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Making Excuses For A Clean Desk Policy

April 4, 2018

I heard that IBM, back when they were

I – B – M

had the policy. Microsoft kind of had it, we were told becuase people would try to take pictures at night through the windows. I know my company has it formally in writing for our agents.

I’m talking about a clean desk policy.

Basically, it means you don’t have anything on your desk. Well, except a keyboard, of course. . .and a monitor, can’t do much without a monitor. . .and you have to have the mouse. . .And sometimes a phone, but my agents use a softphone in their computer. But, that’s it. No paper. No pens. Literally nothing to write with or on.

The idea is that my agents regularly have access to personal indentity and finanancial information. We provide all the tools they need online. They don’t need to write anything down.

I’m not an agent, and I don’t have access to any of that PII or financial information about our users. The clean desk policy for me is the idea that at the end of the day, my desk is “clean.” No paper. No printouts. Nothing. . .well, except for that computer and phone thing.

This was also what I heard IBM’s policy was. They were required to have their desk empty at the end of the day. I’m not sure they were worried about compromising information. I think they just figured, “We’re IBM and this is how we do things.”

Microsoft really did have the clean desk policy. Not only the desk, but whiteboards that were visible from a window were required to be wiped clean at the end of the day.

The stated reason was to prevent “industrial espionage.” The folks in Redmond were seriously worried about someone sneaking around campus taking pictures through the windows at night. It’s hard to believe now, but at the time I was there, in the mid 1990’s, Microsoft was the Google or Facebook of it’s day. We were the best and the brightest. Everyone else wanted to be us. I don’t know if anyone ever tried to steal secrets this way, but it was still a good policy.

I still practice the clean desk policy at work. At the end of the day, I dispose of everything on my desk. It’s not as much as it used to be, of course. Most of my documents never see the light of a printer. They exist online. But, anytime I’m not there, you can walk into my office at work and there’s nothing to see.

I also have an office at home. And lately it sees more use than my work office. Often an outage will start at the beginning of our hours of operation, or HOOPS. That’s 5:30AM Utah time. I’m typically not at work yet. I’m typically not ready for work yet. I’m typically still asleep.

But, I’ll stumble down the stairs to my cubbyhole of an office (really, it’s 4 feet by 7 feet. “Cozy” doesn’t begin to describe it) and log in to take the call.

That home office sits behind a locked door and has no windows. And it gets messy. Well, it can’t get too messy at just 28 sq feet, but papers, and reports will pile up.

And that’s what leads to a problem at times. If I’m struggling to get soemthing done, I will sometimes look for a distraction. That’s when the clean desk policy becomes a problem. I’ll end up clearing the surfaces of my rolltop desk of everything that “doesn’t go there.” It doesn’t mean everything goes. I have lots of pictures, minature Ford Mustangs, there’s a tank, and various other pieces that do go there. But, I’ll clear out a lot. Today I even vacuumed the floor. I think there’s about 15 sq feet of it.

I didn’t get everything else done I had on my list, but at least my desk is clean.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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