The Pros and Cons of Hot Desking

  • Author Natalie Chan, Marketing Manager

The 1990s has a lot to answer for. The beginning of the decade saw the internet open to the public; by the end we had Google, eBay, and Amazon. Apple launched the iMac, Friends aired for the first time. It’s also the decade that saw a revolution in the workplace, including the introduction of hot desking. The unpopular cubicle office had been phased out, open plan was de rigueur, and companies were experimenting with a more flexible approach to workspace. In the intervening years, hot desking has developed a bad reputation. One 2012 survey reported that 9 in 10 workers found it morale-sapping. But is it really that bad?

The pros of hot desking

From saving space to boosting productivity, hot desking can bring many benefits to your organization. Because you don’t need one desk per employee, hot desking frees up office space. Use it as an opportunity to reduce your real estate footprint, or repurpose that extra space with amenities and features to enhance your employee experience. A variety of break out areas and meeting rooms, socialization space, or simply a more spacious, less cluttered office will contribute to employee wellbeing.

Departments can mix

Without a permanent desk, people end up sitting with colleagues from different departments. No more silos allow cross-departmental relationships to develop and workplace culture to flourish.

An uncluttered office

A clear desk policy is one of the fundamental rules of hot desking. You don’t want to take residence at a desk for the day and have to work around someone else’s “World’s Number One Dad” coffee cup, scrawled Post-It notes, and family photos.

Research shows that a cluttered office environment impacts productivity. It overloads your brain with information, taking precious cognitive resources away from what you should be doing. It affects the performance of your working memory. It takes more effort to organize your thoughts.

Flatter office hierarchies

If your company is the type where managers get first dibs on the best desks or offices, hot desking will level the playing field. Any desk is up for grabs, and the most organized will get their pick.

A flatter hierarchy can improve communication and the speed of decision making in an organization. It’s also empowering. Employees at any level get the opportunity to create an impact. Your company will benefit from enhanced creativity and employee engagement.

The cons of hot desking

On the other side of the fence, hot desking detractors bemoan the uncertainty it can cause and the time it can waste.

Looking for a desk wastes time

In a hot desking workplace, you need to search for a desk you’re happy to work at for the day. Like booking a plane ticket, leave it late and you’ll have to spend longer looking. Chances are you’ll be left with the seats nobody else wants. This all adds extra time – and potentially frustration – to the working day.

Humans do not like uncertainty. Something as simple as not knowing where you’ll be sitting, who you’ll be sitting next to, or even if you’ll get a desk at all, can create a stress-inducing start to the day

Difficulty finding colleagues

Not knowing where colleagues are sitting is another potential time waster. If your office is spread over multiple floors, a quick 2-minute chat with a colleague could turn into a 20-minute hunt around the entire building.

Overcoming the cons of hot desking

With proper execution, the downsides of hot desking can be overcome. You can have your cake and eat it. Enjoy the pros and minimize the cons. Here’s how.

Implement a desk booking system

A desk book system overcomes the number one hot desking complaint: uncertainty.

Desk booking software such as Kadence’s lets users plan their time in the office in advance, pre-booking the desk they want. Long term bookings also mean people who like consistency can book the same regular desk.  It gives your people the autonomy to manage the day on their terms.

Set up office neighborhoods

Office neighborhoods are areas of your office customized for specific groups of people. Team-based, activity-based, and project-based neighbourhoods are all common approaches.

Office neighborhooding means people can sit with the colleagues or amenities they need to be nearby. A neighbourhood for your creatives could, for example, include more brainstorming and meeting space than other areas. It means they won’t have to worry about whether they’ll get a desk with the amenities they need when they come in.

Make the most of the extra space

Hot desking just to cut down on your real estate costs could seem to your employees like a downgrade. Far better – if you can – to turn over extra space to areas focused on wellbeing. You could use it to embed biophilic design into your office, for example.

Is hot desking a winner?

Like the internet, when hot desking was first introduced it was a beta version of what’s possible today. Modern workplace digital infrastructure – such as desk booking software – gives you the ability to implement it without the complaints that have been commonplace since its inception. Repurpose the freed-up space with wellbeing in mind, and hot desking can become an important part of a workplace culture focused on employee experience.

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