Clean desk policy

Workplace Principle 1: Right-sizing

A clean desk policy is a set of guidelines for using desks in a flexible workplace. As it helps determine how much space is needed at the office, it falls under the right-sizing principle of creating a workplace strategy. 

The importance for right-sizing

A clean desk policy refers to how long a space – most often a desk – can remain unused before the employee who used it last needs to make it available for others.

Clean desk policies are practised differently across different organisations; some are very strict with guidelines of 15-30 minutes, while others are more permissive with 2 hour guidelines or even a whole day, research shows. Often 1 hour is a good compromise – you can take a meeting without having to clear your desk, but you can’t claim it for longer than that without using it.

Different guidelines, different results

A clean desk policy has a direct impact on how many desk spaces you need to provide at an office. A stricter clean desk policy means that less desks will be needed, while a more generous policy means more will be needed.

This is because a more generous policy means that employees will more often use two workspaces at the same time, like a desk in an open space and a spot in a meeting space. That is why you need an understanding both of how many desks you need and how many other spaces are needed.

A clean desk policy dictates how long a desk can be left unused without having to be cleared.

Only counting the number of desks can be misleading, especially when the clean desk policy is more permissive than just 1 hour. This is because the handling of a clean desk policy of more than 1 hour or a whole day will in practice be the same, based on how the spaces will be used.

Different organisations, as well as different operations within the same company, will have different conditions for being able to clear a desk when someone is absent. That means you base the number of desks on the type of clean desk policy practised, so that employees don’t experience a lack of space for individual work.

Experiencing that they can’t find a desk they want increases the risk of employees hoarding their things at a desk by getting there early or not following clearing procedures. This kind of culture dooms the flexible workplace.

Further reading

You can put different clean desk policies to the test yourself by applying them to the results of an activity analysis. How would a 2 hour policy change employees’ work patterns compared to a 1 hour policy? Considering these questions alongside attendance and positioning data will help paint an accurate picture of the spaces employees need and use most. 

This article is based on the five principles for the development of a workplace strategy that we at WeOffice use to create bespoke workplace strategies. You can read more about them here.

References are taken from the book Workplace Strategy for the Flexible Office by Aram Seddigh. For more information on the book and workplace strategy in general, click here.


Seddigh, A. 2022. Arbetsplatsstrategi för det flexibla kontoret : metoder, verktyg och case med fokus på hybrid och aktivitetsbaserat arbetssätt, Stockholm, Blue Publishing.

Babapor B. The quest for the room of Requirement. Göteborg: Chalmers university of technology; 2019.

Hoendervanger JG, De Been I, Van Yperen NW, Mobach MP Albers CJ. Flexibility in use: Switching behaviour and satisfactionin activity­based work environments. Journal of Corporate Real Estate. 2016;18(1):48–62.

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