10 MIN READ
How to Manage Hot Desking
Taking the Stress Out of Shared Workspaces
Companies that grow rapidly can soon run out of office space – yet they can still find themselves with empty desks most days, due to vacations, business travel, sickness, and remote or flexible working, for example.
So, why pay for more space if it won't be used? Or, to look at it another way, how can you use your existing office space more productively?
An increasing number of organizations are responding to these questions with "hot desking." If it's managed with care, this workspace-sharing model can foster collaboration and creativity, and utilize your space more efficiently. But it's not without its critics, and it can be a challenge for your people.
In this article, we look at the pros and cons of hot desking, and discuss how you can sidestep its potential pitfalls.
What Is Hot Desking?
Hot desking is the practice of providing a pool of desks, and allowing people to choose where they sit – ideally, in a different place each day. This replaces the tradition of sitting at your own personal desk, in the same position, every day.
The idea has its roots in the open-plan office format that was first introduced in the 1950s. And, just as open-plan spaces signaled the demise of the private office, hot desking may be hastening the decline of the personal workstation.
The Pros and Cons of Hot Desking
Settling down at a different desk each day gives people from different teams and departments the chance to interact, and to build networks that cross the formal company hierarchy. This helps to break down silos and cliques, and facilitates "chance" encounters that can enable organizations to become more creative.
Hot desking can also lead to significant cost savings, because it cuts down on unused space. Let's say you have a staff of 50, but 10 of them work from home Mondays and Wednesdays. That's 20 empty desk spaces per week that can be reallocated. Consider the example of Citibank – its HR department in New York has just 150 workspaces for 200 employees.
Despite these benefits, though, hot desking isn't universally popular.
The loss of a familiar workspace, and the separation from teammates and managers, makes some people feel unsupported. Others argue that splitting up close-knit teams may reduce communication and creativity, and that it impacts morale.
And, competition for the "best" desks can cause problems. "First come, first served" may sound fair, but it's less so in offices where people don't all work the same hours. It can be irritating and inconvenient to hunt for a free desk if you arrive later in the day.
How to Manage a Hot-Desking Workplace
But, while hot desking can be a challenge, there are practical ways to manage it. Here are six points to consider before you take the plunge.
1. Manage the Change
Switching to hot desking can be a big cultural change for your organization. But, if you give people the chance to help shape the policy, they'll more likely support it.
To achieve their buy-in, spell out the benefits that hot desking will bring. Explain how it will operate, and be upfront about how it will affect their working lives. Invite people to respond – this will demonstrate that you value their concerns and their well-being. It could also highlight issues that you hadn't thought of.
You could also consider including home working as part of a wider policy on flexible working. Such a move would free up more desk space, and it may encourage reluctant hot deskers to accept the change.
To be successful, hot desking needs to apply to as many people as possible in an organization. But, for certain roles – Human Resources teams and receptionists, for example – assigned desks may be essential. Beware of making too many exceptions, though, as this may cause resentment among the majority who switch desks every day.
Hot desking can be about more than just desks. You may be able to offer a variety of workspaces – couches for one-to-one meetings, and booths for quiet, focused work, for example – to bring even more flexibility into the office.
2. Embrace Technology
Providing the right technology is crucial for successful hot desking.
Messaging apps such as Skype, Yammer, and Slack can help scattered colleagues to keep in touch, and cloud-based tools such as Google's G Suite and Microsoft's Office 365 are great ways to collaborate online in "real time."
But, face-to-face contact will keep your hot-desking team connected at a deeper level. So, be sure to schedule regular in-person team meetings, too.
And don't forget the basics! Think about how you will allocate hardware such as computers, monitors and phones, and remember that hot deskers will still need access to company networks and systems.
Some people need specialized equipment such as modified keyboards and adapted chairs. Make sure that these items are clearly labeled, and store them in a special area so that the individuals concerned can always find what they need.
3. Try "Hoteling" and "Zoning"
"Hoteling" is a variation of hot desking that allows people to reserve desks in advance. This secures the benefits of hot desking while alleviating the daily stampede for seats. Tools such as Skedda and Google Calendar offer desk scheduling facilities.
With "zoning," you designate areas where team members can work together. This can be a temporary arrangement, for specific projects, or a permanent one. But take care to ensure that people don't see it as a way to use the same desk every day.
Even with hoteling and zoning in place, competition can still be fierce for the "best desks." So, lead by example, and sit at a different desk each day yourself. If more persuasion is required, consider asking people to move if they monopolize favored desks.
4. Let People "Own" a Space
Some people find hot desking stressful because they can no longer personalize their workspace. So, try to find other ways give them a sense of "ownership."
It may not be practical for people to move personal items from desk to desk. But, if possible, provide lockers where these items can be kept. And consider having an area of the office where items such as awards can be displayed, or a board for personal photos and notices.
It's also important that your people can set up a desk each day in the way that suits them. Factors such as desk layout, monitor height, adjustable armrests, and lumbar supports, for example, allow people to feel in control of their workspace – and they're vital for health and well-being, too.
5. Keep Desks Clean and Tidy
The average office desk is home to around 10 million bacteria, some of which can cause illness. That's one great argument for having a clean desk! Another is that a dirty or untidy office can lead to a drop in motivation.
With hot desking, some people may feel less inclined to keep their workspace clean, because they know they won't be sitting there tomorrow! To combat this, make it clear that everyone must leave their desks spotless at the end of the day. Supply antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers, and make it a policy that people eat lunch away from their desks.
Desks and computers should also be kept free of personal or confidential material. Physical items should be taken home or locked away, and personal files deleted.
6. Share Your Hot Desking Policy
To make sure that everyone understands how hot desking will work in your organization, it's a good idea to summarize your decisions in a policy document, and to share it throughout the organization.
Keep the document short and simple. Start by outlining the scope of your policy. Does it apply to everyone, or are some individuals excluded? Then, itemize your people's hot-desking responsibilities, using the points above as a guide.
Also explain the commitments that your organization will make. These could include ensuring that the right number of desks are available, that appropriate technology is provided, and that people have access to safe spaces for their belongings.
It's important that your people feel this change is being made with them, not to them, so be sure to offer support throughout the process.
In a hot-desking office, people no longer have designated workspaces. Instead, they sit at a different desk each day. This can free up space and cut costs. It can also stop cliques from forming, and may encourage creativity, collaboration and networking.
However, hot desking can have drawbacks. Some people may feel "cut off" from their team, or experience a lack of "ownership" of their environment, and this can affect productivity.
If you're introducing hot desking in your organization, you can mitigate these risks by consulting staff to encourage buy-in, and then managing the change carefully.
Make sure you have the appropriate technology to support the new way of working. Consider whether desks will be "first come, first served," or allocated via a "hoteling" or "zoning" system. Provide safe places for personal belongings, and see that desks are kept clean. Finally, make sure that your people feel supported throughout the process.
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