Reverse hoteling is a type of flexible seating that many offices might find too limiting to actually be useful.
Facility managers (FMs) who need to optimize for hybrid work may turn to reverse hoteling if they need to offer permanent, assigned desks along with more flexible options. That said, using flexible office neighborhoods is usually a better way to improve space utilization and ensure a safe return to the office.
Different types of flexible desk booking and room booking systems are required to manage a hybrid office. While a reverse hoteling workspace might be a good option for smaller organizations, there are better options for using available space while providing greater flexibility to employees.
In this article, we explore the reality of reverse hoteling. We also review the limited times it makes sense to use this strategy. We’ll also cover better alternatives to reverse hoteling. This includes strategies to implement the best possible office hoteling reservation system in any modern office.
Reverse hoteling is a type of office hoteling that makes space for some employees with assigned seating, while still maintaining a flexible office.
In this work environment type, some employees will have their ‘own’ assigned desks, with a key distinction. Namely, when the employee is out of the office—whether they’re on leave or vacation or have a hybrid working schedule—their desk becomes a bookable desk that enters a desking pool for other employees to use.
Whenever the employee returns to the office, they return to ‘their’ desk as well. It should be handled and cleaned according to the company’s hopefully explicit desk sharing guidelines.
As such, reverse hoteling is a form of flexible seating that allows for both shared and assigned desks.
Note that any type of flexible seating, including reverse hoteling, should be managed by powerful space management software.
As flexible working becomes the mainstay of our post-pandemic ‘new normal,’ companies are looking for desk management systems that can help improve employee experience and ease the transition to hybrid work. Reverse hoteling is just one such strategy.
Yes, reverse hoteling is technically a ‘flexible’ option, but given its limitations, it’s rarely the best choice for larger organizations.
The main problem with reverse hoteling is that it only works well if the employee with the assigned seat is going to be away from the office for a planned and extended period of time.
A main reason to have assigned desks in a modern office is to give employees a sense of their ‘own’ space. Workers with assigned desks typically make themselves at home—meaning their desks won’t be optimized for casual or rotating workers.
If someone calls in sick or decides to work from home at the last minute, their desk won’t be physically set up for other employees to easily use.
This isn’t just an issue of creature comforts and someone forgetting to water your plants. Desks and workstations that are meant to be regularly shared will have different security systems in place. There may be documents or other sensitive items that should only be accessible to the ‘owner’ of the desk. Having to prepare this desk quickly can place an extra burden on FM, IT, and cleaning teams.
That means that reverse hoteling only works well if someone will be taking an extended vacation or leave from work, i.e.: if they won’t need ‘their’ desk for a long time. Otherwise, reverse hoteling often ends up being more trouble than it’s worth.
Reverse hoteling also doesn’t scale well. It can sometimes be a reasonable option for smaller companies with around 50 employees or fewer. Bigger companies will want to consider other options.
Specifically, as we’ll cover below, FMs that want to offer a mix of assigned and bookable desks are better off opting for office neighborhoods.
Despite having similar names and similar concepts, hoteling is usually a much better option. This is especially true for FMs looking to implement flexible seating.
Like we’ve covered, in reverse hoteling, some employees still have their own desks, which only go into the desking pool when they are away from the office.
But in ‘regular’ hoteling, there are no assigned desks. All desks are always in the desking pool, and employees can reserve desks—and often conference rooms and meeting rooms—in advance, just like you would hotel rooms.
Because there are no assigned desks, hoteling bypasses the issues and limitations of reverse hoteling.
In both cases, the hoteling office model requires a desk booking software that can remove the complexity of effectively managing bookable desks to achieve its desired impact.
Hot desking is a bit more of a free-for-all.
In this workplace strategy, there are no assigned desks, and desks can’t be booked in advance.
Instead, employees check-in to whatever workspace is available on any given workday.
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Reverse hoteling is a form of flexible working. It’s a growing trend that lets employees work where, and often when, they feel most productive.
We know that employees of all generations in the workplace are clamoring for more flexible work options. Studies also show work flexibility is important for employee well-being. The majority of workers say they’d leave their job for another that is more flexible. So to stay competitive, progressive companies had already been transitioning to flexible work, even before the pandemic brought it to the forefront.
Reverse hoteling is just one strategy for bringing this flexibility to workers in a practical way.
Companies now need the best possible tools and practices for implementing hybrid and flexible working strategies.
Many companies will also want to offer a mix of assigned and bookable desks.
However, instead of turning to reverse hoteling in this scenario, FMs and organizations should consider office neighborhoods instead.
With office neighborhoods, FMs can group employees according to job, department, working style, project, or other classification. Office neighborhoods boost collaboration and flexibility, helping workers always sit where and with whom they’ll do their best work.
Neighborhoods let workers book and adjust their seating on an ongoing basis. The team manager (called the Seating Captain) manages the desks; this is usually the first person to know who will or won’t be coming into the office. The Seating Captain will also have a better understanding of what desks are best for what purposes, along with whom they should (and should not) be assigned.
Office neighborhoods still offer what reverse hoteling intends to offer—namely, there can still be assigned desks for some workers. But with office neighborhoods, they can also more easily offer bookable desks, hoteling, hot desks, and activity-based working spaces, all in the same place.
Moreover, with neighborhood seating, managing this multitude of individualized seating won’t become a burden for facilities team neighborhoods also offer the following benefits:
Real estate costs typically make up a significant portion of an organization’s overall budget. Cutting back on the number of desks for employees can help maximize occupancy to increase cost savings, as available desks can balance with actual in-office employees.
In other words, valuable deskspace doesn’t have to sit empty, just because a worker happens to be out for the day.
Any type of desk sharing that gets people moving around and sitting with different teams can lead to a more dynamic workspace.
Like Steve Jobs famously noted when he became CEO of Pixar in the late 1990s, siloing workers according to their departments can stifle creativity and growth.
On the other hand, reverse hoteling practices force employees to sit with different teams, groups, and departments. This helps them gain better insight into all aspects of their organizations. The result is often better collaboration and more employee engagement.
If an employee with an assigned desk is working remotely most of the time, Seating Captains can use hoteling to offer that desk to other employees when appropriate. This can help spread people across the office for improved social distancing. At the same time, this also helps manage return-to-work floor plans for those who are actually in the office.
When coupled with a tool like Distancing Planner, a hoteling workspace can safely modify and increase desk capacity as needed, since accurate configurations and adjustments can be made quickly and easily.
Moving to hybrid work can present many new challenges for an organization, including potentially low employee buy-in.
For many employees, having their own desk was simply part of the office experience. Now employees have felt that experience of having their own desk in the comforts of home. Giving up ‘their’ desk may feel like a big change.
For this reason, office neighborhoods can be a great way to implement a hoteling office model. They don’t require employees to use different desks each time they use the office, only to share them when not in use.
This can dramatically improve employee buy-in and make flexible working feel a bit friendlier. It’s why the Ministry of Finance Tax Audition Department for the Government of British Columbia still maintained a small number of assigned traditional desks, for example, when they moved to a new activity-based workspace design. By using an incremental approach, they were able to encourage more employee cooperation.
Of course, despite its limitations, some smaller organizations will still opt for reverse hoteling.
Employees should always follow proper office hoteling etiquette, no matter what hoteling office model their organization is using.
That said, reverse hoteling demands additional best practices in order to work well.
FMs and organizations therefore need to offer employees explicit guidelines about how to use their shared desks.
Thanks to the pandemic, workspace hoteling may present an ‘ick’ factor for any employees who don’t believe safety and cleaning protocols are both in place, that employees will follow them, and that the company will enforce them.
Some organizations may therefore want to implement some ‘clean desk policies.’ This could include things like banning employees from specific desks if they don’t follow cleanliness guidelines.
Employees should have precise rules around how to clean and sanitize their workspace at the end of their shift. Preferably, they should also be submitting a log update. This way, everyone can keep track of if/when their desk was cleaned.
Cleaning teams will also need access to up-to-date seating schedules in order to ensure the right desks are clean at the right times.
Companies can also take advantage of tools like Safeguard, which helps ensure employees are in good health before booking and/or checking in a workspace.
Shared work areas also need to be clear of confidential information.
Ideally, hoteling workplaces will have cloud storage for documents in place. This way, employees can access their work from any location in real time.
And while perhaps a potted cactus or two might be ok, most office hoteling areas should only have the bare minimum on the desk. Typically just a monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
In most hoteling models, it’s preferable for employees to have their own laptop. Then they can simply plug into their workspace instead of sharing a desktop.
That said, when employees are regularly plugging in, FMs and building managers may need to take extra steps to ensure their networks and building automations systems are secure.
Office hoteling software can help ensure everyone can easily find and book into available spaces. That said, implementing even the best office hoteling software can still be a challenge.
To avoid chaos, FMs will need powerful IWMS software that gives them complete control over who can book each desk within their facility. They also need the ability to restrict who can book a desk based on a combination of filters. These filters can include things like employee name, job title, department, and more.
Implementing any hoteling system will also be easier when it provides certain key elements to remove friction for employees wanting to access the workplace.
Office hoteling adds a level of complexity to using the office.
A desk booking system therefore, needs to ensure everyone knows at a glance if a desk is in use, who is booking it, and when it will be free again in real time.
Offering this visibility to employees can help them better understand how and when to be using the office.
A Visual Directory® for better wayfinding is also helpful when employees’ locations change from day to day.
Understanding how employees are utilizing the office and where people are actually sitting day-to-day is invaluable data. FMs can use these insights to make data-driven improvements over time.
FMs can use daily desk booking reports to view current day, historical or future daily bookings. This helps to ensure hoteling is working well for everyone.
This data can be handed off to custodial teams to ensure desks and spaces that have been used are cleaned before the next day’s use. Much like a hotel, it makes sense to only do daily cleanings of rooms and desks that have been used.
Ideally any desk or room reservation system will integrate with Slack, Microsoft Teams, or whatever other systems are already in use.
Employees should also be able to access the desk reservation system on multiple platforms—not just on a mobile app, but also on desktop and touch-screen kiosks in the office.
Finally, if offering up your desk to reverse hoteling is a choice for employees and not a mandatory rule, companies may want to use incentives to encourage participation. Flex time or similar benefits are often logical trade-offs here.
Making cleaning policies clear and ensuring best practices are in place can also help ensure employee uptake.
Free Guide: 6 tactics to improve the employee experience for a hybrid workforce
A shared workspace can mean different things to different employees—from shared desks and workspaces, to shared projects and schedules. Whatever the definition, it can create many benefits for an organization, but also many challenges.
Shared workspaces therefore demand good software to manage these complexities. This is along with practices like reverse hoteling that can help dynamically manage the hybrid workplace of the future.
Photos: Annie Spratt, Jonathan Farber, Studio Republic, Crew, Mia Baker, TheStandingDesk