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Whoever dreamt up open plan offices clearly had never worked in one. Add hot-desking to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster. ‘Our employees are our greatest asset,’ is the catch cry of many a workplace but it feels like ‘your call is important to us’ while placed on hold.

I work in an ostensibly beautifully designed office that must have cost the NSW government a pretty penny. It has state of the art kitchens on every floor, artwork in the hallway, real plants in every area, large television screens in the eating area and little nooks to for intimate conversations. It also has adjustable desks, expensive chairs, and some small bookable offices where people can go to have meetings or private conversations, if they aren’t already booked. On the surface, it is perfect.

Right now, many people are still working from home so that only a fraction of the desks are utilised. Our designated area is close to another NSW department which is quite separate to us. Most of their work is conducted on the telephone or Zoom calls, while most of our work tends to be either quiet computer work or online meetings. Both groups deal with sensitive and confidential information but due to the configuration of the desks, we can’t help but hear things that we really shouldn’t. It doesn’t help that one of the men ‘from the other side’ has a booming voice that travels several hundred metres. Furthermore, brevity is not a concept with which he is acquainted.

I have had to get used to wearing noise cancelling headphones (my own) to be able to get any work done at all. Sometimes even they aren’t enough, and I find myself downloading the sound of ocean waves to drown out the voices around me.

Then there’s the issue of hot-desking. It is meant to be ‘flexible’ or ‘agile’, but it ignores that we are creatures of habit who like to have our own spot. Hot-desking certainly hasn’t stopped booming-voice-man’s conversation reaching my ears. He, like most others, tends to sit at his favourite desk. This isn’t an issue at present as we have more desks than people in the office. The working from home phenomenon has meant that many people have chosen not to return as they find it more comfortable to be in their own surroundings. Let’s face it, at home you can sit at your own desk and have as many of your favourite items around you as you like. A bit like in the old days when you could have a photo on a desk, maybe some nick-nacks, and most importantly, the files you were working on. The computer was affixed to the table and at the end of the day you could walk away knowing full well that everything would be found where it had been left.

Now, however, I have to carry my laptop and my work mobile, store keyboard and mouse in a tiny locker with any papers I may need (remember the dream of the paperless office ?) and leave the desk pristine when I clock off. It takes a good 5-10 minutes to set up each morning and the same to pack up in the evening.

All the desks look sterile. There are no photos or personal belongings anywhere and it feels more like an assembly line than an office. The message is clear. We are all expendable. When I leave, no trace of my presence is left behind.

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