“Desk bombing” describes the act of walking up to your co-worker’s desk (or even popping your head into their office) to have an impromptu, usually quick meeting.

Desk bombing doesn’t have to be work-related. Often the bomb comes in the form of casual, friendly conversation that occurs as the intruded-upon employee is working on a task.

Some workers welcome desk bombing; they feel it’s an opportunity to socialize with colleagues and build essential bonds. Others (especially those doing the bombing) contend this action is more efficient than emailing. A desk bombing can expedite decision-making when a response is urgent. However, I challenge how many of those answers are immediately pressing.

Desk bombers intend for a positive experience, but it has the potential to become an HR issue. It is unprofessional and unproductive, and I do it far too often. Yes, I admit that I am guilty of this phenomenon. I typically write about problems I’ve solved. This column, however, is a practice in self-awareness, accountability and defining tactics to improve my interrupting ways.

Allow me to provide context — I’m not pulling the fire alarm or throwing chairs. I’m having a 5- to-15-minute conversation with someone I am paying to listen to me. I’m not trying to mitigate my sins. I want to acknowledge that it doesn’t sound like a big deal — until you learn more.

As an owner of Berkshire Money Management, I can get the best work from my BMM family if I provide a supportive venue to focus on tasks and projects. You will also have more productive employees if you protect them from distractions.

Some bombs are social. Those will be difficult to stop. And I don’t know if I should. There is value to the boss engaging with co-workers. (Or is that just a rationalization because I enjoy it?)

The most damaging bombs are work-related. I began writing this article the day I desk bombed Zack. Zack emailed me asking if we could put something on the calendar to discuss a new software subscription. He did exactly as he should. When I returned from lunch, instead of walking by Zack’s office to my computer to set up a meeting, I popped into his office to discuss the matter. Classic desk bombing.

I had the time. I was between projects. I. I. I. Me. Me. Me. I violated poor Zack’s stride to accommodate my availability. I pet Dexter, Zack’s Rottweiler, and breezed back to my desk to work on my own projects. Meanwhile, Zack had to recollect his thoughts and regain momentum.

You might be thinking, “Big deal. It was an expeditious conversation, and you got to strike a meeting off the calendar.” First, we still scheduled a meeting because we realized that without a written agenda or Zack’s preparedness, there were facets we couldn’t fully flesh out. Secondly, have you ever wondered why you check off more from your work-to-do list when you have fewer meetings? It is more than just the extra time on your schedule; it’s because you lose focus every time you’re interrupted.

When you ask your co-worker, “do you have a minute?” you ask them to sacrifice nearly a half-hour more on top the time they give you. A research study from the University of California at Irvine found that, on average, it takes around 23 minutes for workers to refocus on a task after an interruption.

Inefficiencies like momentum loss and do-overs because of errors considerably set back bombed employees. Additionally, that distraction can cause higher stress and reduced morale. These lead to lowered productivity even once work momentum resumes.

Not everyone sees desk bombing as a problem. Jeremy and Clint are the CEO and COO, respectively, of an upstate N.Y. battery manufacturer. Jeremy was preparing to lay off employees and wanted to construct a plan to get more out of fewer workers. I explained desk bombing and suggested devising a plan to reduce the number of work-related occurrences.

Clint gripped his glass of bourbon a bit tighter, even as he set it on the table. “You’re telling me,” Clint asked, “that there’s a problem if I approach someone at their desk to talk to them? This generation is soft. Just get back to work and do your job.” (I don’t know what generation Clint was referring to; it seemed like a blanket statement for anyone younger than him.)

“I am well known for my so-called ‘desk bombing,’ ” Clint continued. “I call it efficiency through engagement. If I can talk with people face-to-face to get the answer to my question in the same time it takes to get an email out, let’s do it. Not every question requires a written response, and certainly not a scheduled meeting.

“Be agile in your approach to seeking answers, and you’ll be amazed at how you can develop personal connections with individuals while doing your job,” he said. “If course, be considerate; if they’re on the phone, come back later.”

I didn’t argue with Clint. He had some excellent points about human engagement that I agreed with. Still, I presented him with the facts about losing more productivity than he’d expect to, even if he flexed a “they better get back to work” attitude. Clint doesn’t have to like that it takes workers 23 minutes to regain momentum, but he has to accept that reality. If a manager can’t change the facts, a good manager adapts to them.


Some tips for preventing desk bombing include:

• Self-awareness of your bombing.

• Encourage open communication among workers. It’s OK to express to a desk bomber that you want to have a conversation with them, but that you’d better serve their problem if you could do so when you could give your full attention.

• Implement clear processes. Establish guidelines for workload distribution.

• Provide training and support. Both the bombers and the bombed would benefit from receiving information on how to time-block and respecting their colleagues’ blocks. The most important part isn’t knowing the simple steps to take; it’s learning to appreciate designated project time.

• Lead by example. “I’m looking at the man in the mirror.” — Michael Jackson.

• Address incidents. Desk bombing is going to happen. And sometimes, it will even make sense. However, the habit must be addressed and corrected when repeatedly disruptive.

• Be honest with your answer to “Do you have a minute?” The bomber is not trying to mess things up for you. They’re simply not aware. And they are relying on you to answer the question truthfully. We need to switch our brains from thinking we’ll offend someone if we ask to talk later or put something on the calendar. The person approaching you is likely trying to be helpful; they should be amenable to helping in a way that best supports both of you.

Not every interaction should be an email. Co-workers need to have in-person conversations (or video chats, if you must). It’s only possible to build a strong team if members talk. However, getting work done is impossible if you keep getting interrupted.

There is a balance; schedule discussions when it’s convenient for all parties. That will allow for more meaningful collaboration and a stronger bond between workers as they create a more successful outcome.

This article first appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on March 3, 2023.