Where does your desk face?

If you work with other people, unless you're a receptionist don't position your desk facing the flow of traffic. People walking past will catch your eye. It is a natural reaction to glance up as footsteps approach and once eye contact has been made your chain of thought has been broken - even if you don't speak.

An Information Technology manager for a very large international bookstore franchise decided to do something about his endless interruptions. Problem was, his desk faced swinging doors through which people walked many times a day. Even though he was a quiet man who preferred to concentrate on his complex work, he was just the same as everyone else - wired to look up when someone came toward him.

He turned his desk 90 degrees away from the door and positioned some bookshelves to block the view. What he now saw were the backs of people as they walked away from the entrance. And when they exited they weren't looking directly at him. Outcome? With excitement he informed me that he'd dramatically reduced his interruptions; this equalled about an hour a day of extra productivity.


If you've got fixed furniture that can't be moved, these ideas might help:

1. Try using a plant as a visual barrier.

2. What about screens? If you're working on a shoestring budget, the cheap furniture super-stores often have wooden frames you can cover with fabric of your choice.

3. Can you shift your body? A client in Gisborne simply moved her computer screen 45 degrees. Now, instead of her face partially angled toward the customer desk run by her staff, the back of her shoulder was to the public. She could still hear (and help if needed) but she gained back 30 minutes a day.

And think bigger than just the desk position. Here's another example from a reader.

Simon Lord from Franchise New Zealand wrote to me last week with a great anecdote. (He's been following this series of articles about workplace efficiency.)

"One of my favourite stories from the early days of McDonalds is of the time when the original brothers, Dick and Mac McDonald, decided to perfect the kitchen layout of new stores by drawing it on their tennis court.

Late one night, they invited their crew to act out their roles on the court, making imaginary hamburgers, shakes and fries. The brothers followed them around, marking in chalk exactly where all the equipment should be placed, erasing and redrawing it to ensure maximum efficiency. It was so late when they finished that they left it till next morning to commit the final design to paper but before that happened there was a rare Californian cloudburst and all that remained was red streaks. The next night, they did it all over again.


It's that sort of approach - planned, tested, improved and (albeit belatedly) documented - that is behind the success of McDonalds and many other great franchises. The best franchisors, like Ray Kroc who took the McDonald brothers' operational excellence and made it the base of the modern global giant, often demonstrate a slightly obsessive attention to detail."

We don't need to be world-famous franchisors to get value from attention to detail. Incremental changes can make a huge difference.