What is a desk? Seriously, have you ever asked yourself that question?

I know, it's the rectangular thing in the corner. 

But what is the concept behind it?

For most of us, it's a place to keep our stuff, to plop down a laptop and stash our keys. I use a standing desk because I like to stretch my back a few times a day.

Interestingly, Gen Z workers don't need to stretch.

They also don't like, want or need a desk, especially since they barely use a laptop anymore and often prefer phones. When they do use a laptop--and because it's always with them and they prefer to work anywhere a power outlet is available--they open up the lid and start working.

So, let's be honest: Many Gen Z workers are not about to sit for eight hours per day typing up business reports. They are fast thinkers, ready for anything. They like to move. (They also grew into adulthood wearing Fitbits and smartwatches.) I'm around Gen Z workers a lot mentoring them in a college setting, and they definitely prefer to stay mobile.

In my view, they hate desks. Here's why.

First, about liking a desk. They just don't. A desk is restrictive to how they work and how they collaborate; a desk impedes their productivity. Since most Gen Z were raised in a chaotic environment of video games, Netflix, and smartphones, they are used to working anywhere and tuning everything out. That's why earbuds exist.

As far as want, that's also a non-issue. If the word "like" implies minor preferences, such as liking a post on Facebook or Instagram, then "want" is more of a deep-seated desire, something only people over 22 have when it comes to choosing a desk.

I was raised in suburbia and had my own room with my own desk. I studied and did homework for hours in solitude. Gen Z move in packs. They have a foundational, deeply-felt desire to be collaborative and instantaneous. It's how they're wired.

Those who insist on a desk and an office tend to think that's how everyone works best. Now, as my colleague pointed out not too long ago, the idea of collaborative workspaces fizzled out and we all realized they caused way too much distraction. I'm not suggesting everyone huddle into a big open room all day. However, temporary workspaces, benches in the break-room, a smaller windowless room meant for a few workers, and other concepts for office productivity work much better for younger workers just graduating college and joining your company. And I mean much, much better.

We've known for a while that office variety spurs creativity. I'd much rather work at an office that looks like Apple's headquarters had a baby with Google. I love trendy furniture, plenty of windows looking out at a park, and little office nooks in the corner. I do better work in those spaces. That said, I really need a desk. I need my own private space.

Need is a strong word. It implies a do-or-die mentality, a deal-breaker. I need a desk because I like having my personal space and it helps me focus. It's my normal.

Gen Z don't do normal. They grew up using a laptop at the kitchen table and at school; some of us never even owned one or used one until we were well out of college, let alone owned a smartphone. (Gen Z can write entire documents on iPhone!) They were born mobile, so a desk is viewed as being too restrictive and almost authoritarian.

They don't need a desk to be productive. They don't like them or want them, either.

A quiet place to work? Sure. An area free from distraction that has a nice Jura coffee-machine close by? Definitely. A table with a wireless pad from IKEA? Bonus.

But they are not into desks and might even hate them.

Published on: Aug 28, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.