As the hybrid work model gains traction and employers balance a mix of remote and in-person work arrangements, software providers are offering hot desking and hoteling solutions that assign employees to a desk, cubicle or conference room and bundle other services that workers need to protect their safety and perform their tasks in an office environment.
According to Forrester Research Inc., hot desking is the practice of eliminating fixed desks for employees in favor of a first-come, first-served system once a desk is booked online.
"Hot desking is essentially a free-for-all," said Andrew Hewitt, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "Sometimes you will have technology that will enable you to book a random desk and there will be no real formal plan or layout as far as what desks are available. It's just book whatever desk."
Hoteling, however, involves planning, purpose and more software features to define rules and facilitate coordination so that employees can collaborate with individual colleagues and workgroups, Hewitt said.
"It's not just booking a desk, but the hoteling software can be structured in such a way that employees can arrange to collaborate with workers across departments, and they can see what other colleagues might be at the office on the given day," Hewitt said.
Employers need to take a thoughtful approach to hybrid work, according to Microsoft's 2021 Work Trend Index. The report noted that more than 70 percent of workers want flexible, remote-work options to continue; 65 percent want more in-person time with their teams; and 66 percent of decision-makers are considering redesigning physical spaces to create hybrid work environments.
Tech companies also are bundling other features to go along with an employee's hot desking or hoteling experience.
For example, in addition to booking desks, London-based Condeco Group Ltd. offers employees the ability to book parking spots and lockers. Munich-based Siemens AG has two products: Comfy, for desk and room booking and data analysis on the work environment, and Enlighted, which gathers data on the density and movement of people, provides alerts for crowded spaces, and performs digital contact tracing.
ServiceNow Inc., a Santa Clara, Calif.-based company that offers a cloud computing platform to help companies manage digital workflows, began offering desk booking and hoteling solutions in May 2020.
Since then, the company has expanded its workplace product with return-to-work features like health attestation and mapping technology that provides floor plans for employees when they arrive at a building for the first time.
"Reservations can be coupled with service requests," said Kevin Nanney, senior director of product management at ServiceNow. "A reservation for a conference room can trigger multiple workflow tasks to be fulfilled against that demand, … [such as requests for] a whiteboard, a camera, or technology like Zoom or Microsoft Teams to be available for that meeting room."
Companies such as multinational food manufacturer Kellogg's, as well as technology companies such as Slack and Pinterest, are using hot desking and hoteling software.
Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. has engaged Envoy, a San Francisco, Calif., company that offers software to manage desk booking, visitor management and delivery management capabilities.
In October, the company announced it had expanded its platform for hybrid workers by offering new features that allow employees to upload a photo of their vaccination card and self-attest to their weekly test status on Envoy's mobile app.
"HR managers and executives have so much to consider as they manage a hybrid environment, so prioritizing technology that's built to work together and is easy for employees to use is one key way to ensure a successful hybrid transition," said Remington Woo, Envoy's head of customer success.
Smaller companies find these tools appealing, too. Kelly Beckner, vice president of corporate human resources at software company MBO Partners, said her company began using Envoy's desk reservation and room booking tool in April 2021 when MBO Partners' Ashburn, Va., office opened. MBO Partners has approximately 175 U.S. workers and 35 global employees.
"Hoteling offers the ability to easily collaborate and engage with one another, as well as fosters employee connection—it's easy to see who will be in the office, and where," Beckner said.
"We see hoteling as a natural method to offer both a way for our employees to work seamlessly in an office when needed, but also to allow our team to track utilization and maintain COVID-safe procedures," she said.
Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami.