First they came for the desks, and nobody said NUFFINK

What’s the DEFINING FEATURE of a bureaucrat?They have a bureau!

Or rather, a desk, cos we’re not French and thanks to Brexit no longer have to follow EU regulations on what we call our desks.

The bureaucrat has a desk. I’ve got one, cos I’m a bureaucrat. Take it away and what am i? Just some dude with a clipboard. Yes, i own a clipboard too, I went FULL bureaucrat for comic effect a few years ago, now I inhabit the role. Where does the bureaucrat end and the joke begin, nobody can tell. It’s a seamless piece of situationist art. 


In common with loads of other public sector bodies that have had vast budget cuts to pay for bankers bonuses, we’ve had to shed office space and very soon will have a load more people working in our office. More people than actual desks. This situation will be met by the adoption of HOT-DESKING and AGILE WORKING

I’ve capitalised both these phrases on purpose, because like with LEAN, when this word hit our horizon very unfashionably late we also capitalised them, if not when written down then at least when saying them out loud. These are strange new words that are foreign on our lips. Probably Japan cos that’s futuristic. We don’t know what it all means but it’s all for the best.

I’ve heard conflicting definitions given as to what HOT-DESKING and AGILE working actually mean.

(I’m instinctively AGAINST the word AGILE. When I first started blogging eons ago and people started leaving comments on here i go to their Twitter account or their own blog, and see mentions of it. I still don’t really know what it is, but it sounds HOKEY. This is NOT an invite for people to leave helpful explanation​s.)
What’s really queer about this whole thing is how everybody knows the phrase “agile working” to be total nonsense, and yet we still keep using it, in very different ways.

 In personal 1-2-1 chats we put on a silly voice and do some kind of arm shake like a gibbon. “Oh, I’m agile [arm shakes like gibbon] working today, so I don’t have a desk”.

But in official channels, it’s used totally straight. 

In the end it means you don’t have a particular desk, but most days you have one, and if you’re unlucky on a few days you’ll have to scrabble round to find a spare one.

It works alright, cos people are off on leave or out for day, or working from home etc so it turns out not to be a disaster in the slightest. I’d call it more desk-sharing than AGILE WORKING though.

In the run up to AGILE WORKING we all had a massive clean out of desks and cupboards, keeping only what was “necessary”. I think you’re either a hoarder or a chucker. I’m a chucker so I LOVED this. Sod YOU retention guidelines, I’m off the leash.
One thing that’s odd is it DOESN’T MATTER. The incredibly important things from a long time ago that I certainly wasn’t allowed to chuck then, I’m encouraged to chuck now. Chucking stuff is fine cos we have to right now, and the bureaucrat’s innate tendency to caution and storing all things for future back-covering had been temporarily paused. It’s a lot cleaner too.

It also allowed me to chuck with gay abandon what is just not needed on voyage.

 I found a whole box of CDs with these labels on…

Archived reports!
Miscellaneous documents!
Be still my beating heart. BIN!

And these beauties….

Is been 7 years since I did systems thinking last with Housing Benefits, and 3 since the marble madness, there’s zero call for systemsy stuff here so… BIN!

Found a tube full of a collection of Vangrad posters that I used in an introduction to systems thinking. BIN!

In my drawer were…

I took these home, they’ve got a reprieve despite the misery they’ve caused. Not their fault, poor things.

I keep passing this abandoned chair everyday on the way to work. This has been brutally chucked out too.

It reminds me that once somebody bought it cos it was liked and wanted, and now it isn’t. It was of its time, and now it isn’t. Time’s moved on, as time by definition does.
I was saying to a colleague recently that I can’t recognise the person who typed such things as…

101 tactics for revolutionaries.

Aaaaaaand others like that. They were of a time, and that time has moved on. Now the contents of this blog are less about what to do to change things, and more to do with what is silly and wrong in an organisation, rather than any optimistic guff on what to do to change these silly things.

This is a recognition that the things required to change in organisations belong to top management, cos it’s the inside of their own heads, and that’s THEIR responsibility.

A weird thing about Demingy/Vangrad systems thinking is it’s about changing management thinking, but it’s very relevant to and approachable by anybody who works. It’s not like most management theories, it’s ABOUT work. So you can see it, in your daily existence, it isn’t only relevant to the executive on their strategic retreat. That’s obviously a good thing, KEEPING IT REAL, but also a bit dangerous cos it sucks in people with an interest in how work works, but without the power to do anything about it.  Essentially, the subject of this whole blog from end to end.

Now I can see how huge organisations are, and how much noise there is in them from transformation programmes and all the usual management gubbins. God knows how a manager COULD be dissatisfied and curious AND do all the usual stuff that’s expected, it’s too much. So I’m totally fine that during the time when I did that 101 tactics thing (above) that I was known as systemsy, and now I’m quiet about it and known for being a policy officer instead.
I like the anonymity of being a clipboard wielding copy/paster. I have nothing to do with performance, other than relaying numbers and text without it touching the sides. I see it around, but because the use of measures is formed by the mental model of work used in managing, it’s all very silly indeed, so best avoided.

I think this post is me fully embracing my loser-dom. Like in this piece here!

It says organisations are comprised of three layers…

The Losers like to feel good about their lives. They are the happiness seekers, rather than will-to-power players, and enter and exit reactively, in response to the meta-Darwinian trends in the economy. But they have no more loyalty to the firm than the Sociopaths. They do have a loyalty to individual people, and a commitment to finding fulfillment through work when they can, and coasting when they cannot.

I didn’t realise that was my allotted role, but now that I do, and have chucked the struggle against it, it’s a lot easier. I’m not saying that you should, cos there’s all sorts who read this blog, people right at the apex of the triangle even. I’m just acknowledging what’s been personally chucked along with the contents of my desk.

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11 Responses to First they came for the desks, and nobody said NUFFINK

  1. John Liddle says:

    Excellent blog, as always.

    Many years ago I was selected as manager material by one of the several failing organisations I’ve worked for and I encountered manager-speak for the first time. I couldn’t believe that adult humans would actually take such nonsense seriously but not only did they, it was an absolute requirement if you were to belong to the manager caste and it has remained so.

    There’s always some new way of looking at the process of management and there are buzzwords to let others know that you’re up to speed with the latest bollocks. So today we have agile working and it’s as daft as all the other nonsense that has gone before. All it means is that the organisation has higher priorities than the comfort of its employees. It may be couched in language that makes it sound like fun but it isn’t. It’s cuts and shortages and doing without by another name and it’s a backward step disguised as a forward one.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Hello John! Thanks for the story. Seems as if talking silly without cracking a smile is a pseudo test for being able to fit in perhaps? The ability to suspend any sense of self and of absurdity?


  2. Nothing wrong with the term ‘Agile’ in this context. Entirely accurate in that you have to be faster and nimbler and have sharper elbows than the next man/woman to get the last remaining hot desk in the morning.

    And just wait for the moment they fit desk ‘occupancy monitors’ that signal when a desk comes free and there is a rush to get to it only to find someone has cleverly switched the desk numbering system as a joke.


    • The System might have got you but it won't catch me says:

      I have suggested they employ some ‘Blakey’ type figure on every floor to allocate the desks every day and make sure they don’t leave pens and stuff there when they piss off to a four hour meeting ten minutes after setting u camp.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Today I was hot DESKING and ended up in a seat that somehow had an endless stream of people walking an inch behind me for all the three hours I was able to take it for before I just left. I’d like to be able to say my hard work was interrupted. I’d LIKE to, but, you know.


  3. Andrew O'Hara says:

    Reading this was sobering, if unpleasant – a true, necessary and kind dash of cold urine in the face.


  4. Bob AInsworth says:

    As you have mentioned desks, at my previous place of command and control hell (before ST came in), we had strict instructions to lock our desks when we left work to go home. One of my work buddies forgot on a number of occasions which resulted in a disciplinary. I had over heard their conversation and I got in touch with a friend (an actual one, not just work friend) who worked for the same company and was ‘up’ on the rules and regs. He told me that if there wasn’t anything in the drawers, they didnt have to be locked.

    I spoke to my work colleague and asked if they had anything in the drawer to which they replied, ‘No, nothing, I never keep a thing in it’. Ok, mind if I read the disciplinary letter. Sure enough it stated that all drawers must be locked.

    So I offered my services to be a witness on their behalf. They agreed, we went into the disciplinary and as the manager chairing the meeting explained what had been found, I asked them ‘Was there anything in the drawer?’ They read their notes…’Erm it doesn’t say. ‘Ok’, I replied, ‘so I will ask again, was the drawers checked correctly?’, ‘Well it was unlocked’.

    ‘Was anything in them? ‘ I said it doesn’t say’.
    ‘Well rules state that they have to be locked if there is something in them, correct?’
    ‘And you don’t know if they was anything in them’
    ‘No, not by the looks of it’
    ‘Well, if the drawer has nothing in them they can remain unlocked, we can go and check now if you wish’
    ‘Erm…we will take a break’

    Suffice to say no verbal first was given, just a warning, but at least it didnt go on their records. 1-0 us grunts


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