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What Your Desk Says About Your Work Style

Topics: Work Culture
desk style
Slava Keyzman/Unsplash

From their position in the office (if we have a choice) to the items we choose to display on them, our desks speak volumes. Have you ever wondered what your desk says about you?

Lily Bernheimer, an environmental psychologist and director at UK-based Space Works Consulting, developed an evidence-based approach to desk personalities in 2016 and then laid them out in her 2017 book, The Shaping of Us: How Everyday Spaces Structure Our Lives, Behaviour, and Well-Being. She “developed five personality desk types for UK co-working company Headspace Group, drawing on the work of [psychology professor Sam] Gosling and other personality and environmental psychologists,” per the BBC.

Bernheimer’s investigation of desk personalities led to clear “types” found in almost every office and insights into what each worker’s space says about them. What type do you have?

1. The Clutterer

You’ve got your stacks of papers, files, half-finished coffees and so many pens. But does a cluttered desk mean a bad worker? It really doesn’t. Bernheimer says clutterers tend to be more extroverted and welcoming of colleagues. Instead of seeing this desk as one full of “chaos,” see it as the one full of personality and creativity.

2. The expander

In shared-desk offices, you might have a new chair every day as your work station shifts from spot to spot, depending on availability that day. But we all put a few things down from time to time. If your neighbor’s “stuff” starts to creep over to your space, bit by bit, that might be a sign that they’re looking to assert their dominance in an office full of unknown hierarchies.

3. The surveyor

Safety is paramount to the corner-desk chooser. If you get to put your back to the wall, then nobody — from ninjas to Carol from accounting — can sneak up on you. These folks make sure that they can see the boss coming, but that doesn’t mean they’re hiding something nefarious (or not work-related) on their screens. The corner-desk sitter is simply trying to find some focus in a crazy swirl of activity, especially in an open office.

4. The minimalist

The uber-minimalist seems like a ghost when they’re not at their desk. They might leave a stray pen in a cup, but don’t expect to see any stacks or piles of anything on their desk. You might wonder how dedicated they are to the job, but really, the minimalist just wants to keep order in a space they can control.

While a person who doesn’t leave much behind at work might be planning a swift ghostly exit, they also should be praised for what they’re bringing to the team.

“…a minimalist is more likely to be high in the traits of conscientiousness, discipline and cautiousness. They are hardworking, reliable, achievement-oriented and thrive on structure and planning,” Bernheimer says.

5. The personalizer

Oh man, you know every time their kid makes a new drawing, because it’s posted up on their cube wall, or proudly displayed by their personalized family wall calendar. They have favorite quotes tacked up, a mug with photos from their last vacation and a screen saver bouncing around with their dog’s latest photo on their laptop. What don’t you know about this person, even when you haven’t seen them in person in weeks?

But instead of avoiding your coworker so that you won’t have to hear a story about their new favorite book, enjoy the fact they’re probably pretty well-adjusted and also into their job.

“A simple, stylish or unusual workspace tells people that you’re high in the trait called ‘openness,’ which means you’re likely to be high in creativity, intellectuality and openness to new experience,” says Bernheimer.

Skeptical of these claims? Bernheimer recently analyzed a few desks at Business Insider and offered insights to the work personalities of their owners. See how she did — and find out if your desk style is in the mix.

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What’s your desk personality? Does all this ring true? We want to hear from you. Tell us more in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

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