Advantages of introducing a clean desk policy

As hot desking becomes increasingly popular, Alastair Brown, chief technological officer at BrightHR outlines the advantages for employers adopting a clean desk policy including paperless offices, increased productivity and reduced stress

Clean desk policies are becoming increasingly common in the modern workplace with many employers turning to them as standard practice. While the extent of each policy may vary from one employer to the next, they are all built on the core values of maintaining a clean and tidy workplace with a heavy emphasis on paperless working practices.

Those who implement a clean desk policy may be rewarded with benefits such as increased productivity and data security, as well as a reduction in unnecessary costs. However, there are considerations with regards to clean desk policies which should be taken into account before choosing to implement a policy of this type.

The number one driver for most employers adopting a clean desk policy is data security. Adopting a clean desk policy discourages employees from having any confidential information visible on their desk. Employees are asked to refrain from the common practice of writing passwords on sticky notes as these can easily be stolen by opportunistic colleagues and lead to a data breach.

Similarly, documents containing information relating to clients and confidential projects should not be left on desks; instead these should always be viewed and worked on electronically where possible for added security. If physical copies are required then these should be locked away in suitable desk drawers or disposed of in confidential waste bins when no longer required.

Clean desk policies are also credited with saving time and increasing productivity; a major problem facing employers with a report revealing a typical employee spends 2.5 hours a day searching for information (see IDC report Unlocking the hidden value of information).

By encouraging important documentation to be saved electronically, often on shared computer drives, employees no longer have to spend valuable time searching through stacks of paper to find what they need.

This would require some businesses to introduce a central storage system which provides access for all employees; an expensive and administrative project which may be outside the reach of some businesses.  

A familiar phrase that arises when discussing the benefits of a clean desk policy is ‘tidy desk, tidy mind’.

Many employees say they benefit from having a clean workstation as this increases the sense of space and reduces the stress they might experience when surrounded by piles of work, allowing them to think more clearly and work more methodically. With stress related absences costing UK employers an estimated 12.5 million working days in 2017, employers would be wise to consider this benefit.  

A clean desk policy can also make the entire workplace look tidier, promoting a more professional image to visitors and clients.

On the other hand, most employees feel their workstation is a space where they wish to personalise due to spending the majority of their day there. Some employees choose to put up photos, plants, calendars and other mementos which would have to be removed if there was a clean desk policy introduced.

Some employees may offer resistance to a clear desktop as they may feel they work better in a traditional paper based working environment.  

Having been originally popularised by the technology and creative industries, the practice of hot desking is becoming more prevalent in the modern workplace. A benefit of a clean desk policy is that it enables hot desking to take place more effectively as each workstation must remain clear; allowing employees to work from anywhere with minimum adjustments required.

Effective hot-desking brings benefits such as increasing flexibility and collaboration among employees, however, the practice may not be suitable for all businesses, especially those which require a large amount of team work within pre-defined teams with little need for cross departmental collaboration.

Employers wishing to implement a clean desk policy in the workplace should consider the following steps:

·         put the policy in writing to outline the rules and responsibilities of the clean desk policy eg, employees are required to clear all paperwork off their desk at the end of the working day; 

·         provide training to employees on the practical applications of the new policy and what changes they need to make to their working routine;

·         Provide suitable equipment such as secure desk drawers and confidential waste bins. A suitable computer system may also be required to effectively switch to paperless working methods;

·         introduce workplace signs to remind employees to follow the clean desk policy;

·         appoint an employee to be responsible for overseeing and encouraging cooperation within the wider workforce;

·         lead by example and ensure managers and executives follow the clean desk policy.

There are likely to be employees who oppose being moved away from traditional working practices to those under a clean desk policy. In these cases, spending a little on-on-one time with the employee will benefit both parties; it allows an opportunity to talk through their unwillingness, point out the benefits of the policy, and provide guidance on how they can make changes to utilise the advantages of the policy. Continued review and support will help turn their negative attitude around.

About the author

Alastair Brown is chief technological officer at BrightHR 

Alastair Brown |Chief technological officer, Bright HR

Alastair Brown is chief technological officer at BrightHR. BrightHR provides a cloud...

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