by a group of 14-year-olds from my old school looking to learn about entrepreneurship.”

“The other drawing depicts where our team all come from and was drawn just last week by our data science lead Martina Pugliese. The other obvious thing is the view – I love living in Edinburgh and my views of the castle are amazing.”

How do you keep your work desk? Is there method to the madness? Share your story with us for a chance to be featured on Real Business.