It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when hot desking was a hotly debated system for office design and space allocation. Proponents of hot desking pointed to its cost effectiveness and flexibility. Many felt that if you have a lot of different work styles and schedules, it’s the best choice. At the same time, some facility managers worried about too much disorganization, not enough office culture.
But maybe in the end, everyone was asking the wrong question. Instead of “Does hot desking work?”, it always should have been: “How can we make hot desking work for the company and the employees?” By looking at the pros and cons, you can make sure you’re enjoying the benefits of this flexible desk arrangement.
The positives of hot desking
There are many concrete reasons hot desk coworking has become such a popular trend.
Hot desks are a creative and effective way to maximize available square footage and improve space utilization. When you explore a new dimension of your office space — the time it’s occupied — you start to see how flexible desk arrangements can accommodate more people with the same amount of space. With the rise of the hybrid work model, this is only going to become more and more important when looking at how best to use your space. Gone are the days of the standard 9-to-5 workday running Monday to Friday. Because people come in at different times, you need different ways to support them.
The math is straightforward: more productivity from a workspace means you pay less for it. Your monthly lease might not change, but hot desks help reduce overhead and that means a healthier bottom line. Doing more with the same amount of space saves you the cost of expanding and delivers the best possible revenue potential out of a fixed cost already on your books. In the end, you have the same space, but because you’re using it in new ways, it can deliver a strong return on investment.
And with organizations giving all their corporate leases a hard look, ROI is only set to become an even more important key performance indicator for office and facility managers.
Remote workers, consultants, part-timers, and interns probably don’t need their own desks. They’re not in the office often enough for a dedicated space, and even when they are onsite, they’re just as likely to want something that supports collaboration and connection: closed meeting rooms or open areas with comfortable couches. Hot desks are the perfect fit for them. Hot desking provides a temporary home when they need one. And when they don’t need one, that space is never just sitting there unused.
It’s easy to fall into routines when working from the same desk every day. Hot desks keep workers on mentally their toes and help them do a little outside-the-box thinking. As long as office culture and collaboration aren’t compromised, hot desks are great ways for workers to reinvent themselves and their routines.
For example, on a day when they need to be head down working on a critical spreadsheet, an employee can pick a desk at the back of the room where there’s less noise, fewer distractions. On days when they need to be more creative, they can find a hot desk by a window, giving themselves the perfect perch to look out the window and let their mind wonder just enough to spark inspiration.
The drawbacks of hot desks
Some facility managers remain skeptics, and it’s often from when they failed to implement the system successfully. It’s important to remember that many of these drawbacks are actually pitfalls. You can avoid them.
When you take people out of offices and desk groups, they can lose a sense of hierarchy. Sure, people know who they report to and who their boss is… but a hot desk arrangement removes a lot of the traditional visual markers that make clear who is leadership. Tearing down walls and putting everyone together may seem like a smart idea, but it comes at the risk of disrupting the balance between management and subordinates.
On the other side of the coin, there are many offices where this is seen as a plus. Want the interns to embrace the managers’ open-door policy, where they should feel comfortable approaching leaders directly? Nothing makes that clearer than removing the doors altogether.
Where’s Jim sitting today? Is Pam in the office right now? What extension can I reach Michael at? Communication can break down if the hot desk system isn’t properly managed. If you can’t find a coworker, you can’t talk to them! Moreover, it’s easy for people to avoid others if they’re not tied to a desk.
However, hot desk booking can help address all these issues. With the right software solution, everyone has a fast, simple way of finding everyone else.
Information technology (IT)
Hot desking does have the potential to become a bit of an IT nightmare. Setting up workstations, getting network drives and devices connected, and setting up phones take work. As an employee, settling at a new desk every day can be disruptive and disjointed.
In the end, it depends on the employee’s role and responsibilities. Do they need a Wi-Fi connection to access the company systems through a laptop? In that case, all they really need is to remember to bring the right collection of cables. For others, though, especially those whose job requires a lot of time on the phone, there are extra steps to setting up. But as more of our collective work lives move online, it’s becoming less of an issue.
If every day is a new experience, it might be hard for some workers to get into a groove. Hot desking isn’t for everyone. Some workers relish their personal space and get things set up to their liking to do their best work. Every office has those employees whose desks are carefully, lovingly decorated with plants and pictures. There are also employees who require special accommodation due to disabilities. For example, special screens, keyboards, and lights. For them, having a dedicated space only makes sense. And there are also those who are simply creatures of habit. If you’re forcing them to readapt every day, you might be waylaying your best workers and hurting business.
Implementing hot desking and team dynamics
Before making the move to hot desking, it’s critical to get your team involved. Springing hot desks on workers may erode morale and disrupt cultural dynamics. Be transparent about hot desking plans and solicit employee feedback about new structures. Open dialogue can lessen angst and create a sense of ownership among your teams. And be flexible with the new arrangements. You may find hot desks aren’t right for your business and a return to a more traditional system is best.