hot desking pitfalls

How to avoid the top 3 pitfalls of hot-desking

What is hot-desking?

Hot-desking, office hoteling, or free seating. The concept comes with many different names but essentially, hot-desking is a shift away from assigned seating. Instead, people can reserve a desk when they need it. In an office with a hot-desking protocol in place, there will be a higher employee to desk ratio, meaning more employees than there are desks.

Hot-desking as part of a wider agile working strategy

Hot-desking is often implemented as part of a shift towards agile working. As technology enables greater mobility and talented people expect greater autonomy than ever before, the office has become just one of many locations where people can be productive.

As a result, having a permanent desk for every employee often doesn’t make sense. Instead, a pool of desks, mixed up with other types of room or space – e.g. bean bag areas with whiteboards for collaboration, cafes for socializing, pods for quiet concentration – can provide the most flexibility for organization and their people.

Hot-desking enables Activity Based Working

This practice of providing different types of space that employees can choose from, depending on the task at hand, is called Activity Based Working (ABW). Activity Based Working is a sub-set of agile working and a major workplace trend.

Unsurprisingly, it’s fast becoming popular, as activity based workplaces have been proven to increase employee engagement; while flexible working is vital for talent attraction and retention.

What are the benefits of hot-desking?

Hot desking is one of the most debated and disagreed upon methods of office design, with many saying it encourages disorganization among employees and results in a lack of office culture. However, its cost effectiveness and ability to offer a flexible workplace are key reasons for its success. 

Here are the top 3 benefits of hot-desking or office hotelling:

  • Cutting real estate costs and carbon footprint, by reducing the amount of office space required per person. Your monthly lease may not change, but it will allow you to do more with the same amount of space. 
  • Boosting productivity and collaboration, by creating a more agile working environment that delivers a superior employee experience. Hot-desking keeps workers on their toes, helping them to adapt to any new challenges as well as preventing them from falling into the route when working from the same desk every day. 
  • Remote workers or part-time staff will no longer need an assigned seat, so you can optimize space by reducing the number of individual workstations and freeing up room for, say, huddle rooms and focus booths

What’s the difference between hot-desking and office hotelling?

When people talk about ‘hot-desking’, often they’re referring to the practice of grabbing an available desk when you show up at the office. On the other hand, definitions of ‘hotelling’ typically refer to people booking a desk in advance, before they arrive.

More often than not, the terms ‘hot-desking’ and ‘hotelling’ are used interchangeably.

In this article we’ll stick to the term hot-desking, meaning unassigned seating that can be booked either in advance or on arrival, using a desk booking tool.

What are the top 5 pitfalls of hot-desking?

Facilities managers that have tried and failed to implement hot desks will stick by their view that it’s not the right move for every office. The top 5 hot-desking pitfalls are:

  • Difficulty finding a desk when you show up in the morning, often leading to people showing up extra early to secure a decent spot; or fighting over desks. It can also mean people will go out of their way to avoid other colleagues.
  • Inability to find a colleague whom you want to sit next to. This can damage relationships and make it harder to collaborate with and learn from others. This then results in a communication breakdown, especially if the hot desk system is not properly managed from the beginning. 
  • Time wasted searching for a desk, searching for a colleague, or setting up your workstation before you can be productive. Forcing your workers to re-adapt every day they’re in the office can end up hurting business if it takes them longer to get into a groove.
  • Hot-desking might seem like a great fit for certain roles within the company, but other departments might be at a disadvantage if you open the office to hot-desking. A better approach would be to have certain groups that work off a hot-desking basis, with others who benefit from a traditional setup or need a dedicated tech setup having an assigned seat. 
  • If you’re going to operate hot-desking, then you need modern technologies for it to work properly. If you’re running on a small IT budget or don’t have the facilities in place to manage this transition, it may take some time. Your workers need the best resources available to encourage better collaboration. 

What happens if you don’t address the ‘cons’ of hot-desking?

Hot-desking has had its fair share of bad press over the years, due to implementations that focus purely on cost-cutting, without taking employee needs and feedback into consideration.

Failure to understand the risks and create a solid plan for mitigating them often leads to unhappy employees, who feel uncared for, stressed out and isolated from their colleagues.

In truth we should set our sights far higher than simply avoiding disruption to employees when we implement hot-desking. When done right, providing shared desks and a variety of other spaces should actively improve wellbeing and contribute to an environment that fosters innovation. Seating should be used strategically, to create these positive outcomes.

How to avoid the top 5 pitfalls of hot-desking

The good news is that all the downsides of hot-desking are entirely avoidable. There is absolutely no need for hot-desking to become a first-come-first-serve free-for-all. Instead, people should be able to easily book a desk in advance – on the move with a desk booking mobile app, from home, or when they arrive at the office.

If someone does decide to book a desk on arrival, having desk display panels on each workstation makes it easy to see at a glance what’s available.

By choosing hot-desking software that enables people to find a particular colleague or team, you can avoid wasted time and create a truly collaborative environment.

Finally, the whole process of finding the right desk, next to the right person or team, should take seconds. And when you show up at your chosen desk, the furniture should be easy to adjust and technology a breeze to get up and running, whether people use laptops or desktops with files in the cloud.

Using data to improve the desk booking experience

Using a workplace scheduling tool that enables people to look at an office floor plan and quickly spot which desks are available makes the desk booking experience even more speedy and satisfying.

At Smartway2 we’ve been focusing on how to help employees find precisely the right desk, by overlaying data onto floor plans. For example you could overlay desk utilization data so the most popular desks in your office are highlighted on a heatmap.

Workspace utilization analytics – including meeting room booking and desk booking data – are essential when it comes to developing and constantly improving your workplace strategy.

Using desk booking software to change behaviour

Many Facilities, HR and IT professionals – not to mention office managers – struggle to manage hot-desking without resorting to detailed policies and heavy-handed policing.

For example an organization that aims to increase cross-functional collaboration may find employees keep booking the same hot desk, next to the same colleagues, for weeks or months in a row.

With a flexible hot desking tool that enables you to create custom resource booking rules that reflect your workflow, you can configure the system to ‘nudge’ the behaviors you desire. For instance you could set up your desk booking software so that after three days in the same spot, on the fourth day the desk is no longer available to book.

Likewise, if you find people are block booking desks that they won’t necessarily use every day, you can configure your desk booking system so that people can’t make a reservation for more than, say, one week in advance.

In that sense, selecting the right hot-desking tool for the job will allow you to tailor the employee experience in a way that’ll provide the upmost benefit for both organizations and individuals alike.

Are you implementing office hotelling, or want to get more from your existing hot desks?

We sharing ideas on how to create a better workplace; and specifically how you can take a data-driven approach to improving space utilization. If you’d like to increase collaboration and productivity, or provide a slicker employee experience, feel free to request a demo of Smartway2.

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Jane Young

Jane Young

Last updated January 21, 2020