Photo of bird's eye view of a desk with desktop computers and project information

Clean Off Your Desk — Or Kiss It Goodbye

11 Jan 2016 by Teresa Meek

January 11 is Clean Off Your Desk Day, created to help you start the year right with an uncluttered work surface.

But these days, some organizations are going beyond de-cluttering — they’re throwing out the desk entirely.

Hotel rooms ditch desks.

Hotel giant Marriott, believing that millennials stay glued to their devices wherever they go, is removing desks from many of its rooms and adding larger TVs and roomier bathrooms instead. Though some travelers have complained, the forward-looking company is sticking to its guns and proceeding with the changes.

Stores cut counters and cash registers.

In the future, Macy’s and Walmart may resemble Apple stores, where customers don’t need to queue up at a cash register — they can purchase items anywhere in the shop.

“Armed with smartphones, consumers have literally become the new POS (Point of Sale),” proclaims a Retailwire article entitled, “Why Do Retail Stores Still Have Cash Registers?”

Instead of hanging around at a counter, sales associates can wander the aisles answering customers’ questions or serving as personal shoppers. If a customer sees something they want and a salesperson isn’t around, they can purchase it on their own with a smartphone app. Sensors at exit doors prevent theft.

At big box and grocery stores, Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags may be the future. They enable the scanning of an entire cartload of merchandise at once. With that kind of speedy convenience, more customers might choose to shop in-store instead of online, reversing an ominous trend for retailers.

Banking is becoming mobile.

Your banker may sit at a desk all day, but she’s well aware that you don’t.

Thirty-nine percent of adults who have a bank account and a smartphone are now using mobile banking. In terms of transaction volume, mobile is the largest banking channel, and growth over the next decade will be exponential, a recent KPMG study indicated.

Banks are offering mobile technology for more than customer check deposits. They have GPS systems to notify nearby smartphone-carrying patrons of deals, and some are working with Apple to use its Touch ID for biometric authentication.

But if you really want to see mobile banking innovation, look to the third world. About 2.5 billion people in the world don’t have access to a bank, but 1 billion of them do have a mobile phone. In Kenya and other less-developed nations, they’re using SMS systems to transfer funds with no bank involved.

In the U.S., you may not need to leave your home to visit a banker. Over half of American banks in the KMPG study expressed interest in setting up video chats with bank representatives, which customers could access with a smartphone or tablet. Banks are also looking into wearable and augmented reality devices.

Education evolves with free-range learning and touchscreen desks.

One place you’re still sure to find desks is the classroom — right?

Don’t count on it. Though desks remain a fixture at most schools, some education leaders are questioning their value and promoting "free-range learning" instead.

Some schools have ditched desks and are experimenting with round and square tables or even sofas, where students can use binders as a surface for writing or drawing. Others are trying standing or touchscreen desks.

Schools are increasingly supplying students with tablets and laptops, or letting them bring their own. As a result, the desk’s function as a flat surface is becoming superfluous. Kids can collaborate better if they move around, and some research shows that they learn math better in a collaborative environment.

Healthcare’s house call is back.

Instead of leaving your desk — if you still have one — you can use an app like Pager, Heal or Go2Nurse to summon a healthcare professional to your home or business for an online chat, phone call or even a visit. The apps don’t accept insurance — yet — but many people prefer the convenience to waiting at the doctor’s office.

The services have the potential to save businesses money, since employees who don’t take time off to go to the doctor often get sicker and miss more work than they would have if they had sought treatment. The U.S. collectively loses $227 billion a year in productivity costs from ill employees, an Integrated Benefits Institute study showed.

Businesses go mobile.

Increasingly, businesses both large and small are embracing the concept of mobile workers. A new IDC study predicts that by 2020 the number of mobile workers in the U.S. will exceed 100 million. The manufacturing, construction, retail and healthcare sectors are expected to experience the fastest growth in mobile workers.

Off-site workers help enterprises save on capital and operating expenses.

But small businesses are going mobile, too. They actually spend a higher percentage of their budgets on mobile technology than big companies do, and more than 67% expect to switch from their current business applications to mobile apps, according to an SMB Group study.

While more businesses and people prefer digital desks to traditional ones, they probably won’t go away completely. However, desks continue to evolve in style and function, especially since technology wellness companies say they contribute to serious health problems. You can even keep working on your digital device while using a treadmill desk.