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Why Desk Bombing Is Hurting Your Company Culture

Jonny Adamson
Jonny Adamson
Co-founder at LunaDesk
You might be thinking that the desk-bombing problem can be solved simply by changing your status to ‘Do Not Disturb’ but from our experience, this paltry gesture rarely works.

You might be thinking that the desk-bombing problem can be solved simply by changing your status to ‘Do Not Disturb’ but from our experience, this paltry gesture rarely works.

What is desk-bombing?

In a traditional office environment, desk-bombing is when a colleague approaches your desk to communicate, rather than sending an email or instant message that you can potentially pick up when you’re less busy. 

Here at LunaDesk we’ll also argue that in a hybrid or remote world, any kind of communication has the potential to distract can be classed as desk-bombing, especially as most people are expected to be ‘reachable’ throughout the working day, and are likely to receive a notification for that email or message.

What’s the problem with desk-bombing?

Let’s imagine for a second that you’re working on a task that requires you to operate in a deep state of concentration. A desk-bomber approaches you asking a question that will require you to lose your focus on the task at hand and subsequently context switch to the matter they want to talk about. The desk-bomber will usually say things like “I know you’re busy and this will only take a minute”, but what they fail to understand is that even though their query might only take a moment to resolve, they’ve now broken your concentration and robbed you of a flow state that will usually take a huge amount of time and effort to regain.

If you’re in the office and a courteous desk-bomber can physically see that you look busy, they might politely send you an message with something like “It’s not urgent, but when you get a sec, can I ask about X?” This is a much more courteous approach and depending on how you read the Linked in poll results that asked over 8,000 people about desk-bombing, the quiet email is how 49-57% of voters will act. 

But how can the desk-bomber be certain if a colleague is busy or not? Particularly in a hybrid world where they might not be able to physically see a person at their desk because they’re working remotely? And what about the 40% who feel that it’s totally acceptable to completely interrupt a busy colleague with complete disregard for their productivity? Well we think we’ve got a solution, but first we need to talk about the difference between collaboration work and production work. 

The difference between collaboration work vs production work

Firstly you have collaborators. Most of their day to day work revolves around communicating with people, providing and getting answers and keeping everyone aligned. These people tend to be project managers, product owners, supervisors and so on. They need to be regularly communicating with stakeholders across the business to keep the wheels turning. 

Secondly we have production staff. The bulk of their time is spent making the things that a company provides for its customers and clients, whether that’s a software developer, a video editor or even Mr Bucket screwing the lids on to toothpaste tubes. This sort of person needs time and space where they can fully concentrate to produce their best work for the company.

Why deep work is important to both the collaborators and the production staff.

Production staff require a large amount of space and time to create their best work. This is usually achieved during periods of deep work, described by Cal Newport in his book of the same name, as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.” Like a form of meditation, deep work requires time to achieve.
Someone looking to achieve a highly focussed state of concentration must firstly immerse themselves into the subject matter and the task before building up to a level of complete concentration. A pat on the shoulder from a colleague or an email notification ping will more often than not break that concentration and the process must start all over again.

Even though collaborators can generally do most if not all of their job without the need for any deep focus time, without regular sessions of concentration, production staff will rarely get the results that the collaborators, and by extension the company they work for, the results they’re aiming for.

Desk-bombing is only acceptable if you know for an absolute fact that the person is not busy.

Here at LunaDesk we know that communication is critical to the success of any business and that collaborators must collaborate. Without regular and reliable channels of communication with the production staff, there’s a danger that work is done incorrectly. But if production staff are unable to get into a state of deep concentration, then there’s a danger that the work won’t be completed at a high standard, or even completed at all. 

We side with those the 49-57% of LinkedIn voters that say desk-bombing is only okay “if they’re not busy”, with the caveat that the potential desk-bomber must be completely certain that that person is not busy. We’ll also argue that it doesn’t matter if the person is in the office or remote. Distracting a colleague from their work whether in person or via a digital nudge, can be enough to knock a productive colleague out of their coveted concentration state.

The solution lies in proper scheduling.

You might be thinking that the desk-bombing problem can be solved simply by changing your status to ‘Do Not Disturb’ but from our experience, this paltry gesture rarely works. It’s easy to forget to switch it off, and as most companies require their staff to be largely available throughout the day, we’ve found that these kinds of indicators are all too often ignored.

We believe that the solution is scheduling time more effectively. Production staff have to be clear and transparent about when and where they will be undertaking deep focus work, by agreeing this ahead of time with their direct reports and marking this clearly in their diaries. In return, those courteous enough to respect a co-workers time, along with the 40% of voters who feel that it’s totally fine to interrupt a busy colleague with complete disregard for their productivity, must be able to easily view the schedule and ultimately respect the time that others have carved out for themselves during the working day.

At LunaDesk our ambition is to help teams achieve hybrid harmony through great digital tools and positive workplace behaviors. One of our product's key features is the ability to properly schedule regular deep focus time, and making that scheduled time clear and obvious to everyone else who may need to communicate with them. We believe that people need to regularly practice a high-level of deep focus, without the distraction to properly reach a level of true productivity.

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