Understanding activity-based work vs hot desking and how unassigned seats reformat your office.
After three months without driving, I sold my car.
Living in the city I could use ridesharing apps, public transportation, or car rentals. I got more if I shared — with trip-by-trip flexibility.
At work, you might not need a desk. And you could even get more out of the office if you ditch it. As open offices grow in popularity, so does the need for more flexible workspaces. With more pressure on companies to incorporate agile workspaces, understanding the difference between activity-based working vs hot desking and how each can set your employees up for success is crucial.
Start hot-desking for free with a 14-day trial of Robin
(Hint: Reverse hoteling is the easiest)
Why hot desking is heating up
Unassigned environments offer variety. People gain access to more spaces, tools, and other people. Individuals can choose where they work, based on the work they’re doing. This phenomenon is known as activity-based working. Similar, but not synonymous, hot desking is a key player in making this workplace trend, well, workable. (Too many terms to keep track of? Check out our full glossary).
Since office technology has shifted to be much more portable, not all work needs to be completed at a desk. Sometimes, it’s most effective to jump in a phone booth to make some dials or grab a conference room with a big whiteboard to brainstorm. Other times, an employee need a desk where they can dive into the depths of their own individual work. That’s where hot desking plays into activity-based work. Need a desk for a few hours today, but not all day? Reserve it.
Okay, but who gets a desk?
Some employees need dedicated workstations. Others, like me, don’t. To understand how to incorporate hot desking into an activity-based work office, you first need to understand how your employees use desks.
But traditional desk scheduling forces you to find the perfect ratio of space vs demand. After all that math, you find you still have empty desks day to day. What gives?
When desks go unused, that’s space that could get reallocated to other people (or purposes). So how do you go about designating which employees get desks that are perm, semi-perm, or fully up for grabs? The space people occupy should reflect the reality of how they work.
More than 60% of time at assigned desk. 5 hrs at desk assuming 8 hour workday (20% of org).
Between 20%-60% of time at assigned desk. Between 1.5 to 5 hrs at desk each day (60% of org).
Less than 20% of time at unassigned desk. Less than 1.5 hours at desk each day (20% of org).
The office floor plan, reformatted
“Where else would I go? Our office isn’t designed for this”
— Incredulous Employee
No matter the combination of resident, flex, or mobile, you’re likely to hear this (or believe it yourself). If that’s the case, odds are your current office isn’t built for activity-based work— yet. Hot desking might sound like a nightmare, but you are thinking through the rollout without addressing a core requirement: activity-based workspaces.
Activity-based working and hot desking: a space for every type of work
Workplaces built for activity based tasks provide a seat and/or surface in many formats across one office. This way everyone can choose their preferred spots to work in throughout the day, in addition to desks. With activity based spaces, you’ll notice desk usage naturally decreasing. Without them, hot-desking will be a tough sell.
The default: assigned seating
Get a permanent seat, usually picked out by a manager or dept admin using an office seating plan. 1:1 people to desks. Works for Flex and Resident types.
Options for unassigned seating
Book a desk same day, on demand. Often refers to the entire philosophy of the shared desk and activity-based work. Works for Flex and Mobile types.
Desk hoteling (desk booking, desk sharing)
Book non-permanent desks for longer periods of time, ahead of time. Long-term reservations (vs. hot desking is short-term). Works for Resident and Flex types. Note: different countries have different meanings for desk hoteling.
Reverse desk hoteling (easy to try)
Permanent seat is given up for hot-desking if employee is OOO. Helps reduce social anxiety, since you don’t need to be first in office to get a seat. Works for Resident and Flex types.
“If the company needs to save money, I’m happy to work from home” — Selfless employee
A workplace with choices
With hot desking being done in smaller real estate footprints, the comfort and productivity of employees requires an office with flexibility. Done well, hot desking and activity-based work gives the power back to the people to choose where, when, and how they work. Employees are happier. No one feels chained to a desk.
I ditched my desk back in January. I can honestly say I don’t miss it, and I wouldn’t go back.
Robin makes scheduling software for meeting rooms and desks— with insights, maps, and tools to manage the modern workplace.