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Expand Flexible Seating in the Workplace with Reverse Hoteling

two coworkers working
Danielle Aihini
Published on

We hear it all the time. Organizations are looking to implement some sort of flexible desking or unassigned seating experience in their workplace but are hesitant to rock the boat. 

Employees who’ve had an assigned desk for their entire career are apprehensive to give up their desks decorated with personal effects. At the same time, scan the office and 1 in 4 of those photo-cluttered desks aren’t even occupied. Managers are in meetings, salespeople are on calls or on the road, and people are out sick or on vacation.

When it comes to giving employees what they want all while keeping space efficiency and a well-rounded workplace experience in mind, growing companies have it tough. Employees can be hesitant to change and office managers get stuck using spreadsheets and outdated maps to try and manage complex desk workflows. However, the draw to more flexible, activity-based workplaces instead of one-size-fits-all cubicle or bench seat heavy offices persists with 52% of corporate real estate executives planning to roll out an unassigned seating policy in the next three years.

Flexible seating, unassigned seating -- whatever you call it in your organization -- can be a huge transition for a company and can fail when not implemented correctly. If you’re looking to test out a flexible desking or expand on a current desk strategy without the risk of rocking the boat to the point of sinking, a great way to dip your toes into a flexible desking experience is through reverse hoteling.

Looking to explore flexible desking in your workplace? Schedule a personalized demo of Robin to see how it can help optimize space in your office.

What is reverse hoteling?

Reverse hoteling is when an employee with an assigned desk offers up their desk to a flexible desking pool for other employees to book.

Reverse hoteling is often used when an employee goes on vacation, works from home, or takes parental or sick leave. Once they return, the desk is theirs again just like any other assigned desk.

Reverse hoteling: A few examples

Whether you’re looking to introduce flexible seating, testing out a new way to balance assigned and unassigned seats, or looking to incorporate another layer to your desking strategy, reverse hoteling checks each of those boxes.

Because reverse hoteling works well in organizations looking to expand on their seating options, it can be used to pilot different types of desk booking software and flexible desking policies before rolling out any major change to an entire organization. Here are just a few examples of how to leverage reverse hoteling in your workplace:

Trying out that corner office

Say an executive with a private office is out of the office for a week. Instead of having that perfectly good space sit and suck up utility expenses, the executive could reverse hotel their desk for that week. Now, that space could be used as an extra meeting room, a spot to change scenery for a recurring 1:1s, or as a workroom for a consultant or visitor.

Blending into other teams

As a company grows, visibility across different teams naturally decreases. Reverse hoteling gives employees on teams that may not interact often a peek into each other’s workflows. For example, a member from the product team could take advantage of a desk a sales manager released to the shared pool. By sitting with the sales team and hearing their conversations, they can get immediate insight into how the product is talked about and received by prospects.

Easing space when you’re at capacity

Likely the most impactful benefit of reverse hoteling is when a company is at capacity and needs a bit more space to breathe. Whether it’s employees on vacation, working from home, or on parental leave even, having reverse hoteled desks contribute to the pool of flexible desks opened to be booked by employees or visitors looking for a seat naturally eases personnel congestion all without adding more physical desks.

Reverse desk hoteling helps ease personnel congestion when an office experiences growing pains. 

Reverse hoteling: Not for all, definitely for some

When looking into reverse hoteling for your office, it’s important to consider who could benefit from it. In most workplaces, employees work in different ways depending on their responsibilities and personalities. This means different employees are at a desk for different amounts of time during a workday. Oftentimes, reverse hoteling is used in growing workplaces with a mix of assigned and unassigned seating with employees who spend varying amounts of time at their desks. In this type of workplace you’ll find the following types of employees:

1. Resident employee

  • Has an assigned seat 
  • Spends more than 60% of the time at an assigned desk or about 5 hrs at a desk assuming an 8-hour workday
  • Typically makes up 20% of an organization
  • Offers up their desk to the flexible desking pool

2. Flex employee

  • Sometimes uses assigned desks or not depending on their responsibility and personality 
  • Spends between 20%-60% of their time at an assigned desk or between 1.5 to 5 hrs at a desk each day 
  • Typically makes up 60% of an organization
  • Could reverse hotel their desk when out of office or benefit from trying different areas in the office by booking a desk in the shared pool

3. Mobile employee

  • Doesn’t have an assigned seat. Often in meetings, traveling, or working remotely
  • Spends less than 20% of their time at an unassigned desk or less than 1.5 hours at a desk each day
  • Typically makes up 20% of an organization
  • Since they don’t need a desk to themselves, they can benefit most from using/booking reverse hoteled flex desks when in the office

When considering reverse hoteling -- or any type of flexible desk experience -- it’s important to take stock and consider how your employees tend to work and how often they’re at their desks to best leverage a new desk strategy.

Resident employees - employees who spend more than 60% of their time at a desk - can offer up their desk to a flexible desking pool when out of office.

Getting started: How to expand your flexible seating options with reverse hoteling

1. Create a clear policy

Before making any workplace change, outlining clear expectations and guidelines will help manage expectations and answer questions before they arise. When it comes to reverse hoteling, it’s helpful to outline under what circumstances an employee would offer up their desk (ex: best for at least a full day versus just an hour or two) and who would book a desk from the flexible pool (ex: employees who don’t have their own designated desk or are already familiar with hot desking).

2. Test it out with a pilot group

Before telling an entire office they’re going to start reverse hoteling (read: inciting pandemonium), consider trying out the workflow with a test pilot group. Find a champion to lead a team or a few teams -- some who have assigned seats and some who don’t.

The group with the assigned seats will release their desks to the shared pool when they’re OOO and the group with unassigned seats can then reverse hotel those desks. This test group can help show the benefit of adding extra desks to a flexible desking pool. Monitor the groups to keep track of bumps and ask for feedback before rolling out a desking change to a larger group.

3. Consider desk scheduling software

Activity-based work, hot desking, and flexible seating is hard to maintain in a spreadsheet or floor map that becomes outdated as soon as employees walk into the office and take a seat each morning.

Using a desk scheduling tool that creates a seamless experience for admins and employees alike will make for a smoother transition. When employees can book desks from maps around the office or even a mobile app, they feel more empowered about how and where they do their job.

Desk scheduling tools like Robin make it super easy to manage reverse hoteling. Here you can see the dates someone offered up their seat to the pool of available desks in white.

Flexible seating can seem intimidating, but according to Leesman, it’s clear that “organizations are increasingly moving towards unassigned concepts”. With benefits ranging from improved desk utilization to empowering a tailored employee experience, it’s worth considering in any workplace (especially growing ones!) Before making any major change, reverse hoteling is a great way to test out or expand on any flexible seating strategy.

Robin customers, if you’re interested in reverse hoteling, reach out to your account team to turn this feature on.

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Does your office collaboration need a reboot?

Find out if your workplace strategy is a hit or a miss.

office map
an employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshot