Hot desking 101: what is hot desking?
Our workplaces today have smartphones, tablets, laptops and oodles of software at our fingertips. So, naturally the traditional (archaic) workplace is changing. What is hot desking? Hot desking is a trend in which workers take whatever desk is available, instead of having one assigned space. The term is said to have derived from the term “hot racking,” a concept referring to the practice of sailors with different shifts sharing the same bunk.
These days, instead of belonging to one person, cubicles may have multiple owners that occupy them at different times. Hot desking is the process in which office workers do not have any assigned seating. Instead, they may “check in” to an open seat.
All you need to know about hot-desking
Hot desking is a trend that arose around the 1990s. In offices with hot desking, workers take whatever desk is available, instead of having one assigned space. The term is said to have derived from the term “hot racking,” a concept referring to the practice of sailors with different shifts sharing the same bunk.
If you Google “hot desking,” you may see it being referred to by another term: hoteling. Hot desking and hoteling are often used interchangeably to refer to seating that’s available on a first-come, first-served basis. Technically, however, there is a difference in the two concepts. Hoteling requires staff to reserve a space (through software like OfficeSpace, for example) before they may use it. So if both terms are being used during a meeting, it’s important to make sure that everyone is thinking of the same thing to avoid confusion later down the road.
What are the benefits of such a system? One of the biggest is cost. Hot desking helps cut down on unnecessary real estate expenses by eliminating the waste of excess space. It’s useful for companies where workers spend a lot of their time traveling, or spend part of the week working remotely.
Another benefit is that hot desking may let workers be near colleagues they would not see otherwise. This strengthens relationships, promotes better teamwork, and improves inter-departmental rapport.
Easier collaboration is hot desking perk. For example, if there are five different departments involved in a project, having a flexible work environment with a hot desking model allows projects to be ramped up and down much more quickly as the business' needs change.
That said, however, there are a few things that facilities managers should take into consideration before adopting hot desking at their own company.
One size doesn't fit all
Hot desking is popular among younger workers. Some 86 percent of 200 workers surveyed by Project Office Furniture in the UK said they liked the flexible environment afforded by hot desking. However, older workers, who are used to more stability aren’t as pleased. Some don’t like having to lug laptops or other items from one place to another every day. If you’re considering applying hot desking to your own company, you may want to consider things such as the demographics of your office, the amount of part-time vs. full-time workers employed, the type of work involved by each department, and the amount of excess space in the building.
Having a mix of different people use the same space leads to a large number of germs swarming over each work area. To stop your hot desking team from breeding too much bacteria, provide plenty of hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes to staff. Ask each worker to wipe down their desks and computer surfaces before they leave. This precaution will be particularly crucial in the winter months, when sickness is common.
When workers don’t have permanent workstations, the company does have to shoulder an extra burden of technology logistics. Will each workstation have a PC? Will some have PCs, while others just have outlets for laptops? Will each worker be issued his or her own laptop, or will the company keep a store of them for use?
Communication is another important consideration. Without the traditional office phone number, how can workers reach clients and each other? Setting up numbers via Skype or Google may be one possibility; these are easy low-cost solutions that would be suitable for smaller companies. Larger ones may want to consider a PBX phone service, which can direct calls to a worker’s cell phone, home phone or work phone.
If you’d like to try hot desking, there are a few other issues to keep in mind. The first is that some workers may not like not having a space that they can personalize to their liking. Finding an available space can cut into their time and productivity. And while hot desking can bring workers from separate corners together, it has also been known in some cases to lead to “isolation and lack of team cohesion” when staff work remotely, Iain Hopkins writes for Human Capital Magazine.
While these are considerable challenges, however, they can be resolved with the right amount of creativity and resourcefulness:
- Workers may be reminded, for example, to choose backgrounds for their computers or tablets that are personally meaningful for them. While not a perfect replacement for a space filled with photographs and posters, it’s still a good way to bring a personal element to their work.
- To remove the problem of wasted time, facilities managers may want to try a demo of our software. Its features include a hot desking (i.e. hoteling) booking tool that allows admins to quickly see which spaces are available.
- The isolationism problem is a bit trickier—one that may require some extra thought and attention, based on the structure of your company. To promote better team cohesion, one possibility would be to hold regular video conference meetings so that teams can interact with one another, even if they’re not physically in the same place. For socialization and teamwork, regular team outings or get-togethers can also be effective.
- Implementing hot desking is far from a simple task. To succeed, you'll need to work together with HR and IT departments to address all the factors listed above. However, with all these considerations in mind, you can set up hot desking in your workplace without the many bumps that other FMs may encounter.
How office/workplace management software can help
Office management software can help workers and managers alike. End users can immediately spot open spaces with visual maps that will let them know what desks are available, then reserve or check into the spaces. The ability to reserve their seats formally can cut down on the territory wars that may plague offices (such as times when a worker leaves a personal item in a seat after close of business, to reserve the space for the next day). Furthermore, the software can let others know where to find other employees quickly and easily, so they don’t have to search all over for them. If the environment is more structured, with an admin or manager reserving spaces, the software can let that person book or vacate a space for the worker.
Hot desking and hoteling isn’t right for all offices. Some workers like it; others hate it. If you do decide to implement a policy in your office, however, be sure to have a software that will support your seating system. A feature like OfficeSpace’s Visual Directory™ will help you keep track of each worker, regardless of the constant shuffle, and it will cut down on conflicts over seats. With software to keep the peace, the work day can proceed without any problems.
The impact of COVID-19 on hotdesking
Before the outbreak, employees wandering around the office and using any available desk (hot desking or free addressing) wouldn’t be a major concern. But now that studies have shown that the COVID-19 virus can survive on surfaces for 4 to 72 hours, multiple employees sharing the same desk—and therefore the same surface—is far from ideal.
Throughout the pandemic, it's best advised to temporarily deactivate hot desking (spontaneous, on the spot desk usage) in your facility and use desk hoteling instead. With desk hoteling, employees need to make an advanced reservation to use a desk, which gives facilities teams more control and visibility into how and when desks are being used throughout the workplace. For example, if a group of hoteling desks is due to be cleaned, facilities can simply delay or reassign pending booking requests until those seats are ready to be used again.
If you're ready to give hot desking a go, read our blog post on How to Drive Hot Desking Adoption in Your Organization.
Photo: Alexandru Acea
Editor's Note: This post was originally published September, 2014 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.