Viewpoint: Hot Desking Is Not Genuine Flexible-Work Model

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer March 28, 2022
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desk sharing

​The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to hybrid work arrangements, where employees spend a portion of their workweek in the office and the rest of the time working remotely.

Organizations transitioning to this type of flexible-work model may decide to relinquish or repurpose some real estate and adopt a new form of workspace organization, where most desks are shared between workers. There are typically two ways to implement this type of desk-sharing arrangement—hot desking and desk hoteling. Paul Statham

Paul Statham, CEO at Condeco, a workspace management and scheduling technology firm based in London, believes employers implementing the hot-desking approach will fail to engage employees returning to the office and unintentionally create a less efficient and less collaborative work experience.

SHRM Online: What are the differences between hot desking and hoteling?

Statham: Since the pandemic, there has been more need for managing when people come into the office and where they work in the office. Hot desking and desk hoteling are two different forms of desk sharing, an arrangement where no one owns a particular desk.

Hot desking works on a first-come, first-served basis, or on a rotational or shift-based schedule. Hoteling is a system where employees reserve workstations before coming into the office, similar to booking a hotel room.

SHRM Online: What's wrong with the hot-desking method?  

Statham: Hot desking is an outdated approach. The form of hot desking where people just turn up and find a seat is chaos. When adopting a hybrid model, employers must be able to provide certainty. Employees must be certain that they have a usable space when they turn up at the office. Capacity should be managed, because if everyone turns up on Wednesday someone may not have a place to work.

The other method of hot desking, where scheduling is treated like shift work, where employee A comes in on Monday, employee B comes in on Tuesday, etc., is also doomed to fail. Offering rigid, allocated workdays is not flexibility. Requiring people to arbitrarily come in on Mondays or Fridays because you think they are taking long weekends will result in them quitting. We're seeing it now. It's just an extension of the previous unsatisfactory way of working, and it's counterproductive. People want to come in when it is most beneficial, not when mandated by management. Employees want choice. Put the employee at the center of the decision-making about when they come in.

SHRM Online: Why is desk hoteling a better approach?

Statham: Hybrid arrangements allow for effective hoteling. People indicate through their calendars or through an app when they are coming into the office. Their work colleagues can then be notified about when they will be there and where they will be in the office and book space in the same area. They can allocate a desk or workspace they need for that day.

It fosters more collaborative work. It's been proved that people can do their individual work from home. People want to come in and collaborate, and that doesn't work if they are sitting on different floors or they are scheduled to come in on different days by management. Employees either singly or in teams can schedule their preferred time to come in. People can also book meeting spaces during that time. People are also asking to use the office for team-building events and other group activities.  

SHRM Online: What are you seeing related to companies repurposing space?

Statham: Companies are sitting on huge amounts of real estate that is not being utilized efficiently. Allocating people in hybrid arrangements with full-time space doesn't make any sense. If employees are only coming in one or two days a week, expensive real estate is too costly to maintain.

So, employers have begun reshaping the office into a far less dense environment, implementing new breakout areas, project tables, personal space and conference rooms. Employers are redesigning their space and evaluating usage with data analytics to see how much space is needed for what purposes. We've got clients that have divested millions of square feet and are still running an effective flexible workplace.

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