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A Guide to Hot Desking Etiquette

A guide to hot desking etiquette
Danielle Aihini
Published on

I recently rented a vacation home in Chicago and when checking in I took a look at the guest policy: “no loud parties”, “take out the trash”, “treat the house as if it were your own”.

Turns out, this kind of behavior can apply in an office setting too. When a desk can be considered “your home” at work, how employees share these spaces can have more in common with staying at a stranger’s house in Chicago for a few nights than one would think.

When hot desking, people shouldn’t be screaming into their phones on an intense conference call with others trying to focus quietly around them. And they definitely shouldn't be leaving a half-eaten pizza or coffee spills on the desktop, as this will result in empty desks.

Coming up with a hot desking policy template for your company that doesn’t include hot desking etiquette is like making your house available for vacation rentals without any guidelines. Airbnb hosts would come home to wild parties and trashed homes.

Looking to use hot desking or other flexible desking strategies in your existing office space? Robin can help. See how today.

What is Hot Desking? 

Hot desking is a flexible work trend that refers to allocating desks to employees when they are required, or on a rotating system, rather than assigning each employee a permanent work space. 

Think of it like going to work at a cafe.. You wouldn’t necessarily be sitting at the same table every day (despite having your favorite one that’s right next to an outlet and the pastry display), because it could be occupied by someone else. 

Hot desking, also known as free address, is a way for companies to maximize the productivity per square foot of their workplace. With growing work forces, flexible working policies, and limited real estate, hot desking is a great solution for companies looking to accommodate employees while not having to expand office space. 

What are the Benefits of Hot Desking? 

Jones Lang LaSalle (​​JLL) estimates that, as the result of COVID-19’s impact on real estate and workplace management, 30% of all office space will be converted for flexibility by 2030. The need for hot desking space and online desk booking will become more critical to enabling a good workplace experience.

But hot desking isn’t just a result of necessity. There are some clear benefits to implementing a hot desking policy in your office. 

  • Less real estate, lower cost: Companies looking to save money will drive the demand for hot desking by 45% in 2021. Traditional offices provide employees with assigned desks that go unused if that person is working remotely, on vacation, or out sick. Hot desking allows employers to downsize their space while still being able to provide working locations  for anyone who chooses to come into the office. 
  • Improved collaboration: Hot desking results in people sitting next to each other who, in a pre-pandemic work model, may have never interacted. This results in increased cross-departmental collaboration. Commercial real estate service and investment firm CBRE saw an 80% increase in collaboration after initiating their hot desking policy in 2020. 
  • Enhanced performance: Static seating = siloed work. Hot desking policies improve the circulation of knowledge and improves face-to-face communication. 

Hot Desk Guidelines and Hot Desking Etiquette

Nearly everything about the way we worked pre-pandemic has changed. Having assigned desks we sit at for 8 hours a day is somewhat of an antiquated concept. 

Employees are embracing change and demanding flexibility in where, how, and when they work. Hot desking is a solution that both affords workers the flexibility they want, while giving employers the cost savings benefits of reducing or reimagining office space in the midst of ever-changing work policies. Now, let’s dive into some guidelines, or hot desking etiquette rules, that you should roll out to your org to avoid hot desking problems.

Reserve Your Desk Properly

A free-for-all simply will not work. All organizations attempting hot desking should have a process in place for employees to reserve desks. In more lean organizations, this could be a sign or dry-erase board on a desk that says if it’s reserved and to whom. In companies where this type of manual set-up would be a headache, desk reservation software will make hot desking a breeze.

Whichever method you have in place to find and reserve a desk, employees should be thoroughly trained and empowered to use the solution. Using hot desking or room booking software incorrectly, or worse, not using it at all, will result in people fighting for space that isn’t theirs. Every employee should go through an onboarding process to learn how to properly use the booking system and software, which should also be outlined in your company’s hot desking policy.

Avoid Reserving (or Squatting) at Desks That are Off-Limits

You likely have desks in your company that are off-limits for hot desking entirely or at least only available to employees working on specific teams. Train people on which desks are set aside for hot desking or have them check via your desk reservation software.

Some platforms will come with a map feature, for example, where anyone can see which desks are open and reservable just by looking at a floor plan.

Use Company Storage to Check your Personal Belongings

If your office is moving from permanent desks to a hot desking environment, employees need storage areas since they won’t be able to stash personal belongings at the same desk each day. Maybe that personal space comes in the form of lockers, cabinets, or branded rolly backpacks.

Either way, avoid clutter and wasted space around the office by providing storage space for employees. Storage spaces can also give people a safe space they can consider their own. This gives employees a sense of security and control over their personal items.

Be Mindful of the Colleagues Around You

Going back to The Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. The old adage taught in kindergarten after Suzy pushed Joey on the playground still applies today in the office, sans the playground. Unless, of course, your office is the type with a slide.

Encourage employees to always consider and respect those around them. If employees are going to move around the office when reserving desks, it’s important to be in-tune with the changing environment around them. If in booking a desk, an employee is surrounded by others who prefer a quiet environment, they should respect that by taking phone calls in alternative spaces and keeping music at a lower volume, for example.

Leave your Hot Desking Space Clean

Everyone should leave their desk the same as when they arrived, assuming it was clean to begin with. This means cleaning off any personal items, throwing away any garbage, and wiping everything down with a sanitary wipe, including the mouse and keyboard.

Desks have been found to have more germs than toilet seats, and flu and cold travel fast in the office. Cleaning should be a big priority for hot deskers.

It’s also important to consider the equipment provided at the desk spaces and reservable workstation. Whether it’s cables, dongles, chargers and so on encourage employees to return everything to the original spots making set-up simple for whoever is reserving the desk next.

When it comes to hot desking, effective change management is essential to ensure its success. If expectations for hot desking etiquette aren’t clearly outlined before, during and after implementing hot desking, then hot desking can end up being a messy (disorganized and from stray crumbs) experience. When colleagues neglect to formally book a dedicated desk, or clean their space at the end of the day, others will get fed up and potentially neglect the practice altogether.

And then your office will be another example of the all-too-familiar “Hot desking sucks” headline in Google search results. Your company should inspire people to want to hot desk with a thoughtful change management plan and a proactive IT team.

How to Create a Hot Desking Policy Your Teams Will Actually Follow 

While the concept of hot desking might seem straight forward, it’s imperative to implement a strategy to ensure things run smoothly. 

For example, you wouldn’t want employees to show up at work only to find that there isn’t a desk available that day, or have no way of reserving a desk altogether. Creating a policy that outlines hot desking rules and etiquette is crucial for the overall success of your flexible hot desk policy. 

1. Know the Numbers

Hot desking works only if you have the right data. Your number of people to shared desk ratio has to be spot on, or else you risk confusion, frustration, and ultimately lack of buy-in from employees. 

Things like employee surveys, qualitative research, and space utilization data can inform how many desks you need, and how many employees can safely and comfortably come into the office on any given day. 

2. Run a Pilot

Before you implement a hot desking system or policy across the entire organization, run a pilot with a small cohort of employees starting on one floor. You can then iterate based on what’s working and what’s not, and show other employees that this new policy has been tried, tested, and (hopefully) proven to work. 

3. Make it Easy to Choose a Desk

Something you don’t want is employees who can’t find a desk to work at. Nothing is worse than coming in on a Monday morning and  spending twenty minutes searching for a desk (all before you’ve even had your first cup of coffee). 

The key to ensuring that anything  will work well is making sure it’s easy. When you remove friction from processes, you make them more appealing to people. Scheduling and wayfinding solutions allow employees to seamlessly book meeting rooms, desks, check-in, and know where co-workers are in the office at any given time. 

4. Outline Employee Responsibilities

With desk sharing comes responsibilities to keep things clean, organized, and ready for the next person to use. When rolling out your hot desking policy, make sure to provide your office managers with a list of employee expectations that outline things such as:

  • Remove all personal items from a desk space if planning to be out of office for more than X amount of hours.
  • Avoid monopolizing a specific desk 
  • Prioritize booking of meeting or conference rooms for important calls or client meetings
  • Keep hot desks clean and practice standard hygiene (during Covid mandatory wipe downs, disinfection, etc). 

5. Get Regular Feedback 

Your hot desking policy will only be as effective as long as you have employee buy-in. Providing regular opportunities for feedback and constructive criticism will ensure that employees feel heard, and that you can continue iterating your policy so that it works for everyone. 

Feedback to consider: 

  • Are space planning ratios working effectively?
  • Could you increase the ratio and still keep everyone comfortable and happy?
  • Has collaboration and productivity improved?

Hot Desking: A Flexible Approach to Office Seating

More than a trend, hot desking policies are quickly becoming a staple of modern hybrid workplace strategies.

Whether you’re rolling out these plans in a private office or a large co-working space, hot desking can bring people together from different teams that otherwise may never have interacted. New connections lead to fresh ideas, new opportunities, and more possibilities for cross-functional work. 

Ready to better manage your hot desking policies? Get a free demo of Robin's desk booking software today.

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