Woman drinking coffee at mans desk

Why desk bombing can have explosive benefits

The new buzzword that is changing workplace conversations

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
3 minute read
Woman drinking coffee at mans desk

Remember the days when you would simply stroll up to a colleague’s desk to have a work conversation?

Yet what was once considered a sensible way to go about your business has fallen out of favour.

In some workplaces, this old-fashioned practice is considered such bad form it has attracted its own buzzword: desk bombing.

Desk bombing refers to surprise or unscheduled visits made by colleagues to a workmate’s desk without advance notice or a heads-up.

The unannounced visits could involve assigning tasks, seeking clarification on a particular activity, engaging in gossip or checking on progress.

To not be labelled a “desk bomber”, employees are increasingly using a range of strategies to avoid direct, real-time, face-to-face communication even with colleagues who are in their direct line of sight.

Some seek communication consent before approaching a colleague by sending seemingly unobtrusive text messages or emails that pose questions along the lines of “free to chat”, “quick convo”, or “got five min for some Facetime”.

Others avoid real-time human contact at all costs. They make use of emails or voice-messaging tools to deliver their question, proposal or comment to a colleague who sits just metres away.

And others “stalk” their colleagues, choosing only to approach them at the very moment they get up from their desk to head to another meeting, visit the toilet or fill up their water bottle.

The negative sentiment surrounding desk bombing has many asking why an apparently harmless, spontaneous visit to someone’s workstation has become so annoying it has created this new buzzword.

Maybe it has something to do with our changed work habits over the past few years.

Working remotely has meant we have been able to avoid many of the interruptions from colleagues who sit around us in the office.

After several years of being able to control communications with colleagues, difficulties with random episodes of face-to-face interaction make sense.

Should desk-bombing be viewed as a negative?

We should not really be surprised that people have become less “open” to being interrupted and want to rejig the rules to manage their time more effectively.

At the same time, reducing office communications to a series of texts, voice messages or emails denies us the opportunities to act spontaneously, build relationships and engage in deep and meaningful conversations.

An office without at least some desk bombing breeds professional isolation and even loneliness.

Rather than looking at desk bombing as a negative, we should encourage it in every workplace – though not to the point that an individual thinks it is appropriate to persistently interrupt the train of thought of one or more of their colleagues.

Every office worker must weigh up the pros and cons of interrupting a colleague based on their understanding of others’ individual work preferences and the pressures they are under at any given time.

In other words, we need to strike a balance between respecting our colleagues’ time and needs with fostering a sense of workplace collaboration.

Of course, we will never understand our colleagues’ work preferences and pressure points unless we occasionally desk-bomb them.