What is “hot desking”?

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PUBLISHED: December 10, 2022
Imagine waking up, getting ready for work, and arriving at the office only to discover that… there is no seat for you. Or, perhaps you arrive at work to discover, to your astonishment, that the spacious corner desk with the enviable view is available for the entire day. With hot desking, both situations are possible. […]

Imagine waking up, getting ready for work, and arriving at the office only to discover that… there is no seat for you. Or, perhaps you arrive at work to discover, to your astonishment, that the spacious corner desk with the enviable view is available for the entire day. With hot desking, both situations are possible. This article will discuss this type of flexible workspace and why it may or may not be suitable for your business.

What is “hot desking”?

Hot desking is a flexible workspace trend in which employees grab any available desk or workstation when they arrive at the office. This is an alternative to having a permanent desk in traditional offices. No one can permanently claim a chair, desk, or table for hot desking. When an employee arrives at the office, they choose a seat based on what is available. As employees enter and exit the office, arrangements will also change. Hot desking is similar to dining in a restaurant. People sit wherever there is space, which varies as diners (i.e., employees) arrive and depart.

Hot Desking vs. Desk Hoteling vs. Meeting Room Booking

While the terms “hot desking” and “desk hoteling” are often used interchangeably, there is a significant distinction between them. With hot desking, employees occupy any available workspace (if one is available at all). Employees reserve workstations in advance, similar to reserving a hotel room (hence the name). There are seats available on a first-come, first-served basis for both options. However, hot desking is considerably more flexible than desk hoteling because there is no reservation system.

Booking a meeting room is distinct from both hot desking and desk hoteling, despite their similarities. Meeting room reservations are commonplace in both traditional and flexible office environments. Groups reserve communal areas, such as conference rooms and lounges, in advance. So, they will have a dedicated space for collaboration that is distinct from the rest of the office. Even in an office with hot desking, it is advisable to have a separate booking system for collaborative spaces. In addition to desk hoteling and meeting room booking, some software permits both functions.

What type of workplace is best suited for hot desking?

In some businesses, hot desking is a recipe for dissatisfied employees and low productivity. In two scenarios, the system is typically effective. First, if you manage a small company with a small number of employees who all work in the same area anyway, hot desking will not disrupt your organization’s structure. The second scenario is when the majority of your employees are infrequently present and require desk space on short notice. Perhaps they come in between field sales meetings or when they need access to equipment they do not have at home. In this situation, hot desking is preferable to having infrequently utilized dedicated desks.

Consider the following to determine if hot desking is the best solution for your workplace:

In-Office Personnel:

How many employees work in the office on a daily basis? If you have a small number of employees who regularly work from home, it may be difficult to ensure that everyone has a comfortable seat.

Office Design:

What kind of space does the office consist of? Can certain sections be designated as quiet zones or collaborative meeting spaces? Will the employees and department have access to the spaces they require?
How difficult is it for employees to commute to the office? If they must take the subway every day, for instance, carrying a lot of work equipment may be difficult.
Are your employees privy to highly confidential information? Hot desking is unlikely to provide the necessary private seating arrangements.
If the majority of your team requires the structure of a traditional office or must regularly sit near certain coworkers for collaboration purposes, hot desking is not an appropriate option. However, if you still desire a hybrid workplace, a reservation system could be a viable alternative. Check out our article for more information on how desk hoteling can improve your office space.

Advantages and disadvantages of hot desking

Hot desking has its advantages and disadvantages. It works well in contemporary workplaces where employees value flexible schedules and hybrid work environments. Traditional offices or businesses that require everyone to be present at all times do not fare as well with hot desking. Examining both sides, let’s examine the pros and cons.

Pro: Collaboration, Socialization, and Innovation

When employees or departments that don’t normally work together must collaborate on a project, it is easier for them to sit close to one another, and each individual can choose their desk. As projects conclude, workers can then disperse. Additionally, because workstations are rearranged daily, employees find themselves in proximity to coworkers with whom they do not typically interact. This can build and strengthen working relationships, encourage collaboration, and foster enterprise-wide cooperation.

Whether employees find hot desking restrictive or liberating depends largely on the individual and the nature of their work. While some may feel stifled by changing workstations, others may experience an increase in creativity and originality. And if these employees thrive on collaboration, sitting next to new people every day could motivate them even more. If you manage a creative company with employees who are constantly on the move and view their desk as merely a surface to lean on, hot desking could help unleash their creativity.

This level of autonomy is excellent for employee growth and can help employees feel that their employer has confidence in them. By eliminating the need to micromanage where everyone sits, the employee is granted more autonomy. Extra responsibility instills pride in some team members’ jobs and encourages them to take greater ownership of their work.

Lack of Stability, Hierarchy, and Individualization

The inconsistency of hot desking may irritate older employees or anyone accustomed to a conventional layout. It can be stressful to not know where you’ll be sitting every day or if you’ll find a seat at all. And it is especially difficult if the employee is not accustomed to carrying equipment like laptops to and from work. In addition, hot desking prevents employees from personalizing their space or optimizing their work environment to promote concentration.

In the worst-case scenario, this conveys to employees that they are unimportant. Some employees may believe that if they were valued by the company, they would be provided with a workspace. Hot desking can also have an effect on office hierarchy, such as when a supervisor or 20-year employee is forced to sit near a group of new hires or has a worse desk setup than a subordinate.

In addition, a lack of stability leads to another significant issue: germs. With so much sharing and exchange of workstations, it is inevitable that germs will spread faster than if everyone had their own desk. Employees must be extra vigilant in maintaining cleanliness in order to protect the next person who will use their station.Having a nightly cleaning crew that disinfects the desks is beneficial. As shifts change, multiple people may use the same desk throughout the day under “hot desking.” Workstations must be cleaned whenever this occurs.

improved workplace organization

Because employees are prohibited from placing personal items on their desks, each workspace will remain minimal, uncluttered, and well-organized. There is no need to worry about particular desks being cluttered or unclean. Some people are able to think more clearly when there are fewer distractions, so this can actually encourage creativity rather than inhibit it. In addition, while germs are a concern, as discussed previously, cleaner desks are easier to maintain. When there are fewer obstacles to navigate, it is easier to disinfect and sterilize hard-to-reach areas.

False: Lost Time

Arriving at work without knowing which desks are available and where you can work comfortably can waste time. Work time is consumed by locating an available space, settling in, and acclimating to the surroundings. The absence of a desk reduces productivity even further. And the later an employee arrives to work, the greater the likelihood that all desks (or the best ones) will be occupied. The employee must then either wait for one to become available or head home or to a different work environment to begin the day.

Another reason why hot desking can lead to time loss is that it is difficult to find the necessary colleagues. Whether it’s a colleague with whom you regularly discuss work-related issues or an expert with whom you need to discuss a larger matter, not knowing where anyone is located is problematic. Similarly, gathering a department for a two-minute meeting can take significantly longer if everyone is dispersed. If employees are unable to concentrate because of where they are seated, their productivity may suffer. For instance, a worker who needs to concentrate on an important project will be distracted by a coworker who must make sales calls all day.

Pro: reduced expenses

Hot desking is economical for businesses because there is no unused space. In an office where some team members frequently travel or work remotely, fewer desks are required overall. Real estate costs can be reduced by reducing the amount of space required for desks and maximizing the remaining space. Additionally, it is possible to share a workspace with another company. You can create a coworking space with hot desking, further reducing costs and sharing the expense of maintaining an office.

Technology and Logistics

When employees have assigned desks, everything they need to perform their duties is already set up, with no unnecessary equipment. With hot desking, however, technology logistics can become complicated, and there is much to consider. For instance, should each desk have its own computer, or is a place to plug in a laptop sufficient? And should everyone bring their own laptop or will the company provide one? Taking special needs into account, is it even possible for each person to transport their laptop to and from work every day?

Conclusions Regarding Hot Desking

Knowing how your employees function optimally increases employee satisfaction and productivity. However, adopting an office trend for the sake of fashion is not a savvy strategy. It is up to you to determine whether or not hot desking is a prudent choice for your company and employees. Alternately, you could create a hybrid office with some permanent desks and some hot-desking space. Alternately, you could utilize a more organized reservation system with desk hoteling.