Hot-desking: Alternative approaches to desk sharing

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There are different approaches to making shared desk space work – from completely open desks to dedicated desks that you share with one or two others. This article considers alternative approaches to hot-desking.

Open desks: Take any open desk

The first approach to hot-desking is the ‘take any open desk’ approach. This is what you see in a library – a large poll of open desks, and then individuals look for an open seat to take.

One of the benefits of this approach is that people will gradually get to know each other. The person that you will be sat next to one day will be different the next day, and so, the opportunities for chance interactions with individuals from different areas greatly increase.

The unpredictability though is what employees often don’t like about this setup. You don’t have the certainty of knowing where you will be sat, nor who you will be around. 

Specified groupings: Take any desk in a defined area

A permutation on the take any open desk approach is to group employees into specific areas or floors – sat with individuals in the same department or functional area.

One of the benefits of this approach is that it does group closely related people together – they may be in different seats each day, but employees will still be located close to those that they typically interact with. While the opportunities for getting to know employees from different parts of the firm are reduced, this approach does make it easier to work with colleagues in your department.

Shared specific desks: Alternating days

Another option to desk sharing is to assign two or more people to the same physical desk, but with a schedule such that different employees come into the office on different days of the week. Monday and Wednesday may for example be one employee – Tuesday and Thursday someone else.

This approach to desk sharing closest resembles a traditional assigned-desk office – and may work well in situations where firms are primarily looking to maintain some element on in-person work, while also achieving office space reductions as part of a ‘hybrid’ work environment. 

A key benefit of this approach is that it allows employees to have a permanent desk. Rather than having to move all of your items at the end of the day, this approach allows employees to keep some element of personal space. The disadvantage though is that someone else will spend part of the week at your desk – and may move things around or leave it in a state that you weren’t expecting.

A final disadvantage of sharing a specific desk between multiple people is that the schedule of when you can and can’t use of desk needs some enforcement – it is not possible for two people to simultaneously use the desk. This makes this set-up difficult to use when schedules are flexible. If employees are allowed to pick the days that they came in without any coordination, then there will likely be clashes as multiple people want to use a particular desk at the same time.

Shared specific desks - with an open fallback

A final approach to hot-desking that combines together the open desk and specific desk approach is to assign desks among two or more employees, but also have an open space, that employees can use if their assigned desk is occupied by someone else.

This approach looks to alleviate the issues with assigned desks that are shared between multiple people and may work particularly well when schedules are flexible. For example, if there are no fixed days when people are expected to come in, there will inevitably be clashes between multiple employees coming in on the same day. This approach provides a fallback in such situations.