How weird is it for an office to lack a desk?
January 9, 2013 3:26 PM   Subscribe

I would like to take the big, corner desk out of my office and instead have a couch, along with a laptop table that I can use as needed. Or maybe a small stand-up desk off to the side. I am wondering what the outside perception might be, as well as any potential problems I may not have considered.

I am sufficiently senior that I'm not worried about being "allowed" to do this, or facing any repercussions career-wise, but I also don't want everyone to think I am incredibly bizarre.

Possibly relevant facts:

- I work in an academic type environment.

- My office is private.

- I only use my laptop.

- Meetings with external people only occur in a separate conference room, only my direct reports ever visit my office for meetings, and then for infrequent consultations - most internal meetings also occur in a conference room.

- I have sufficient space to have a couch, a 4 top conference table, a laptop desk or standing desk, a bookshelf, and a filing cabinet.

Would the couch seem less weird if there was also a standing desk as an option? Is an armchair with an ottoman better? I don't want to nap, I just want a comfortable place to sit when I have to do tedious computer tasks!

Do you have an unusual office configuration? Suggestions for the best set-up?
posted by cessair to Work & Money (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My boss two jobs ago didn't have a desk. She had a big easy chair and an ottoman, and a small conference table for when she had others to discuss things with. Everyone in the company seemed a bit jealous of the arrangement, but nothing beyond that.
posted by xingcat at 3:27 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

You just described my dream office. Though I would all have a large monitor/tv mounted on the wall with an appletv so I can mirror my laptop on a large display.

The couch might look a bit funny for those who don't know you, but it sounds like the your work environment would be a fine place to try this out.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 3:34 PM on January 9, 2013

I think you're on to something. Disruptive innovation is hitting everything else, why not the archaic conception of The Office — big desk facing the door, big chair behind it, big important guy big important person in chair, everything else in the room focused on desk, chair, person. Basically ancient, patriarchal, fascist concept. No need anymore for piles of paper. No need for big phone parked on desk. No inbox, no outbox. So, toss it out, and get what's comfortable for you. Only risk: somebody might decide, if you don't need a ^%$# desk, you don't need a ^%$# office, either.
posted by beagle at 3:44 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

At the risk of being super obvious, the arrangement you describe sounds a little deficient in horizontal space. Do you ever do anything (research, paperwork, whatever) where you need to have a bunch of stuff all spread out to look over at the same time? Do you have a means of quickly filing any documents that come your way, or will you miss not having a place to temporarily park all those memos on TPS reports you just got? If not, then cool, go for it! I just know that the one time my workspace was arranged like this in the past, it inevitably got a little cluttered up with unexpected piles of stuff on the floor, on the tops of bookshelves, etc., that really just needed a horizontal home.
posted by Bardolph at 3:46 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

My whole office is kinda like that. Everyone has a desk but there are couches and comfy chair all over the place and most people just work at one of those. I'm about 50/50 since I do a lot of things that are much easier to do with two monitors and a real mouse but I work from the couch as much as possible.
posted by magnetsphere at 3:52 PM on January 9, 2013

Sounds like a great plan, especially if you include the conference table (that would allow for the 'horizontal space' issue, and for comfortable meetings as needed). I think people in academia are even less likely to care about perception than in, say, the corporate world, and there's plenty of room for people to be sort of odd or weird with no repercussions...certainly this will not be the oddest thing a professor has ever done. My adviser actually does have a big couch + easy chairs in his (large) office, which he uses for meetings (he has a desk w/ a desktop computer for working), and I don't think anyone has ever commented on it.
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:57 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The table is a nice idea for anyone more comforable sitting across from you with the boundary of a desk in between, if you see people in your office.
posted by availablelight at 4:04 PM on January 9, 2013

If you spend a lot of time on computery stuff, is a couch really the most comfortable position to sit in? I always have to scoot forward and sit sort of scrunched up on a couch to use a laptop desk or something. If it work for you though, go for it! (I'm jealous!)
posted by defcom1 at 4:06 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it's a cool setup, and only whoever you report to can answer whether or not the setup is weird.

However, a standing desk is essential. For one thing, standing while working is actually energizing. It's also more healthy than typing on a couch or easy chair. It's also uses less space than a laptop desk.

I would invest the extra space in a small coffee table that is for balancing coffee when you are thinking on the couch.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:10 PM on January 9, 2013

My (academic) office now has only a standing desk and an armchair. (A comfy comfy armchair with throw rug and cushions). I sit in the armchair to read and stand at the desk to work. The only comments I have had from people are positive: "Wow, you must have a lot of energy to stand all day" or "Sweet set-up: I've been thinking of trying that sort of thing."

People don't even seem to notice that when they come by I am almost always in the armchair (reading or jotting notes on paper) rather than standing at the desk!

I didn't ask for this set-up specifically, actually. Our administrator noticed I was standing to work (with my computer propped up on books) and ordered me a standing desk. So it's not even seen as particularly unusual nowadays, apparently.
posted by lollusc at 4:14 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The conference table makes this sound totally fine to me - you're not forcing people to sit on the sofa with you for meetings.
posted by rosa at 4:15 PM on January 9, 2013

Oh, and I also have a coffee table in front of the armchair. For coffee, stacks of papers to read next, and for putting my feet on when I'm napping :)
posted by lollusc at 4:15 PM on January 9, 2013

I think you just want to make sure that anyone entering can ascertain their appropriate personal space, so you want a couple of obvious comfortable chairs for them to sit in so they don't feel like they have to share a couch with you, which is overly intimate, and because the space is unusual, you don't want to weigh them down obsessing about seating options.

You want people to feel like they don't have to experience some kind of cognitive burden establishing where normal social rules apply -- they just want to know, intuitively, where to go.

Other than that, I don't think it's a concern in your environment. People might assume you work at the table (or on the couch, with your socks off and feet on a bunch of pillows, but it sounds like in this case, Who cares?)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:39 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I had the misfortune to represent my company as a systems engineer, I got an eyefull of lots of senior offices, aka "Mahogany Row." They typically had the big desk with a nearby couch and chairs. Formal stuff was done with the manager behind the desk... But it was very common for them to be on the couch reading reports or tinkering with their PDA (gawd, I'm dating myself, there.) when I came in to mess with their PC. Also, a workstation... typically a little typing desk and stool with a PC on it... was commonly tucked into a corner of the office

So, keep the desk for doing the people stuff bosses need to do, and use the couch and small stand-up desk for getting work done.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:48 PM on January 9, 2013

Well, yes, I would think this was a bit weird, but as long as I don't have to sit on the couch next to you (unless I choose to) and there's somewhere for me to put my stuff (if we're having a meeting) I'd get over it, unless it looked like a dorm lounge or room (cluttery, for example). The offices I've always envied had both a formal desk and a couch area, though, because a) sitting on a couch typing all day is not comfortable for me (BTDT) and b)it sets a tone that can be flexible.
posted by sm1tten at 4:54 PM on January 9, 2013

Speaking from experience, if you have a comfortable office/room with couches it becomes the place where co-workers start to hang out. If you don't mind, then it's a good thing. If you don't like interruptions, it could be a bad thing.
posted by NoraCharles at 5:27 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sounds well worth a try to me. Some thoughts:

I think you'd want another chair for when someone else is in your office in case they feel like sharing the couch might be too personal. But I'd probably make the chair a plain one that is slightly out of where someone would sit to face you so it doesn't set up the expectation that it must be used. Ie the visitor isn't confused, instead they see that they can sit on the couch but they can also see there is a chair available near the wall if they prefer to move it slightly and sit there.

Maybe do something "officey" with the wall the couch faces - a giant whiteboard, huge map/diagram, etc.

I think your idea of a small standing desk (perhaps even just a re-purposed shelf) is a good one. Not enough to cut into the room or take up space, but enough to represent "there is a desk", and places to put things - even if temporarily - are handy.
posted by anonymisc at 5:50 PM on January 9, 2013

I would do one big chair and one small chair with a table and a standing desk. If you are asking. :) I think a couch would be awkward, but if you really aren't meeting with anyone, I guess it doesn't matter.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:04 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since you have direct reports coming to visit you in your office, how do you envision that will work? Do you relax on the couch while they stand? Do the two of you sit on the couch together? What if there are three people in the room? Sure, you're comfy but what about the people you work with?

I think it will look extraordinarily unprofessional even for an academic setting, but you say you aren't worried about that. Do think about what you will do for the other people who need to conduct business with you in your office.
posted by Houstonian at 6:44 PM on January 9, 2013

I always end up with major wrist pain if I spend several hours in one day on the couch with my laptop. It's definitely hard to maintain proper ergonomic form when your laptop is actually on your lap, or even if you're sort of slouched in the cushions with a laptop table. Other than that, I think it's a great idea.
posted by vytae at 10:48 PM on January 9, 2013

When I work at home, I work on the couch, and spread any papers on either side of me. I use a piece of 1/4" board (hardwood, rounded edges, left over from a project) under the laptop because it gets too warm. My couch is shallow, and not overstuffed; a leather sofa or loveseat might look more professional. My couch has arms that safely hold the laptop when I get up to move around. If I have lots of paper to deal with, I sit at the table. I do recommend a standing desk option, for health. It's soooo easy to get sunk in the couch, and sitting is bad for you. Since you have visitors, perhaps a loveseat & chair, or 2 loveseats, either at angles, or parallel with a coffee table. You need a table for the phone/ charger and lamp.
posted by theora55 at 7:42 AM on January 10, 2013

I work in a corporate environment, and the stand-up desk thing is gaining traction. If you're worried about appearances, that might be an acceptable "workspace" and if you still have room, get a couch. I don't think those are all that unusual for people who have their own office.
posted by Doohickie at 8:52 AM on January 10, 2013

« Older Help my feet not get wet!   |   Beam Me Into 2013 Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.