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Challenges of moving to hot-desking

Few things can be as disruptive to office culture and individuals than a companies shift from permanent desk spaces to hot-desking or desk hotelling. It really can be a seismic shift and one that requires empathy and patience from the organisation, but before we look at the key challenges of hot-desking, it makes sense to understand where it has come from.

As early as the 17th century lawyers and civil servants began to work from offices in European cities leading to a distinction between the office, which was associated with work, and the home. Work from home continued in earnest until office life was well established by the 1960’s with most of us now having experienced the daily commute to the office to work with colleagues.

Offices became a home from home, so to speak. You would go to work and sit next to the same people on a daily basis. This helped develop a sense of ownership of your space. Pictures would be carefully positioned, desk toys, books and magazines would all accumulate across your desk. You would get frequent reminders about tidying your space or desk if important visitors were due in. If you weren’t in and returned to find someone had sat in your desk, then there was often a mild sense of annoyance; your chair might have moved or there may even be crumbs from someone’s biscuit.

So why are companies shifting from set desks for individuals to hot-desking?

Well the answer is for a number of reasons. Obviously since the pandemic the number of companies working in a hybrid manner has grown astronomically. This means that offices aren’t being used in the way they used to. For companies and organisations this creates a logistical headache. Knowing how much of the office is being used can help companies optimise their office space. If an office is more than half empty for most of the week then it make sense to downsize the office footprint. However this downsizing is often not linked to company size and growth, which by all intents and purposes continues, despite the office not looking as busy.

This leads to a challenge: create efficiencies in space whilst still balancing the benefit of working in the office. To answer this challenge companies often adopt a hot desking policy.

So what is hot-desking?

Hot-desking is a workplace concept where workers don’t have allocated desk space. Instead, they work from different desks during the week, choosing their desk as they turn up for work each day. The term ‘hot-desking’ is thought to have been borrowed from “hot racking”; a military term historically used in ships and submarines where crew sleep in any available bunk as opposed to an allocated space. 

So far so good. The companies challenges around space are resolved and they can benefit from large cost savings due to this but it's not without its challenges, and as mentioned before, this shift can feel seismic to the individual on the shop floor so to speak.

So let's have a look at some of the challenges frequently associated with hot-desking policies and the impact on individuals.

Challenge 1: Creatures of habit

Many employees will have used the same desk for years and might have developed a strong attachment to their workspace. A change to policy is likely to affect them the most. To help combat this, identify those individuals ahead of the change and set up forums for them to voice their concerns. Often a feeling of being heard will help ease the change and there may be solutions around lockers or drawers that can help them retain a sense of ownership.

Challenge 2: Close colleagues

When using the same desk for a long time, we become familiar with other people around us. It creates a sense of community and family. Hot-desking may lead to employees sharing working spaces with lots of different people and could therefore make them feel less comfortable and even a little anxious, wondering who they’ll be working with today.
To counter this, explain that you can still arrange to sit with familiar individuals. Using software such as Team Today allows team members to co-ordinate their visits to the office and retain that familiarity or at the very least, ease the transition.

Challenge 3: Time taken to book a desk

For already busy teams, adding another task to their to-do list can feel burdensome. To ensure your hot desk strategy works, the software used to book desks should be intuitive and simple. Having team managers book desks for others can help this transition.

Challenge 4: Increase in distractions

Team members may have concerns around how noisy or disruptive different environments can be. Consider adding quiet zone areas to ensure that those who want to work uninterrupted can do so.

Challenge 5: Additional needs

Ensuring ergonomic workstations for employees in a hot-desking environment can be challenging. It's important to address concerns about comfort and health.

Challenge 7: HR headaches

HR managers can face a real headache with managing hot-desking. Keeping track of who is working from where and when is a real challenge but you are in luck; Team Today helps take that headache away.

As with any big cultural change there can be an impact on morale, anxiety or stress. Try to find strategies to ensure that people's concerns are being heard and acted upon. Consider using Google or Microsoft forms to help create a simple feedback form to gauge the success of the new policy. We've created a handy template here which you can duplicate and use.

Finally, a shift to hot-desking can have a real positive benefit to company culture if handled correctly. By people working with other individuals outside their silo perhaps there is more chance for the conversation that leads to a potential new innovation or process improvement. Cross departmental communication is often one of the biggest hurdles that faces companies. By breaking down silos with hot-desking you can look to overcome that. Encourage these conversations by having tea / coffee facilities nearby, biscuit breaks or posters to facilitate the culture of asking questions and chatting to each other.

For more insights and articles about hybrid working from Team Today, visit our blog here.

Robin Gibson
Co-Founder and Director of Design

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