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A Guide to Hot Desking Etiquette

It’s like the golden rule, only for desks

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.

or

leaving a half-eaten pizza or coffee spills on the desktop, for example.

Two-thirds of companies plan to incorporate a shared desk workplace strategy by 2020, according to a CBRE survey. In other words, lots of coffee drinkers, knick-knack collectors, and heavy breathers will be sharing desks. It may sound like common sense, but as unassigned workplaces continue to grow in popularity,  guidelines for how to hot desk properly will either make or break a flexible workspace.

Coming up with a hot desking policy 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 in your office? Robin can help. Try it out with a free 14-day trial.

Hot desking etiquette 101

First, let’s cover the basics. Hot desking is the workplace strategy where some or all employees share desks instead of having a permanent one, usually found in an activity-based work environment. This works well for employees who naturally spend less than 60% of their time at a desk throughout the day. 

Hot desking, also known as free address, is a way for companies to maximize the productivity per square foot of their workplace. Employees with flexible schedules don’t need an assigned desks to work at all day, every day — that’s where hot desking fits in. Instead of assigning each employee their own desk, you can set up a system where desks can be shared throughout the day as needed by flexible employees. This means you won’t have empty desks taking up space and resources.

Now, let’s dive into some guidelines that you should roll out to your org to avoid hot desking problems. If you’re looking to send out hot desking guidelines to your company afterward, we’ve got you covered with a quick graphic included below.

“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 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 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 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 jackets, gym bags, and more”

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

Either way, avoid clutter 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.

“Always be aware 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 desk a little better than when you found it”

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 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.

A quick, shareable template for hot desking etiquette

Want a quick hot desking policy to send around your office? Download the image above.

When it comes to hot desking, effective change management is essential to ensure its success. If expectations for etiquette aren’t clearly outlined before, during and after implementation, then hot desking can end up being a messy (disorganized and from stray crumbs) experience. When colleagues neglect to formally book a 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.

Call to action to download our hot desking guide