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Does Hot Desking Improve Productivity?

employees at desk, hot desking employees
Chuck Leddy
Published on

Workplace flexibility has long been an important component of employee experience and productivity. Flexibility typically means giving people more choice and control, which helps drive their productivity, as we’ll discuss in detail below. 

Flexibility in the workplace was an important discussion before the pandemic, but COVID-19 accelerated these conversations and moved flexibility from a nice-to-have to a necessity for all workers and their organizations. Hybrid work is just one of many flexible work practices spurred on by the pandemic.

Hot desking has become an extremely popular solution for modern workplaces. In fact, nearly 90% of organizations have fully or partially implemented room and desk booking software to accommodate things like hot desking and streamlined meeting room management.

Hot Desks and Flexible Work

Before we begin exploring the growing popularity and use of a hot desk approach in companies around the world, we’ll begin by clearly defining the concept. At its simplest, hot desking means people don’t have assigned desks in the office. An inventory of desks are instead open to, and bookable by, everyone. 

Hot desking makes eminent sense in a world of hybrid work where perhaps 30% of employees come into the office on a Tuesday and 25% come in on a Friday. What’s the point of maintaining the pre-pandemic system of designated desks when most of those desks will go unused? If 40-60% of your 100 pre-assigned, fixed desks are going unused during the week, you’re wasting a lot of office space and money. 

Hot desking empowers people to choose their own workspace.

Implementing hot desking typically means that organizations need fewer desks to accommodate their employees. For example: if 40% of your 100 employees come in on Tuesday you could satisfy your weekly needs by having 50 hot desks instead of 100 designated desks.

A hot desking work environment is sometimes associated with the concept of open plan offices, but they are two different ideas. Open plan offices means that the organization’s physical office has no walled-off offices, so everyone sits in a large, open plan space where they can easily see each other.

A hot desking policy and an open floor plan office hierarchy can go together, of course, with both encouraging employees to communicate in the open, but the two practices don’t need to go together: an open office layout can have pre-assigned desks and a fixed seating arrangement (just not private offices).

The Growth of Hot Desking

While hot desking was around for many years before the pandemic, it’s become significantly more widespread today, especially when integrated into a hybrid work model. One in five US employees do not have an assigned desk right now. Since the pandemic, organizations have gotten far better at understanding how to implement hot desking in an office environment in a way that:

  • Reduces their office footprints and related CRE cost savings
  • Makes it easier for hot desking employees to book desks and meeting space as needed
  • Supports the employee experience and people’s productivity in today's hybrid workplace
  • Allows organizations to adjust their hot desking approach based on utilization data and workplace analytics

From an employee perspective, hot desking encourages people to move around, allowing for more open conversations with people from across the organization. It can also encourage collaboration in a whole new way, sparking cross-functional innovation.

With more flexible arrangements, hot desking makes it easier for organizations to make the most use of their space.

Some Potential Cons of Hot Desking

When managed poorly, there are some cons of hot desking such as:

  • People competing over desks
  • Difficulties locating colleagues and team members around the workspace
  • A lessened sense of ownership over shared workspace

Each of these cons of hot desking hold the potential to negatively impact employee productivity and increase employee turnover. As we’ll see below, whether hot desking promotes people’s productivity (or not) depends largely on how it’s implemented and managed.

Does Hot Desking Improve Productivity?

The answer depends on how hot desking is implemented. When done badly, hot desking causes disruption that damages productivity, but when done well it helps people work better. One report from the UK noted that 54% of office workers believed that hot-desking made the office a more open and welcoming space. That same UK source found that 46% of employees reported a boost in productivity through hot desking

46% of employees report a boost in productivity when hot desking.

Moreover, when made part of a holistic workspace solution, hot desking can better accommodate people's evolving needs in how they prefer to work. Different tasks may require different work environments: hot desking enables employees to select a workspace that best suits the task they are focusing on that day. For instance, a hot desking employee can book a desk in a "quiet zone" for focused work or a personal space in a collaborative area for group discussions.

A report from Robin notes that 70% of firms have been redesigning office space in order to cater to more collaborative ways of working and enhance workplace experiences. But just because so many organizations are trying to increase flexibility and drive benefits doesn’t mean it’s working. 

Imagine when a higher rate of in-office visits than expected means that not enough shared desks are available for the people who need them. An insufficient number of desks is the opposite of productivity-boosting: it forces your people to work remotely and/or find their very own personal space or off-site workspace.

Hot Desking Done Right: 4 Recommendations

Here’s how to do hot desking in a way that drives cost savings and productivity, while avoiding the cons of hot desking described above:

1. Start with Small Pilots

You should start small when hot desking so you can learn lessons at a low cost, and scale up what works. For example, implement hot desking on a single floor or with a single department in order to smooth out any bumps in the road. Seek input from impacted employees because when people help create the plan, they become invested in its success. 

Make a point of getting employee feedback around your hot desking policies.

2. Make Hot Desking Part of a Holistic Workspace Solution

Alongside your hot desking initiative include multiple workspace arrangements that holistically support flexibility, such as:

  • Room hoteling: making conference and meeting rooms bookable for multiple days for team and project work
  • Desk hoteling: so people can book their own desks for multiple days
  • A varied menu of bookable meeting spaces: to serve employees' different needs, think: one-on-one meetings, team meetings, all-hands meetings, etc.

You’ll need housekeeping policies too, especially around people cleaning up their own desk, their work environment, and in what condition a shared desk should be left after each sitting.

3. Provide the Technology Tools to Flexible Spaces  

If hot desking becomes a game of musical chairs where people show up early to grab the popular spots and then waste time fighting over the remaining spaces, chaos ensues instead of productivity. Many workers would probably prefer working remotely to this brand of daily office chaos. Hot desking needs a supportive technology infrastructure and tech tools that enable people to plan their schedules and easily book desks. 

Friction is the enemy and technology is your best ally to eliminate it. You’ll need to provide space booking software, as well as meeting room booking software to enable hot desking and hoteling. 

Having the right booking software makes hot desking much easier.

4. Use Workplace Analytics to Evolve Flexible Solutions

No hot desking solution is ever set-and-forget. You may need to add or subtract desks or meeting rooms, or even change the mix of available desk and meeting spaces depending on desk usage.

In order to evolve and iterate your flexible working strategies, including hot desking, you need visibility into what’s happening, which means accessing workplace analytics that you can review and use to inform decision-making.

Flexible Tools for Flexible Working

Hot desking, when well implemented, certainly can reduce costs and simultaneously increase employee productivity and employee engagement, a massive win-win. It can also promote collaboration. But in order to reap these benefits, you should be following the four recommendations described above, especially around investing in the enabling technology that supports hot desking. 

Robin exists to help you flexibly manage your workplace and resources. If you want to save money on office space and increase office productivity, reach out to us today. We can help with implementing a hot desking environment or any other flexible work approach.

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