Hot desking is a phrase that’s firmly in our workplace vernacular. Most people know what it is and if you work in a medium to large sized business, the chances are you do it from time to time too.
Hot desking is the practice of using spaces temporarily or, for employers, allocating space when it’s needed rather than each employee having their own fixed space. This concept was a response to the increased number of employees working flexible hours or remotely and the requirement for companies to reduce their overheads. The result is the need for less space (or the ability to put it to better use) and quite significantly, the end of the personalised desk.
For years, desks ‘belonged’ to individuals; they were ‘owned’ spaces with the same person sitting there day in day out. That led to personalisation. We’ve all seen these desks – adorned with photos in frames, finger paintings and trinkets. This ‘making it ours’ satisfies an inherent need to control some aspect of our environment and ensuring it reflects our identity. But as workforces become more transient, working hours more flexible and our working behaviors more varied there really is little room (figuratively and literally) for owned spaces.
For most organistions the business case is one of cost. Desks are rarely occupied for more than 50% of the time, with employees at meetings, on client visits or working from home. Money is tied up in space they just aren’t using. Plus, as open plan offices have become the norm there is little appeal in seeing clutter as far as the eye can see, nor do businesses investing in workplace design want to see their creative efforts overshadowed with macaroni pictures and ‘I love you’ photos.
The best and most successful hot desking environments have made this shift by striving for greater efficiency and addressing three elements – facilities, culture and behaviour.
Hot desking is sometimes described as ‘hotelling’ – a way of explaining that the user should have easy access to everything they need as soon as they arrive: internet connection, stationery, teas and coffees, room booking as well as lockers for personal items to be stored in and ergonomic furniture so that chairs can be set to their preference during their stay. The idea is that employees come into the office and get straight to work, just as if they had a personalised, fixed desk.
Hot desking requires employers to invest in cultural change. This includes explaining the rules of the game, highlighting the wider benefits of removing owned spaces and supporting employees as they make the shift.
Businesses that have already embraced activity based working (choosing the right space for the right task) will find this easier, as hot desking can be understood in the context of having the right spaces to get the job done – whether that’s working at a desk, in a quiet pod or hosting a team meeting in a dedicated space.
All of these changes to space, behaviour and working patterns make it’s unsurprising that personalised desks have no place in the modern office.
The successful shift to non-owned spaces needs guidelines to support the behavioural change required.
You might choose to put a desk booking system in place so that employees can book their location (helping to manage the move away from allocated spaces) or publish a set of hot-desking guidelines so everyone knows what’s expected. Clear desk policies are not uncommon either – insisting that employees refrain from personalising their space and leaving it strewn with files. Some organisations even insist that desks are cleared if the user is away for as little as an hour. Rules like this rely on adequate team rather than individual storage.
Things to remember
Hot desking is just a new way of saying shared space. Shared space means that it should be usable and inviting for everyone, whomever they are and for however long they are using the space. It’s easy to see that clutter, or personalisation, has no place here.
The word clutter is said to derive from the Middle English word ‘clotter’ – which means to coagulate. Clutter does just that – it bogs us down. It gets in our way, it makes it easy to become inefficient, it makes environments look messy, and it stops us taking pride in our surroundings. As the saying goes ‘a clear desk means a clear mind’ and in business term that focus means increased productivity.
So as ‘clear your clutter’ day gets into full swing take a look around your workspace. Are there areas that are under-used, over personalised and full of mess? Make today the day you say no to clutter and yes to efficiency.
To find out more about agile working, what it means for the physical office environment and how to manage the shift to agile working, download the full ‘Introduction to Agile Working’ whitepaper: