Tuesday 8 March 2016 4:12 am

What does your desk say about you? The five workplace personalities

What do your colleagues think when they look at your desk? We teamed up with the director of Space Works Consulting Lily Bernheimer to run through the secrets of office desk psychology.


Cluttered, chaotic, colourful: this is the desk of an extrovert. Extoverts are excitement seekers and get easily bored without stimulation, so they like to surround themselves with bright lights, materials and knick-knacks related to their many activities. They have a high need for social interaction, and less for personal space, so you may find their desk at the circulation crossroads where they can catch people passing by. Extroverts tend to be assertive, cheerful, and, above all, friendly. These features invite people in to stop and chat. But with their days so busy, extroverts often don’t have enough time to tidy up. Yet while you might think that a cluttered workspace scares people away, a controlled amount of mess is actually more inviting than a sparse space or an overstuffed one.


At the other end of the spectrum we have the Minimalist. An extremely tidy and organised workspace tells people that you are very conscientious. You’ll find the Minimalist organising files, sharpening pencils, and putting dates in his calendar for 2017. Conscientious people tend to be hard-working, reliable, and achievement-oriented – they like to make plans and follow routines. While these are generally seen as positive traits at work, the Minimalist may not be high on the creative spectrum or good at innovating new strategies. And a desk displaying almost no human imprint can also communicate that you haven’t set down roots at work, signalling a lack of commitment.


Anyone who has worked in a co-working space is familiar with the Expander. Every day, their portion of the desk grows a bit bigger with a new stack of files or that kettle they bought and haven’t managed to take home yet. You pop out for lunch and return to find your spot occupied with their half-finished sandwich. Just like dogs, we like to mark our territory, but some people do this more than others. Highly territorial behaviour may signal that a person is more dominant and aggressive, or less sensitive to others. You may find the Expander in the centre of the room, as central-seaters tend to be more dominant and defensive of their space than those around the edges. But it’s also important to point out that scarcity of space and uncertain ownership make people more territorial. Today’s highly shared workspaces can bring out the Expander in anyone if not carefully managed to consider human needs.


You’ll find the Surveyor sequestered away in their own little fortress at the back of the office. Humans are instinctively drawn to spaces with refuge and a view: seats where you have your back to the wall and sight of what may be coming towards you. But Surveyors have an especially strong need for this.

A need for more personal space is linked to introversion. The opposite of an extrovert, the introvert is overwhelmed by too much stimulation and draws their energy from solitary pursuits. Sitting on the periphery can also be a sign that you are low in agreeableness – the tendency to be cooperative and sympathetic. But the Surveyor certainly shouldn’t get a bad rap: introverts are often highly creative and productive types who just need their own fortress to flourish.


A distinctive, stylish, and unusual workspace tells people that you are creative, intellectual, and open to new experiences. A variety of books or magazines shows curiosity, while travel photos or mementos may display a thirst for adventure. These people also tend to be artistic and imaginative, so you may find remnants of creative projects. A highly personalised desk suggests that someone is open as well as extroverted, though women are more likely to personalise their desk than men, and have more plants and social items like photos. Highly open people may also care more about a view than refuge, seating themselves in front of the window for enhanced stimulation and creativity. Personalisers are more likely to have greater job satisfaction, psychological wellbeing, and even physical health, so a more personalised workspace has benefits for both employees and employers.