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Is hot desking right for your business? 5 questions to consider


With a trendy name and an abundance of interest in the practice, hot desking may seem like a smart approach to managing employee workspaces. But is it the right choice for your organization, your employees and your workplace’s unique culture?

To help you determine the best answer for your business, here are five fundamental questions to ask. Use them to guide your thinking, and you’ll be more apt to make a decision that you—and your employees—can embrace.

1. What does “hot desking” mean to you?

In the strictest sense, shared desks have been around for decades. Real estate agents, for instance, often work from a single desk on a rotating basis at a central office. Meanwhile, employees at hospitality, restaurant and automotive businesses use common desks (or counters) through which to connect with customers and clients.

Hot desking, in the modern sense, involves multiple workers on different shifts or schedules sharing a single, traditional office space. It can also mean employees share a workspace dedicated to a specific task, or activity-based work. For instance, a private room may be set aside for which staff can schedule time for private phone calls or consultations.

Hot desking can be an affordable means of trying out new ideas for existing space, too. For example, staff who would like to use a standing desk might be willing to share a single setup, relying on a reservation system to secure time at that station.

2. What’s your fundamental motivation?

As a trend, hot desking can sound interesting, but what’s really driving that curiosity? Are you looking to save space? Foster collegiality and creativity? Have a clear sense of the “why” as you explore your options and explain possible changes to employees.

Real estate costs are often a major factor in the shift to hot desking. In major East and West Coast cities, real estate costs can be prohibitively expensive. As a result, employers and managers in those communities have sought innovative ways to shrink their square footage needs. Because hot desking means less total space is required for furnishings, chairs, monitors and keyboards, it’s easier for employers to set up and maintain offices with smaller footprints.

At the same time, many employers in creative fields like tech, advertising and public relations have come to believe hot desking helps spark innovation. At companies like Google, leaders believe that shared workspaces encourage the kind of collaboration and idea sharing that drives the bottom line.

3. How might hot desking impact the work?

Broadly speaking, individuals in creative fields may be more apt to thrive in an environment where people and ideas can mix and mingle freely in shared spaces.

In industries where people need to have quiet, private conversations with clients or customers about important issues, however, hot desking can create vulnerabilities. Staff that tends to be on-site continuously may clash with remote workers, seeing the latter’s sporadic use of shared spaces as intrusive.

Over time, employee — or worse, client — frustrations can build up, creating serious problems.

To minimize the risk of trouble down the road, think through how hot desking might establish or heighten tension. Think, too, about what kinds of client conversations must take place in complete privacy — and work to protect them.

It’s probably wise to puzzle through all the points in a typical day, week, month and calendar year when demand for space and access may build up. Then you can work toward solutions in advance, minimizing space strain, protecting privacy (as needed) and keeping interpersonal conflicts at bay.

4. How might it impact employees?

The better you study the individuals working in your office, their experiences of your workplace culture and regular routine, the better you’ll be able to assess how hot desking might impact them.

Again, people tend to be attracted to careers that fit their personalities. Thus, creative people working in creative fields may be more receptive to the idea of shared spaces. That might not be true of everyone in any given creative business, however. It’s conceivable that even in a vibrant, robust ad agency, the administrative staff may prefer to have a designated working area where they can focus on details in privacy, surrounded by familiar things.

Having a clear sense of the mix of duties and individual personalities in your office is vital to determining if hot desking will be a workable solution.

If you do decide to embrace hot desking, be sure to give special consideration to privacy and individual differences. It’s smart to ensure employees have a secure, on-site place to store personal items. A row of lockers, for example, can provide a sense of privacy similar to a private drawer or overhead storage space in a cubicle. Implementing clear, equitable means of reserving shared space can minimize conflicts, too.

Remaining sensitive to employee needs (be they physical, emotional or psychological) is always critical — but even more so when major transformations are looming. And it goes without saying that any and all changes to the office layout and access to spaces must be ADA compliant.

5. How might it affect morale?

While individuals may have their own preferences for traditional office setups or hot desking, the reality is that office morale is the sum of all those predispositions, only amplified. Choices made that impact the physical design of a workspace can dramatically impact office culture.

Ergonomics, too, can impact the collective morale. This can be especially true if you’re asking long-time staff to give up carefully calibrated space and office furnishings.

Does your office currently allow employees to telecommute? If not, it might be a good time to consider that option. Initially reluctant staff members may be pleased to find that the arrival of hot desking coincides with greater freedom in where and when they work. Staggered shifts and shared desks may hold particular appeal to parents, other family caregivers and individuals with long commutes.

Pairing telecommuting with hot desking is not a one-size-fits-all solution, however. In Washington, D.C., some federal offices have been using shared desks for a while, having long ago run out of affordable space. Now employees must call ahead to reserve a spot. If they call too late or request a day that’s especially busy, they’re unable to find a place to work.

Finally, have you ever had to address a tidiness tiff between a couple of staff members? If so, then you know staff conflicts over orderliness can be time consuming and harmful to the esprit de corps. Hot desking can exacerbate those quarrels.

If your current employees have similar attitudes to cleanliness and minding office clutter, however, then anxiety about making the switch to hot desking may be minimized. The change might prove to be a net positive, with employees working cooperatively to demonstrate pride of place at desks and in shared working and gathering spaces.

The bottom line is that you want to build an office environment that suits the needs of your business and your employees. Hot desking may or may not make sense for you. Your office environment is just one aspect of building a strong company culture. If you’d like to learn more about how to build a company culture that fosters happy, productive employees, download our complimentary magazine: The Insperity guide to company culture.