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Why anti-hot-deskers are targeting the wrong problem

A recent survey suggests that office workers are going cold on hot-desking. We’d argue it’s not the principle that’s at fault, but how it’s sometimes applied.


By Poornima Kirloskar-Saini, Operations Director

It’s easy to see why hot-desking is a brilliant concept. It allows companies to provide less workstations, and so cut their building and maintenance costs. It encourages managers to be relaxed about their employees working elsewhere, creating an environment built on trust. And, potentially at least, it gives employees the option to work from or closer to home, with all the work-life balance and well-being benefits that brings.

Yet, according to a recent survey, office workers are becoming increasingly unhappy about hot-desking. Out of the 1,000 who were interviewed, half believed that hot-desking made them less productive, compared to a third in a similar survey two years ago. And 60% said that a dedicated desk remained their preferred option.

So is the hot-desking era over? We hope not. Our view, based on our own experience as well as our insights into workplace culture, is that it’s not the principle of hot-desking that’s the problem; it’s how it’s applied. And when it’s done well, it works for everyone.

Why hot-desking goes wrong

The problem arises when hot-desking is seen as a way to save money, without giving thought to how it affects employees. Just slashing the number of desks, dishing out laptops and expecting employees to fight it out among themselves, isn’t the answer. It’s the equivalent of squeezing a full-time job into four days and calling it part-time.

Instead, hot-desking needs to be seen within the concept of flexible working as a whole. And as with any operational workplace change, it’s more likely to succeed if it’s thought through, consulted on and carefully implemented. How do I know? Because here at Timewise, we walk the walk. We have a fully flexible workspace, underpinned by the right technology, which works for all our employees, not just our FD.

Here are our five key principles for making hot-desking work for all.

  • Talk to your colleagues about how they work best

Before we started the move to hot-desking, we took the time to find out what our people actually wanted. How bothered were they about being able to personalise their space? How did they feel about working from home? How flexible could they be about when and where they work? How often did they feel they would need to be in the office? What technology would they need to support remote working?

  • Work out the parameters of what you need

Here at Timewise, most of us work part-time in some way, which is helpful in terms of hot-desking. But we decided early on that we could only make it work if people were allocated fixed in-office days as a starting point. We could then set about building in the flexibility for people to change their days as and when needed. So that’s what we did.

  • Find a tech solution to support your plans

Initially, one of our team was responsible for holding and sharing a weekly update about who was in or out of the office, and so which desks might be available. Needless to say, it was a total headache.

But when we came to look for an off-the-shelf software solution, we realised there wasn’t anything available that matched our needs. Most of the packages we came across only offered desk booking capability, and we needed a more bespoke solution.

So we designed our own app, which gives all members of our team individual control but also requires collective responsibility. It really works, and has made Julie’s life a lot easier. Do get in touch if you’d like to know more.

  • Invest in systems that mirror the office desktop

One thing that has been central to the smooth working of our new system is the IT we have put in place. Every member of our team has secure remote access to all our systems, so working remotely isn’t a second best option or a cause of frustration. On the contrary, our team love the way it supports their well-being and work-life balance, and allows them to focus on specific tasks.

  • Draw up some rules of engagement

Before we made the move to hot-desking, we shared some key principles with the team which we felt were needed to make it work. For example, everyone was expected to wash their cups at the end of the day, and to store their belongings and documents in drawers. We also agreed to outlaw eating at our desks.

So far, people have pretty much stuck to these principles, so everyone comes in to a clean, clear desk. An unexpected bonus is that we are now much more likely to be found eating together in the communal kitchen, which has been great for our team dynamic.

Remember to design jobs properly so they can be done well elsewhere

However, none of the above will be any good if your roles aren’t deliverable on a remote working basis. So before you even start investigating your options for hot-desking, take the time to look at the roles themselves.

If you need any help designing properly flexible roles, or you’d like to know more about our desk management app, please get in touch. As our experience shows, making hot-desking work is well worth it.

Published July 2019

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