Desk Booking for Flexible Working: Essential Features Checklist

An essential checklist of best practice features you should consider when choosing your desk booking solution.

Maybe you already use a desk booking system, maybe you’re just starting to explore what’s available. Either way, choosing the right flexible desking solution has never been more important for workplace leaders and space planners as we enter a new era of hybrid working

2020, the year work changed forever

With new challenges ahead, if you don’t have an effective desk scheduling and booking solution, how will you manage your workspaces effectively and efficiently? Resilience comes with agility and flexibility. In the case of a desk booking solution, you need one that offers just that – a data driven approach to space optimization, flexibility to switch between different workplace models, and a frictionless experience for employees.

The pre-Covid desk booking experience

Pre-pandemic, you might find desk booking software in coworking spaces. Enterprises had tried to find such a solution for unassigned desks in a bid to reduce real estate but many failed.  Where they did succeed, the increase in desk hoteling and hot desking often turned into a major pain point for employees, who considered their desk to be their home away from home.

However, the conditions were different then and recent changes make it worth exploring once more. Territorial feelings toward desks have largely been replaced by safety concerns – are employees comfortable leaving their home desks to work at a desk that could have been used by many in the office? 

The question is, can your desk booking and scheduling software reassure them enough that they feel confident using the office more regularly? Will it make it super simple and intuitive to book a desk based on how they want to work and who they want to work with? Will it reassure them both through clear communication of policy and physical indicators in the space to show that desks are safe to use?

Employees prefer flexible working

But territory and safety aside, on the whole, burgeoning trends suggest people actually prefer flexible working. The clue is in the name as it allows them the autonomy to be flexible and achieve more in their home lives, as well as in their career. According to the latest research by Boston Consulting Group and KRC Research, 31% of workers would prefer to spend about a third of their time outside of the traditional work setting and 88% of business leaders expect hybrid working to become the norm.

We see this across the board. Enterprises from Google and Twitter to Microsoft have launched hybrid work models. Dropbox’s nearly 3000 employees will now work remotely most of the time. Over the next 6 to 12 months, $22tn of office real estate will be reimagined and repurposed because there are fewer people in the office. 

The workplace leader’s to-do list for effective work policy in the 2020s

Consequently, the workplace leader’s to-do list has grown considerably:

  • Create a sustainable and resilient hybrid work policy. 
  • Implement scheduling technology that organises how spaces are used, and lets employees book appropriate spaces.
  • Implement the new work policy in a way that nurtures employee wellbeing and productivity, and supports team cohesion.
  • Make employees feel safe in the office, at the desks they use, and in the conference rooms where they meet. 
  • Find systems that talk to each other – pulled together into an IWMS to manage spaces and employee flow.
  • Maximize the use of real estate. This means implementing technology that shows how many places are filled, who is where at any given time and reveals how spaces are being used.
  • Ensure robust contact tracing, for a quick reaction should an incident occur
  • Contingency planning for different scenarios. 


It’s a daunting list. But the right software, that your employees find easy and engaging to use, combined with the right hardware in your spaces, can provide a strong solution to meeting these needs because it enables you to

  • communicate which spaces are safe and available to use
  • know which spaces get used and which don’t
  • know who is using which spaces and when 
  • release unused bookings back into the availability pool

Most importantly, if your employees find it easy and engaging to use,

a) your employees will feel safe and productive in the workplace

b) you will get the data you need to manage your spaces well, making cost savings in real estate and minimizing your company’s carbon footprint in the process.

So, how do you go about finding the best desk booking solution for your company when every business is different? We’ve compiled a checklist of essentials and nice-to-have features to make the journey simple for you:

The three desk booking system essentials

  1. A workplace app employees want to use
  2. Capture real-time occupancy data
  3. Actionable insights for data-driven space optimization

Best practice features you should also consider

  1. Wayfinding
  2. Find a co-worker
  3. Activity-based booking functionality
  4. Individual work cadence settings
  5. Smart policy settings, executed dynamically
  6. Integrated workplace management system (IWMS)
  7. People-centric software-hardware combination
  8. Cloud-managed devices and enterprise-level service, deployed at scale

The three desk booking system essentials

1. A workplace app employees want to use

First and foremost, the desk booking software needs to provide an excellent user experience otherwise your employees won’t use it. The software should be as intuitive as their favorite social media platforms. 

If your chosen software doesn’t deliver on this front, employees may try to find another way to assign seats among themselves – for example, via Slack or the low-tech post-it notes system. Neither is scalable, nor does it help cut real estate costs, or for that matter ensure employee wellbeing. 

To make sure your solution supports an excellent workplace experience, look for one that can:

  • Make desk booking quick and easy, whether that’s a week in advance or last minute, at home or on the go. Most employees will want the flexibility to book wherever, whenever, so an app is essential. The experience on desktop should be just as intuitive with a seamless transition from app to desktop.
  • Offer a choice of views for ease of use. Some employees may want to select by calendar, others by floor plan or filter by amenities. Give them the option to use the app to their preferences.
  • Reassure with a visual overview of the status of desks in a user-friendly, color-coded floor plan view. To enhance communication and experience, this should be mirrored by your hardware in the physical office setting, visual indicators that sit on desks and much like traffic lights, give a clear indication of their status: red (used and needs cleaning), amber (in use), or green (clean and ready to use).
  • Real-time update on availabilityemployees don’t want to go through the process of booking a desk only to find it isn’t available after all, or conversely, see no desks free on the app but plenty with the green light in the office. Use a system that is powered by real-time data check-in and occupancy data which helps release unused bookings back into the availability pool.
  • Provide better experiencescan the employee get notifications, reminders about their booking or other office updates? Does the solution come with useful features – such as wireless charging on the desk or easy desk check-in? 

2. Capture real-time occupancy data

If you think you’ve found a desk booking solution that your employees are happy to use, you need to check it isn’t just a pretty face. Does it have the underlying capability and visibility that allows you to gather accurate data, on which to make decisions to help achieve your workplace goals – from freeing up unused desks and improving availability to hitting KPIs for space utilization?

What to look for:

  • Occupancy data captured every time: Make sure you get a check-in every time by making it part of the intuitive action of the employee when they approach their reserved desk. This data is so valuable you need to build in ways to ensure you get that check-in, this could be by offering an amenity like wireless charging for them to interact with, or could be a push notification to their phone based on location data. Either way, this data is the fuel for an effective desk hoteling policy. 
  • Safety through automation: Real-time occupancy data can also be combined with automation to optimize desk management and implement policy dynamically, in accordance with social distancing guidelines. These could be system alerts to the janitor as soon as a desk or a room is vacated (eliminating the need for manual checks) or a RFID tags that auto-releases spaces as “available” once the cleaning status changes.
  • Smart rules based on real-time data: Use occupancy data to set smart rules that help secure faster desk turnaround by determining whether a booking is used or not. For example, if nobody checks in to a workspace within 15 minutes from the time it was booked, a notification is sent to employees and if they do not respond, the desk is automatically released as available. This feature alone could lead to 10-30% savings in desk utilization.

3. Actionable insights for data-driven space optimization

To make smart real estate decisions, you need to be able to evaluate 

  • the business needs
  • the roles and responsibilities that require more office time 
  • actual data on employees’ work patterns

You then need to marry this up with how your spaces are actually being used. How do you know which spaces to cut, and by how much? You need reliable and actionable insights from space utilization and occupancy data
over time. This can be a data layer that enriches BI tools that might be aggregating data for the whole smart building for instance.

Pre-pandemic, companies commonly filled only 40-60% of their overall desk capacity. Today, there is a push for higher utilization vs capacity of smaller amounts of real estate that need to flex with the demand of how employees want to work.

Optimize space for better workplace productivity

With the global shift in work patterns, better management of desks and spaces has become a must-have to ensure employee safety. By optimizing the use of real estate and knowing exactly where and how to invest, companies stand to make considerable gains in real estate, as well as employee productivity. The JLL’s 3-30-300 rule suggests that a 10% increase in energy efficiency translates to savings of $0.40 (£0.30), a 10% decrease in rent saves just above $4 (£3), whereas a 10% increase in employee productivity is worth anywhere up to $40 (£30). Optimizing the 40% of mostly vacant office space can therefore have a tremendous impact on the business.

Achieving this requires technology that provides you with detailed space usage trends and analytics: 

  • The average use of workspace per day
  • The most frequently used workspaces
  • Space usage and work patterns by location/team

With this level of data, you can evaluate how well new policy and technology has been adopted, and make accurate forecasts of future requirements. You gain a better understanding of: 

  • The elements your employees value most in their workspace 
  • Which workspaces could be optimized or redesigned for better alignment with employee needs 
  • Why some areas are constantly underutilized. Certain usage patterns might signal a need for more neighborhoods within the office or point to conditions which make an area less desirable, such as inadequate room temperature, or high noise levels.
  • How much space could be cut on a local – office – level, as well as globally 
  • The alignment between the intended purpose of any space and its use in practice

These insights also help you measure: 

  • People-to-desk ratio: How many people can use a desk safely with flexible work patterns, thorough sanitization between use, and social distancing requirements? How can you put an efficient but safe hot desking system into action? 
  • Meeting room bookings post-pandemic: Which meeting rooms are booked and when? Do new patterns emerge? What is the ratio of used bookings to no-shows? 
  • Popularity of the workspace: Are there desks or spaces that are noticeably more in demand than others? How has the way employees use spaces changed since the pandemic and why? Do some spaces facilitate collaboration better than others?

All of the above contribute to smart and ROI-friendly real estate decisions over time by helping you to optimize the use of space, reducing cost per square foot, and improving the availability of resources such as desks and rooms.

Best practice features of booking solutions that underpin successful hybrid working

1. Wayfinding

Some systems connect the dots and enhance the user experience by offering indoor turn-by-turn navigation, with interactive floor plans colour coded to show desk status, helping employees identify and navigate to a specific floor, area, or desk they have booked.


Optimise desk availability - beacon flashes to show arrival


2. Find a co-worker

The struggle to find colleagues has repeatedly been quoted as one of the main negatives of hot desking. To create a space that nurtures collaboration and meets the rising demand for work neighborhoods within the office, look at desk booking solutions that make it easy to locate colleagues in the vicinity by seeing which spaces have been booked and by whom, as well as enabling in-app booking or location-sharing. 

3. Activity-based booking functionality

Different teams and individuals will choose to work from different locations and with different goals in mind, such as focused individual work versus collaboration. Different working zones or neighborhoods can be set up, making it easy for employees to identify the best place for them, and if collaborating, their teammates to meet.

For a productive workplace experience, check whether the desk booking software offers zoning functionality for neighborhood grouping, and indicates not only the availability of each workspace, but also the facilities in the vicinity.

4. Individual work cadence settings

People love choice, so let them choose how, were and when they want to work. Let them decide which tasks are better accomplished at home and what requires time in the office with coworkers. Cadence work patterns will start to emerge which groups of colleagues can join in and employees can plan their time accordingly. Facilitate this with a booking software that lets them set up a routine or cadence that suits their needs; for example, by allowing them to book a desk near colleagues for regular team collaboration sessions on specific days and times in advance. 

Besides providing a higher quality workplace experience, this function empowers space planners to forecast demand and make better provisions, ensuring spaces are available when needed.

5. Smart policy settings, executed dynamically

Planning for different scenarios is invaluable and putting rules in place can help the business react quickly and be more agile if things change fast. For example, social distancing can be implemented at desk level so every second desk is not used, or areas that have been identified as hazardous can be blocked off by using clear communication light indicators or signage.

You need a system which can automatically plan and set up rules which can be dynamically implemented as conditions change, either automatically or simply at the click of a button.

Desk management software with contact tracing

This not only saves space planners and facilities managers time, but is crucial if the company needs to react swiftly to a potential outbreak of a pandemic or implement company-wide changes to comply with new regulations.

6. Integrated workplace management system (IWMS)

As a rule of thumb, it is easier for companies to limit the number of software they use. Careful selection of a smaller number of solutions must therefore consider how these systems talk to each other to form a CAFM (Computer-Aided Facilities Management) and IWMS (Integrated Workplace Management System) ecosystem. This leads to faster implementation of updates and easier management of office capacity. 

Your solution should therefore come with an open, comprehensive API to integrate seamlessly with frequently used business tools like Slack, Microsoft 365 or Google calendar that let you reserve desks and meeting rooms easily without switching between tools. 

You might also want to consider desk booking software that offers advanced integrations with tools like Aruba Meridian for indoor turn-by-turn navigation, Zoom Rooms to automatically trigger video calls for a seamless workplace experience. Kadence, for example, can easily be integrated with existing IWMS and allow work patterns and workflows changes dynamically as conditions change. 

7. People-centric software-hardware combination

To unlock the real benefits of effective desk management in a hybrid environment, you need both hardware and software to provide the “anytime, anywhere” booking functionality. 

Your desk booking software needs the right hardware to deliver the best possible workplace experience. For instance, bluetooth beacons make it easier to control density and ensure more accurate wayfinding. Employees can use Bluetooth access readers to trigger actions, from opening doors to adjusting the lights or room temperature.

Wireless charging spots are another example of what an ‘all-in-one’ tech solution can offer. Strategically placed around the office to serve as a source of convenient power supply throughout the day, while supporting touchless check-in, gathering occupancy data, and create a more appealing, cable-free office that’s easier to clean. 

Place phone on wireless charging spot

8. Cloud-managed devices and enterprise-level service, deployed at scale

The solution you deploy across offices need to be able to scale easily to ensure a great user experience regardless of the number of offices or staff using it. It should be secure, reliable, and easy to set up and manage. A cloud-managed solution can deliver that by identifying and fixing issues over the air, ensuring maximum uptime, and, as a result, cutting maintenance costs.

This type of solution requires an enterprise mindset and proven track record of deploying and managing workplace solutions at scale. A partner that understands the complexities of an enterprise can significantly speed up the deployment process.

The ROI you can expect from an effective desk booking solution

  • Profitability: Companies that embrace digital workplaces tend to be 21% more profitable. Choosing the right technology can be a powerful contributor to achieving that as it introduces cost-efficiency through more automation and better data insights.
  • Reduced real estate costs: 62% of office space is not utilized effectively. With the right solution in place, every 10% of staff who work in hybrid mode can lead to office real estate reduction by at least 5%, as well as cutting the business’s carbon footprint.
  • Better desk utilizationby capturing and using accurate and secured occupancy data, desks can be managed effectively while delighting employees. Efficiency per square foot is improved by identifying no-shows and increasing availability.
  • Employee engagement and productivity: Enabling a more flexible way of working and collaborating with colleagues improves the workplace experience, employee sentiment, and, ultimately, staff retention and productivity. Highly engaged workplaces claim 41% lower absenteeism and 40% fewer work quality defects.
  • Scalability: From changing working conditions, optimizing resources and space to implementing company-wide policy updates at the click of a button and reducing the time spent on manual checks and technical issues, cloud-managed software with sophisticated automation capabilities creates a more resilient enterprise.

Get started with Kadence

Now you know what you’re looking for in a desk booking solution, why not get a free demo of Kadence, our desk booking app and cloud software built for flexible and hybrid working?

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