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Wednesday, 4 August 2010

I heard it through the Grapevine

What have you on your office desk? Besides the computer screen, keyboard, phone  and mobile charger, what else. A copy of Fowler's "Dictionary of Modern English Usage", copies of the latest office notices and circulars? A picture of the family or pet? A bowl of flowers or sweets? Tannin stained tea cup? Pencil sharpener, pot for pens and paper clips? A name plate - I do so hope not!

I'm amazed how some people personalise their office space, especially their office desk. It's an extension of themselves and often their home. I swear given the chance, they'd paint it their favourite colour. That might be quite exciting. Every desk a different colour - although undeniable visually vibrant it might set off the fire alarm or your work colleague who has a homicidal aversion to puce pink.  

My desk was, I'm afraid, rather functional. Mostly it was a flat surface for the papers I had no idea what to do with. A mixture of printed out e-mails, cut out articles and files.

We had a clear desk policy in the office which was supposed to mean that during the day as little as possible littered the desk and when leaving in the evening one's desk was to be clear of anything extraneous. This policy I found encouraged inefficient working although its aim was the exact opposite.

Strict enforcement of this office routine meant that I and other of my workmates spent up to half an hour before quitting for the day tidying up our desk. Leaving the serious, brain stretching work for which I was handsomely paid undone. But since my bosses seemed to think that the stuff we thought up was irresistible to Russian, American and industrial spies, we had to ensure that our desk were squeaky clear at close of play.

So it must have come as rather a shock to my ex colleagues in Her Majesty's Treasury to learn that their desks were for the chop.

I chanced upon this article in Sunday's Financial Times "Civil Servants to Endure Treasury Squeeze"  According to the article civil servants within the Treasury are to sit at smaller desks closer together in order to squeeze hundreds of workers from elsewhere in Whitehall into the building. The FT cited a property expert who cautioned that to cram more staff in would put pressure on services such as lifts and cleaning. The Treasury could also get too warm – much of the building is naturally ventilated.

This report greatly alarmed me. I had visions of my old colleagues finding the loos overflowing,  a huge increase in hay fever and mass faints as the temperature soared. But my main concern was for their mental equilibrium.

Increasingly my aged ex colleagues have talked about the recruitment of young nubile female graduates into the staid, grey ranks of the Treasury establishment. It was clear from their comments that the sight of young women who, at this time of year, were lightly clothed was causing them some considerable distress. The thought of my ex colleagues having to sit closer to such attractive young women caused me to immediately e-mail them to ascertain their state of mind.

Reassuringly I received  a cogent "Out of Office" messages from all of them. Subsequently an aged friend now past retirement age but clinging on, replied by copying me the internal Treasury minute announcing this change.

I have to say that I was delighted that the double speak for which the Treasury is rightly famed is alive and well. I was particularly struck by this gem:

"Making better use of 1HGR (1 Horse Guards Road - the Treasury offices) and optimising the use of our space gives us the opportunity to make financial savings, as well as deliver a modern, professional and technologically enabled workspace that supports more flexible space usage in line with Fast Forward...."

This is part of the Treasury's contribution to the huge public sector cuts to which the Coalition Government is committed. If this is successful I confidently predict that the acreage taken up by civil servants and public sector workers generally will shrink by 20%.  

I also predict a massive rise in sexual harassment cases as knees, elbows, thighs, chests and butts inadvertently touch in the newly restricted work space. 


The Chick said...

I feel sorry for all the old guys who have to put up with bumping elbows with young new interns :)

Barry Coidan said...

Dear Chick, shouldn't you be working at your desk?

G said...

Ha ha, clear desk policies... They seem to come from the feeling that 'our work is terribly important' yet actually abiding by them makes one's work seem absolutely trivial...