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Rod Webb

Glasstap Limited

Director and Co-Founder

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The Art of Desk-Bombing


Desk-bombing; it’s a thing apparently. One in a long line of office catchphrases. It describes the act of approaching someone at their desk to talk to them, without warning.

Apparently, in some circles, this is considered scandalous. So, let me confess upfront, I am a desk-bomber. I delight in it; always have.

My most cherished memories of desk-bombing come from my time working in a large call centre in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, where there were lots of interdependent departments. 

I really liked my colleagues and if I had a question, or wanted to chat something through, I very quickly concluded that the best way to do this was to pop over and see them.
Here are some of the many reasons I’m a fan of desk-bombing:

  1. Requests that can easily be misconstrued if communicated by email are less likely to be, and I think conversations are generally more personable when we’re face-to-face.
  2. Solutions are generally easier found face-to-face too. A day of emails bouncing back and forth could often be compressed into one ten-minute face-to-face conversation.
  3. It gets you off your bum. If you’re like me, once I’m at my desk, I can sit there for hours without moving much other than my fingers. In Harrogate, some of my colleagues’ desks were a long way away and some involved using stairs. (I could have chosen to take the lift but didn’t.) This physical movement was undoubtedly important, particularly as breakfast at the time often comprised of a sausage roll and a snickers bar grabbed from the canteen (remember those?).
  4. Face-to-Face conversations help build relationships. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I’m still friends with people I worked with in Harrogate. (I’ve just frightened myself by realising I’m referencing a work environment from thirty years ago!)
  5. It didn’t just build relationships with those I was visiting. Walking through the offices gave me an opportunity to acknowledge other people and to get to know more of my colleagues. This was, without question, beneficial and probably contributed to me being elected to the first European Staff council when that was introduced. 

Of course, there are rules and etiquette when it comes to effective desk-bombing. I’d never interrupt someone who was already talking to someone else, and if they looked like they were deeply focused on something I’d leave them be and pop back later. (One of the key advantages of desk-bombing, as opposed to telephoning, is that you can actually SEE how busy your colleague is and how receptive they’re likely to be to an interruption.) And remember, there’s a big difference between desk-bombing and desk-loitering. 

If I wanted to discuss a meaty challenge, I might telephone first and suggest a coffee, or I might pop over and suggest a chat over a coffee later. Actually, I preferred the face-to-face approach again because it provided a more informal way to sow the seed in preparation for a longer conversation. For example, “Gill, I was wondering if you had someone who might be able to join us on secondment for a few weeks?” Seed sown, with a favourable response, my colleague would often arrive at coffee with some suggested solutions.  

Desk-bombing isn’t always welcome of course. If you’re in the ‘zone’ or working on a particularly complex or detailed problem, for example, with lots of data to analyse, some jolly soul materialising at the corner of your desk might be the last thing you want. A simple way to control visitors, where necessary, is an agreed sign that you’re busy. A rubber duck on top of our computers (computers were much larger back then!) was our agreed signal not to desk-bomb.

These days, I work in a different country to my colleagues and half the team work remotely. The virtual equivalent of desk-bombing is a video call and, since we first started experimenting with remote working 14 years ago, it’s been a golden rule that people use video (with the camera on) and never phones. 

Of course, the rubber duck has been replaced with a ‘busy’ status but other than that the same principles largely apply. Except, perhaps I should carry my computer to another room, or a neighbour’s house, before videoing my colleagues; these Snickers bars don’t seem to burn off like they used to!  

Until next time…

Author Profile Picture
Rod Webb

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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