'It's essential' | 'Desk bombing' - a real HR concern or overhyped buzz phrase?

'Desk bombing' - a real HR concern or overhyped buzz phrase?

Pingdemic. Zoom Fatigue. The Great Resignation. Reverse mentorship. Quiet Quitting. Quiet Firing.

Such has been the complexity of HR’s most pressing situations over the past couple of years, that LinkedIn’s connoisseurs have been clamouring over themselves to coin catchphrases and buzzwords that easily sum up the issue of the day.

And now, a term is fuelling a debate about office etiquette and the way colleagues communicate face-to-face in a post-lockdown world... desk bombing.

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The phrase was thrust into the spotlight recently thanks to a Financial Times feature. A riff on the common phrase ‘photo bombing’, it refers to a colleague’s sudden appearance at one’s desk for an unscheduled conversation.

The FT publication traces the origins of the phrase to an incident involving a worker who, having received no response to several emails to a colleague who worked in the same office space, was urged to walk over and speak to them in person to resolve the matter. The worker refused, however, explaining they were reluctant to “desk bomb” their colleague.

But is this issue being overhyped?

Rita Trehan is the founder of DARE, a global transformation consultancy delivering game-changing corporate capacity building and HR change. Like most in the HR world, Treha has grown accustomed to the cache of buzzwords that have entered the workplace vocabulary. And while understanding that many of them have a rightful place in the conversation, Treha feels the issue of ‘desk bombing’ might be being overplayed by some.

“For the most part, these describe real things that warrant analysis. Young mentors really do bring fresh perspectives,” Trehan explains. “Some people really do quit in all but name. And there really has been a swathe of workers resigning voluntarily.”

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On ‘desk bombing’, Trehan goes on: “One explanation is that workers grew accustomed to going solo during the lockdowns and, once back in-office, felt uncomfortable interacting with colleagues and clients face-to-face. But, if so, surely surprise Zoom calls are much the same thing.

“Those who’d rather be left alone in the office treat desk-bombing as if it was some kind of HR issue or breach of contract. It’s the same mindset that gave us “desklights” – literally, desktop traffic lights that signal a staff member’s availability. And while I grant we’ve all had moments when we’re up against it and shouldn’t (much less wouldn’t like to be) disturbed, the word “availability” here is really just a euphemism for sociability.

“In which case, those who fear desk-bombing should be confronted with a simple question: Why come into the office at all? Granted not everyone has the option, but the whole point of hybrid working – which as of May this year was available to 24% of workers – is to reconnect siloed colleagues.”

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Trehan adds: “To the extent that a fear of 'desk-bombers' perpetuates the locked down mindset, then, I’m against it. Face-to-face contact is an essential part of being human. It’s therefore an essential part of a flourishing workplace culture. And part of being human is the freedom to address another person without recourse to email, Slack, or Teams, useful though these are. More to the point, this freedom is efficient in a way that email chains can never be. Inefficiency costs money.

“Leaders, CEOs, and HR departments should bear in mind that it’s impossible to foster a cohesive team if some of its members are averse to addressing the others. Tone of voice, facial expressions and anecdotes give us a feel for who we’re working with.

“Picture an office in which even the simplest of queries goes via satellite, and you’ve pictured a roomful of robots, not passionate humans united behind the same goals,” Trehan says, concluding: “The advance of AI notwithstanding, I’m no robot, and nor is anyone reading this piece. Desk-bombers of the world, unite!”

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Comments (1)

  • Garry
    Wed, 26 Oct 2022 12:39pm BST
    So, one phrase appears in the FT and it's suddenly become something?

    It's rubbish. We're seeing a return to standard office behaviour where 2 people are interacting at their place of work. Nothing to see hear apart from more click-bait fodder for the press.

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