Minimalist Master or Desk Jungle: The Real Workspaces of 2024

2024 marketing trends

An estimated 23.4 million adults (44% of the population) now work from home at least some of the time. That’s a huge increase from 4.7 million people pre-pandemic – and a whole lot of desks, offices and spaces that have been transformed to accommodate this ‘new normal’.

This blurring line between our professional and personal lives has begged the question: how should we set up our workstations? We’ve probably all learnt – or been told – that having a clean and tidy desk is conducive to a productive working environment, but what about when it’s in our home, a place of personality and comfort?

Should we be maintaining a sterile, office-like space, or is it ok for our desks to reflect the place we live, adorned with personal items and dare we say it… a bit of mess.

Do our office desks and ‘wfh’ desks look the same or very different, with them being in different environments?

It’s this curiosity that led us to conducting a survey, with the help of 1,000 Brits.

We wanted to find out, a few years on from the boom in remote and hybrid working, what the real workspaces of 2024 look like – both at home, and in the office.

In this report, we’re going to shed light on the state of our desks, how we put our own stamp on them and the relationship between our workstations and our mood, productivity, physical well-being and mental well-being.

 

Almost half of Brits with messy desks feel ‘overwhelmed’, ‘stressed’ or ‘embarrassed’ by its state

messy desk

Almost half of UK workers with a messy desk say the state of it makes them feel ‘overwhelmed’, ‘stressed’ or ‘embarrassed’

One in three Brits say they have a messy desk, of varying degrees, from ‘somewhat messy, but I can easily find what I need’ to ‘extremely messy, with items piled high’.

And of those people that put themselves on the messy scale, 74% ‘fess that their work from home desk is messier than the set-up they have in the office.

Taking into account the same subset of participants, almost half (46%) say that their primary desk (whether that be at home or elsewhere) makes them feel ‘overwhelmed’, ‘stressed’ or ‘embarrassed’, and many also comment that it hampers their mood and/or productivity levels.

If you had to guess whether men or women have the messiest desks, what would you say?

It’s women, with 8% more women than men ‘fessing up to a messy desk and 10% more women feeling ‘overwhelmed’, ‘stressed’ or ‘embarrassed’.

It’ll come as no surprise then to read that almost seven in ten Brits with ‘desk jungles’ wish their space was tidier!

Dr Rebekah Wanic, a mindset psychologist and leadership coach at Vent to Reinvent, comments on why people may feel embarrassed about their workspace: “Because our workspaces can and are used as information for social judgement, people may feel embarrassed when their workspace is too messy because it may signal that they are not in control or on top of their work. I don’t think there is a need to feel embarrassed about a messy workspace unless it is messy in a way that interferes with others or with completing your own tasks.

“Social media is full of messages about how to do everything with someone claiming that one way of organising is better than another or that a certain type of colour scheme or set up is more optimal. Most of this is garbage! Individuals should experiment with what works best for them and their unique needs.”

 

Decorated desk-scapes: what are we likely to have on our desks, apart from the basics?

rubber duck

Rubber ducks are one of the most common items us Brits have on our work desks, according to our research

We asked participants to count the number of items on their desk, excluding the following essential equipment: laptops/screens, display stands, mouse, mouse mat and keyboard.

While a handful of Brits love their desk relatively bare (8% have no additional items), more than a quarter of us have more than TEN items on our work surface. 

We grouped these into themes and found some the most common items to be:

  • Personal items bought by a friend or family member
  • Soft toys
  • Figurines
  • Trophies/football memorabilia 
  • Rubber ducks
  • Fidget toys/stress balls
  • Lego

Here’s what a few people had to say about their most unique desk item: 

“I have a little figure of Professor Quirrell from Harry Potter. I bought it in a mystery box. It’s cute and have it on my desk to bring me good luck”

“I have an action figure on my desk. It makes me feel good and actually helps to improve my mood by making me feel like a superhuman!”

“My most unique item is a wooden block that says ‘it is what it is’ and it is there to remind me not to stress about things if I can’t change them

“I have a Rubik’s Cube. I use it when I don’t know what to do next. I’m keeping it on my desk because it makes me look cool!”

“I have a picture of Phil Mitchell (from Eastenders) dressed up as a baby because it makes me laugh!”

“I have a miniature rubber duck wearing a top hat. It’s a whimsical gift from a friend and adds a touch of fun to my workspace”

“It would be a present my child gave me a long time ago which is a ‘best dad ever’ cup with fake beer in it. I love it”

“I have an award which was given to me by my unit lead for being the most hardworking staff last year. I placed it on my desk and enjoy looking at it while working”

But we didn’t just stop there. We scoured all 1,000 responses to uncover the three most interesting items in the top ten most populated cities in the UK:

Interestingly, nine in ten UK workers have a pen and/or paper on their desk, and six in ten have a printer which they use either ‘regularly’ or ‘sometimes’. Perhaps this isn’t the death of more traditional office tools that some predicted might happen with the rise in modern technology?

Dr Rebekah Wanic shares her thoughts on these findings: “Personalising your workspace is important because it gives you a sense of ownership and control, things that can feel missing in some work environments. 

“Things that remind one of family and friends are ways to show others that you are socially connected and cared for while signalling to your family and friends that they are important, even when you are not physically together.

“Toys and figurines can be ways to show others what you are interested in and potentially serve as conversation starters or to attract the attention of others. And Lego sets are just awesome – they are a toy, an accomplishment, a conversation starter and more!

“Trophies are self-presentations of past success and sports memorabilia can align us with the success of others or with a community of fans. 

“Stress balls and the like are often acquired at work and just stay there or they are a way to subtly let the powers that be know you are working hard and might need some relief.”

 

London and Liverpool are home to the messiest desks, while Newcastle has the tidiest workers

Newcastle Bridge

Those living in Newcastle have the tidiest desks, while those living in London and Liverpool have the messiest

According to our study, just 19% of people claim their main work desk is ‘perfectly tidy’. In Newcastle, that figure is 26% – more than any of the other most populated cities in the UK. Newcastle also ranks seventh out of ten for employees having the least amount of non-essential items on their workstation.

But in London and Liverpool it’s a different picture, with these cities ranking highest for the messiest desks. Liverpool also has the most people claiming they feel ‘overwhelmed’, ‘stressed’ or ‘embarrassed’ by their work area, and more than a quarter (27%) of Liverpudlians say they’ve received negative feedback from colleagues over their mess/disorganisation.

That’s not all though; Liverpool also claims the title for workers:

  • Being the most likely to have their mood and/or productivity affected by the state of their work area
  • Having the most amount of non-essential items on their desk
  • Eating lunch at their desk ‘every’ or ‘most’ days
  • Investing the most in items/equipment for their desk that benefit their mental well-being

 

Four in ten Brits admit to eating their lunch at their desk either every or most days

Healthy bowl of food

Many of us still eat lunch at our desk, despite knowing the physical and mental benefits associated with taking regular breaks

While many claim remote or hybrid working has aided a better work-life balance, it doesn’t take much research to uncover a myriad of more shocking statistics which show that UK employers still have some way to go to prioritising their employees’ physical and mental well-being.

According to a Ciphr study, the average UK employee clocks up 18 days of unpaid overtime a year, while Mental Health’s recent Burnout Report warns the country is at risk of becoming a ‘burnt-out nation’. In a poll of over 2,000 UK adults by YouGov for Mental Health UK, one in five workers revealed they needed to take time off due to poor mental health caused by pressure or stress in the past year.

Our research highlights how working through lunch is still the norm for many,  and contrary to us all being aware of the importance of getting our bodies moving and looking after our mind, 43% of Brits confess they eat at their desk ‘every’ or ‘most’ days. Neither gender is more prone to not taking a break.

As mentioned above, those living in Liverpool are most likely to take lunch at their desk (49%) – despite the fact workers have the messiest desks in the UK too! Workers in Newcastle (49%) and Manchester (47%) are also guilty of this, while those in Birmingham are most likely to get away from their screen (30%).

Kate Palmer, Employment Services Director at HR consultancy firm Peninsula, comments: “Looking at the reasons behind why employees are eating at their desks is likely to be a good first step. Is it because there’s nowhere else to go, or because they have too much work on and feel they have to multitask and eat while they work. 

“This is where managers need to lead by example. Make sure you are taking your lunch breaks and encouraging employees to do the same. If someone consistently doesn’t then find out the reasons why and look at how you can help support them to change that. Have a break area so that employees have somewhere to take their lunch break and make sure that the work day is planned in a way that allows everyone to take their full break. When employees are working remotely, make sure you don’t schedule meetings around lunchtime to allow them to get away from their desks.”

There’s another issue we should address here too – food hygiene. 

Statistics show that your desk is almost THREE times dirtier than the standard toilet seat. Yes, you read that right! 

And if that’s not enough, how about the fact your keyboard harbours almost as many germs as your kitchen bin? Or that your mouse is home to more bacteria than your door mat?

Kirstie Jones, a workplace health and safety expert at Navitas Safety, says: “You wouldn’t think that desks are dirtier than toilets, but when you consider how much time we spend at our desks – and eat at them too – the statistics seem less surprising. Regular cleaning of our workspaces, at least once a week, is essential to maintaining hygiene and preventing the buildup of potentially harmful bacteria, which can lead to illness and allergic reactions.

“A lot of offices do have regular cleaners, but with many working from home at least some of the time, it is our own responsibility to keep these areas clean and hygienic. An antibacterial wipe, or a cloth and spray, will do the trick here – though for tricky keyboards, we do also recommend buying a can of compressed air to remove trapped dirt first”. 

 

The rise of walking pads – and other items that enhance our physical and mental wellbeing while working

walking pad

Walking pads have become very popular since the pandemic, as more people strive to achieve a good work-life balance

A quick search on Google Trends shows a clear rise in popularity for ‘walking pads’ (at home treadmills which may be folded or used under a desk). In the UK alone, there were 21,000 searches for this type of equipment over the past month, and a 161% increase in interest over the past year. Similar terms, such as ‘desk treadmill’ and ‘under desk treadmill’, have also spiked.

With more of an emphasis than ever on looking after our well-being, we wanted to uncover how much people have invested into their workstations to help them improve either their physical or mental health. 

The great news is that seven in ten participants have already taken measures to enhance their workspace with items which will benefit their body, while eight in ten have done the same for their mind.

Looking at the statistics more granularly, 93% of 18-25 year olds have purchased items to improve their mental well-being, a figure that drops to 60% for those over the age of 54.

Flipping the numbers, we also discovered that those living in Liverpool are most likely to have items on their desk that aid their physical health, while workers in London are least likely to have made this investment.  

As for mental health, Mancunians lead the way for purchasing items that calm the mind, while 36% of Brummies have not enhanced their desk in this way.

Here are the top five items individuals have invested in to support their physical health at work: 

  1. Ergonomic chair (30%)
  2. Lumbar support pillow/backrest (25%)
  3. Ergonomic mouse or keyboard (21%)
  4. Footstool (20%)
  5. Cable management solutions (19%)

Here are the top five items individuals have invested in to support their mental health at work: 

  1. Personal photos (36%)
  2. Real plants (29%)
  3. Desk organisers (24%)
  4. Artwork (23%)
  5. Fake plants (18%)

 

Having a messy desk could be a sign of genius, research claims

messy desk equals genius

If you have a messy desk, don’t fear!

Numerous studies claim that having a messy desk could be a sign of genius – though the internet remains divided.

Scientists at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other approaches to “show that our brains like order, and that constant visual reminders of disorganisation drain our cognitive resources and reduce our ability to focus”. 

Similarly, a study on the effects of mess in the home reveals a correlation between people who are overwhelmed by the amount of ‘stuff’ in their homes and heightened procrastination. 

Yet, research by scientists at the University of Minnesota have found that those with messy desks are more likely to promote creative thinking and stimulate new ideas.

And if that’s not enough, how about the words of Albert Einstein, who is widely regarded a scientific genius:

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

Well, who are we to disagree with Einstein?

Interesting in running PR campaigns like this for your own business? Check out our PR services or get in touch with the team.

Becca Tee

Becca Tee

Hi, I’m Becca! I am the latest addition to the Repeat Digital team, having joined to help launch the PR and content arm of the business. This is a very exciting time for Repeat and means we can now provide a holistic approach to marketing, offering a seamless and ‘hybrid’ blend of traditional PR and digital PR. After three years as a journalist, I moved to the ‘dark side’ and began my career in PR. I have experience in both traditional and digital, and have worked with a wide range of B2B and B2C clients, from small family companies to international enterprises. I love creating bespoke strategies and compelling press releases and always aspire to become an extension of my clients’ teams, not just a person they work with agency-side. Outside of work, I am a real homebird. When I’m not running around like a headless chicken after my son, or cuddling my two guinea pigs, you’ll find me at the gym, cinema, or enjoying a meal (probably at Wagamama).

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