Hot-desking: The advantages and disadvantages of sharing desks

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What is hot-desking?

Hot-desking is the practice of sharing desks. Rather than having a permanent desk, employees take one that is available out of a pool of possible desks. It’s a practice that is common in co-working environments as well as in firms that have a high proportion of remote workers that only occasionally need to come into the office. 

Benefits of hot-desking

Reduced office space requirements

The primary benefit of hot desking is that it can substantially reduce requirements for office space. Not needing a dedicated space for everyone in the office means that you only need to have the space requirements to cover the plausible maximum number of employees that can be in the office, rather than the total number of employees that you have.

Makes it easier to have a hybrid work setup

The true benefit of hot-desking comes in situations where most employees do not come into the office on a daily basis. If most employees come in, the savings are relatively minimal – you still need a desk for everyone, even if they are not assigned. If on the other hand, most employees are remote (or mainly work in a different office), then the requirements with hot-desking are substantially lower than allocating a desk to everyone. Indeed, hotdesking may facilitate hybrid work – providing a direct incentive for companies to offer the opportunity for their employees to spend at least part of the week working from home. 

Increases the possibility of chance meetings between employees

A less obvious benefit associated with hot-desking is that it may also increase the possibility of chance meetings between employees. Hot-desking means that employees will likely be sat next to different employees each time that they come in – increasing social relations and the possibility of greater shared understanding between different parts of the firm. 

Disadvantages of hot desking

Employees may like the consistency

One of the key limitations of hot-desking is that employees may not like the setup. Having an office may be seen as a perk – moving to an environment where you don’t have the certainty of knowing where you are going to be sitting that day can be uncomfortable. Employees like elements of routine and taking away their desk interprets the routine. 

Requires putting everything away at night, and pulling it out next day

Another challenge with hot-desking is that it requires employees to put their work away each time they leave – potentially wasting time associated with packing/unpacking, and making work based on pen and paper more difficult. While a purely electronic setup – where employees just need to log off the computer or put away a laptop – may not have significant issues, if you rely on more manual paper-based arrangements, the change over process becomes a lot more challenging. 

Employees may lay claim to a desk

A final challenge with hot-desking is that employees may look to circumvent the processes (potentially to get the consistency, or allow them to leave things out) by staking a claim to their desk. Think of using towels to reserve deckchairs around a hotel pool.

The practice of reserving desks can lead to multiple issues, including:

  • Higher amounts of desks required to account for reserved spaces
  • Resentment between employees about ‘their desk’ being taken
  • General clutter – rather than the desks being cleared each night, a gradual buildup of items left out