Hot desking is on the rise, with many businesses adopting the approach in a bid to save money.

Covid-19 has meant more employees working remotely. Now, many companies are looking for ways to accommodate flexible working and reduce wasted space.

But is hot desking right for your company? Here are the pros and cons.

What is hot desking?

Hot desking is an office arrangement where employees don’t have allocated workstations.

Everyone is free to sit where they choose, with employees switching between different workstations on different days.

In the majority of hot desking setups, there are fewer desk spaces than there are employees.

This caters to the fact that on any given day, a number of employees will be absent or working elsewhere. Thus, this strategy helps in reducing wasted desk space.

Hot desking and coronavirus

It’s important to note that, at the time of writing, UK government guidance states that those who are able to work from home should do so.

Although offices can open, the guidance states: ‘Workstations should be assigned to an individual and not shared’.

This means that you should avoid hot desking, to minimise the risk of cross contamination. If this is not possible, you should clean and sanitise workstations and shared equipment between occupants.

However, for many companies, the pandemic has highlighted that remote working can be effective. Some are considering a more flexible approach post-Covid. If this is the case for your company, hot desking could be the way forward once measures are relaxed.

The pros

Hot desking can have a variety of benefits for businesses:

  • It saves space and money: In a typical hot desking environment, there are fewer workstations than there are employees.

    This allows businesses to significantly reduce the amount of space they need compared to a traditional setup where everyone has their own desk. This in turn cuts down on costs for both space and equipment.

  • It levels the playing field: Hot desking disrupts the traditional office hierarchy, creating a more equal environment.

    This encourages networking between teams and working alongside colleagues at all levels, making employees feel valued.

  • It offers flexibility for remote working: Employers have been under increasing pressure to accommodate flexible working, and the coronavirus pandemic has accentuated this need.

    A switch to hot desking would necessitate a shift in IT systems to ensure employees could access everything remotely. This could pave the way for remote working where necessary, creating a more flexible work culture.

  • It creates a more social, collaborative environment: Hot desking encourages staff to mingle with people from other teams who they might not otherwise encounter.

    This not only creates a more sociable environment, but provides opportunities to share skills and ideas that can foster inter-organisational collaboration.

    It can also enable employees to identify with the company or brand as a whole, rather than with their team alone.

  • It creates a tidy, minimalist environment: There are those among us who can maintain a perfectly tidy desk. However,  individual workstations often become cluttered with documents, mugs and other detritus.

    Hot desking eliminates the clutter. It creates a clean, minimalist environment where employees take their belongings with them when they leave their workstation.

The cons

Hot desking may not be for everyone. Here are some of the potential disadvantages:

  • It can increase stress levels: Not knowing where they’re going to sit each day can cause anxiety for some employees. A 2019 survey of 1,001 office workers found that this was the biggest cause of stress related to hot desking.

    However, 61% of respondents said the ability to pre-book a seat would ease their concern.

    The first-come, first-served nature of hot desking also means those who aren’t able to arrive at work early may find they have to sit separately from the rest of their team. This could lead to feelings of isolation on their part.

    It’s important to be transparent with staff. Encourage feedback so that you can tailor your hot desking setup to suit your company’s situation.
  • Some employees may be uncomfortable without their own personal space: While flexibility to move around may suit some people, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

    Some employees prefer knowing where they’ll be sitting and who they’ll be sitting with. They may find the change in routine uncomfortable.

    Employers should be aware of this, and should speak to employees and make allowances where necessary.

  • It can make communication harder: Nipping over to a colleague’s desk for a quick chat is often the quickest and easiest way to solve a problem, rather than emailing backwards and forwards.

    However, that’s much more difficult if you don’t know where your colleagues are sitting. Luckily, there are plenty of tools and resources available that can make remote communication and collaboration easier.

  • Your company may need to overhaul its IT systems: A successful hot desking setup may require a massive IT update.

    Transferring everything to cloud storage, setting up laptops or shared workstations and getting everyone connected could be a huge undertaking. This effort could require a significant amount of time and money.

    On the other hand, you could see it as an opportunity to evaluate and improve your office equipment. With the right systems and equipment in place, hot desking can work.

  • It may interfere with health and safety for some employees: Some employees may need particular adjustments in order to make their workstation fit their needs.

    For example, they may need a second screen or a chair that provides better back support.

    Again, it’s important to discuss these things with your employees so you can make adjustments where necessary. You also may need to clean and sanitise desks more regularly, as shared workstations can increase the spread of germs.

Is hot desking right for my office?

Switching to hot desking could be a big culture shift for your organisation. You need to consider the change carefully if it’s going to work. Every company is different, as is every employee, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

It’s important to ensure your employees are involved in the switch, so get them on board early. Hold a company meeting, ask them what they think, send email updates and put posters up around the office.

This will help you to overcome potential issues before they become larger problems. Staff will find the adjustment easier if they’ve been part of the decision-making process.

Successful hot desking requires care and planning, and should be seen as a holistic change to your company.

If done right, it can afford your employees freedom, flexibility and autonomy, empowering them to make decisions about their own work environment.

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