Feb 19, 2021

Are Work Desks Really Disappearing? Mine Does, Daily

Fear not! Barcaloungers may be the answer

By Ed Goldman
One of the admittedly minor but notable changes occurring in this period I’m calling our Grave New World is the gradual disappearance of the work desk.

For those of you who just fainted or began composing suicide notes in Haiku on your smartphones, please note I said the work desk, not the Help Desk, was in fade mode.

Edgy Cartoon

Ed and his Desk-Guarding Dust Bunny

There is also no threat to the “order desk” at e-tail outlets, or to the various “desks” public radio’s Kai Ryssdal refers to on his workday show, “Marketplace.” I rather doubt that there are real desks at online stores or in Ryssdal’s studio—though it does remind me of when I worked for tiny newspapers (the Belmont Shore Marina News and the Paramount Journal) after resigning from a big one (the Long Beach Press-Telegram), and we’d pretend to be much larger operations than we were when someone called. 

The three or four of us in the office would bounce the caller around and we’d all do different voices as we answered, variously, “Circulation Desk,” “Obituary Desk,” “News Desk,” “Society Desk” and the real corker, “International Desk.” That last one gave me the opportunity to practice accents as I asked different “editors” (all me) to respond, ostensibly from the countries to which they were being connected. 

My mom was the only one who didn’t tumble. I went through the entire rigmarole and she finally said, “Edward, your father wants to know if you want him to pick you up for dinner on his way home.” 

Two takeaways from that sentence: 

(1) I was already in my mid-20s and hadn’t lived with my parents from the age of 17. But my car was in the shop about 75 percent of the time, hence the need for a ride to join my folks for dinner; and 

(2) My mom calling me Edward meant not only had my accents failed to fool her, but also that she was not remotely amused by my antics. Not even a little.

In any event, desks are on their last legs, one might say, according to “The Future of Everything,” an occasional Wall Street Journal supplement which, in 10 pages, really can’t cover “everything” but you have to applaud it for self-confidence. 

“With remote jobs expected to become more common and office spaces set to be redesigned for more collaboration, it may be time to reinvent the humble desk,” writes Benoit Morenne, a name I wish I’d thought of when manning the “International Desk” of the Belmont Shore Marina News. That intro was followed by suggestions that included mobile offices and a $10 million-to-develop workstation that allows the user to recline dramatically, thereby avoiding the common back strain most of us get from working on, and hunching over, a flat surface.

Permit me to offer a couple of thoughts—which, as you know, will represent a 150 percent improvement from my usual commentaries:

First, who among us would risk calling our desks “humble?” Mine gathers, hides and probably consumes paperclips, favorite pens, Post-It notes and soon-to-be-overdue bills with an arrogance that—combined with its accumulation of grime and Lysol streaks from my infrequent but drunken cleaning sprees—is truly breathtaking. In fact, when I first read that desks were disappearing, I thought someone had sneaked into my office and attempted to photograph mine but were restrained by one or more of my vigilant cadre of dust bunnies.

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Second, the notion of rearranging my body parts to accommodate my writing while recumbent fails to take into account a basic law of physics: the sleep bone’s connected to the recliner bone. This is why the new moviehouses with Barcalounger seats may attract comfort-seeking audiences but will find it challenging to empty the theater between showings. Even skilled ushers aren’t going to know how to wake and remove essential workers taking their first really solid naps in months. They’ll likely need to call a Help Desk.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).