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Hot Desking 101: How it Works

office layout, desk setup, hot desking
Belynda Cianci
Published on
July 31, 2020

When you’re managing the needs of a modern office, flexibility strategies can be the key to unlocking your space's potential. Flexible work, however, requires planning and technology that empowers your employees throughout their workday.

From policies that consider the entire employee journey, to efficient use of resources to ensure everyone has the tools and tech required to do their jobs well, the balance between employee needs and company objectives requires creative and progressive thinking by HR and facilities professionals.

What are the best reasons for an office to adopt hot desking?

One concept that has been taking off in the area of hybrid and flexible working: “hot desking.” Though sometimes given a bad rep, it allows organizations to take a more fluid approach to their space needs, better address the evolving nature of work, and give employees just what they need at the time they need it without expending floor space and money on desks that may only be occupied part-time. As work beyond the office continues its rise, finding a better way to address workspace makes sense in terms of overhead costs, productivity, flexibility, and employee experience.

Of course, that's easier said than done. We'll outline the tenets of hot desking and how to actually do it right in your workplace.

What is hot desking?

Hot desking is the concept of having flexible, individual workspaces within the physical office that are available on an as-needed basis. In a hot desking scenario, a pool of unassigned seating is created, and allotted on a reservation basis to anyone in the office who needs a place to work for the day (compared to desk hoteling which are reservations for multiple days).

Taking the best parts from the traditional (fixed desk or assigned desk) office environment and the flexible coworking space concept, hot desking gives everyone just the right amount of personal space for the day and duration they need it. It can even assist in growth management, as it helps facilities respond to future workplace desking needs as they arise. 

Hot desking allows employees to book for the day a desk from a pool of available flexible seats.

While hot desking is a valuable way to make the most of your office resources, the key to making hot desking work is having the proper systems in place to ensure smooth booking and usage by your teams. It’s not enough to have a collection of desks available for use. Even if you have sufficient desk sharing space on a good day, there will be instances where an influx of guests will put your office design to the test. When implemented poorly, hot desking forces employees to guess about available space (and no one loves that feeling.) 

What are the benefits of hot desking?

The benefits of implementing a hot desking policy for your office extend to both the organization and the employees. As mentioned above, it can help organizations make the best use of their space while empowering employee to choose their own workday adventure.

  • Hot desk arrangements allow employers to account for the different roles and space requirements that comprise the team. While some employees (such as field sales roles) may only require a desk once or twice per month, for example, others may benefit from more frequent space access. A shared desk approach can accommodate users no matter how many days per month they spend in the office. 
  • This approach also saves space by reducing the amount of square footage and infrastructure required to give workers a successful experience on the job. Rather than populate your open plan office with an abundance of desks to satisfy maximum capacity, facilities managers and other workplace experience planners can take a more thoughtful approach, creating other types of activity-based working areas or shared spaces which can benefit teams, departments and individuals in just the right way. 
  • A hot desking environment can also easily invite full time remote workers and visitors to come into the office for some of the soft benefits of visiting: socializing and collaborating with colleagues, attending important meetings or events, or even just getting a change of scenery (which can be a breath of fresh air after spending time in the same home office for too long). 
  • It can give the proper mix of personal space and shared workspace, which can improve workplace culture and be a source of fresh ideas and collaboration. Being able to check into a desk in a different department for the day, for example, allows people to work closely with another team on a project or for team-building purposes, giving you the right access to the area without having to displace other permanent desk space or squat in a meeting room. 
  • Increasing employee flexibility with a hot desking policy allows workers to engage in the space in the way that best serves their needs, creating a fluid experience of highly effective work, and focus space that is there when you need it. While much focus is placed on flexible schedules and working environments in terms of letting employees work from home, it can be equally effective for giving employees a “home away from home” when a quiet workspace is required or preferred. 

What are the challenges of hot desking?

While the hot desk concept is ideal for many needs and purposes within the office, it’s not without its pitfalls. The good news is, many of the perceived shortcomings of the flexible workspace can be remedied through thoughtful planning and a good tech stack to back up the policy. 

Noise - Noise mitigation is one of the ways to make hot desking more convenient and comfortable. Busy days may make the office hot desking area a noisier space, which can lead to a drop in productivity (in many cases the opposite of the desired effect in creating a temporary workspace for traveling or infrequent visitors). Noise mitigation solutions are a good way to address these issues. Another popular solution is to have separate, enclosed meeting room options to either support focus work or give workers needing to conduct video or phone conferencing a place where they can carry out their work without disturbing others around them. 

Availability - Making calculations on your density, average traffic patterns, meeting room requirements, and desking needs can be a little tricky. However, not making these calculations can lead to instances where employees are struggling to find seating on a busy day. This can lead to other undesired behaviors such as camping out in a conference room or parking in a common area such as a kitchen or open breakout space (a concern in light of recent public health concerns around the novel coronavirus). Different people may have varying work patterns, but events or special occasions within the office can drive up in-office attendance. Having a plan for those high-occupancy periods can make a big difference in work environment and perceived flexibility of the desk offering. 

Many organizations include a mix of hot desks and assigned seats as part of their desk inventory. It should be clear to employees what desks are available and where for their usage.

Potential spread of germs - Though not exclusive to hot desking, because many hot desking solutions tend to take place in an open office plan environment, special consideration must be given to the cleaning and respiratory hygiene needs in the space. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, hot desking — which before could be achieved through densely settled activity based work areas like cubes or desk banks—must now take coronavirus effects and transmission into consideration.

For this reason, individual hot desking seats can be best achieved either through high-walled individual cubes, or else through distances desks that allow minimal interaction between desk users. Another consideration during these challenging times: shared phone resources may not serve the health and safety needs of workers effectively. While it might be just as easy to forego them, ensure that if needed, they’re properly cleaned and sanitized between uses. 

In addition to respiratory precautions such as distancing and mask use, regular cleaning of the individual work station and any other shared spaces should occur in between uses by different employees. 

Booking - Having available desks is only half the battle when planning an effective hot desking program for your office. Shared spaces need to be efficient in terms of booking and use. While pen and paper solutions to booking may get the job done adequately enough in some cases, they both leave a lot to be desired and leave some fairly exciting features on the table. Upgrading your booking system from the shared office binder to an integrated, interactive desk booking software allows your staff to take the best advantage of the space available to them, without the mistakes and friction points of a clunky solution. 

Despite its challenges, hot desking advantages can far outweigh its flaws in terms of effective and comfortable use of resources. 

Software and tools for effective hot desking

As mentioned above, the true power of a hot desking work station setup lies in being able to effectively use the space, and gauge its utilization and usefulness. Shared workspaces must be properly managed in order to maximize their ROI, mitigate any common issues, and ensure that the balance between personal space and work station experience works for different people and scenarios. 

Your workplace culture can be either positively or negatively impacted by the implementation of shared spaces, so paying attention to the details is key to success. Once you’ve properly estimated the amount of hot desking and flexible workspace you’ll need, analyzed the roles that might make most use of the solution, and decided on the infrastructure that will best serve your flexible office goals, you still need a way to implement these plans so that everyone can take advantage of the benefits and enjoy a friction-free experience.

Fortunately, software tools and apps have made it easier than ever to achieve the aims above. Having the right desk booking system and hot desking strategy can increase employee flexibility, improve the employee experience, and give office workers (both frequent and occasional) the sense that their needs are heard and valued. 

The best hot desking tools are easy for admins to set up and even easier for employees to use. Booking a desk should be as simple as a few taps right from a phone.

There are several important considerations to take into account when exploring the best desk booking software for your needs and organization.

1. Interactive booking - Be sure that booking is simple, and that employees have the ability to book shared desks or other meeting room spaces quickly and easily. An interactive booking system can be app-driven, web-driven, and even integrated into a kiosk. Some options can also be accessed through corporate chat like Slack or Microsoft teams, making it easy to invite teams and keep them up to date for meeting room use. 

2. Flexible administration - Things change. Having a check-in system for your desk booking software ensures that everyone is making the best use of the space, and has the best information on availability in near real-time. Booking systems with a check-in system can automatically cancel “ghosted” reservations, meaning that a desk or a meeting room that becomes available will be visible in the system and ready for different people to book. 

3. Analytics - Knowing is more than half the battle when it comes to effective flexible space planning. A system that can provide data and analytics options can help you further improve your hot desk offering, improve the scheduling and upgrades to meeting room features and options, and allow you insight into the busiest times in your office (and how to address them effectively). 

By using a desk booking software solution to administer your flexible workplace options, you can have all the information you need to make good design decisions, and give employees the power to shape the office space that works best for them.

This commitment to employee flexibility and a smart office environment can pay dividends long into the future, informing your office design and improving daily life for your people. 

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