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Hot Desking: Put Out the Fires Before They Begin

activity based work
The Robin Team
Published on

Figure out what your office needs to fire up activity based work before you dive into it.

If you’re reading this, you’re toying with the idea of rolling out a hot desking in at least part of your office. You’re smart and ahead of the office trend curve, so congrats. The same number of desks will work for more people and you’ll get a gold star for saving your company money. Your colleagues will love the ability to set up shop wherever they want in the office. Everyone will stop complaining about not having a window seat since it’s now up to them -- finders, keepers!

But what if people spend most of their day at their desk in heads-down work? Would changing places every day bother them? Or what about the gym rats that need a place to stash their bag?

Hot desking isn’t a be all end all solution to cure every office seating woe. Rolling it out in a company that doesn’t have the right format could end in an office civil war.We explore the criteria for your company’s office space and work style to set hot-desking up for success. So you can be the seating superhero you’ve always dreamed of.

1. Your entire office should be a haven for activity based work

  •    Check to see that your office has a variety of space types in different locations throughout the office
  • If not, plan on how you can convert current open areas or less used conference rooms into more unique places for employees to touchdown
Create a space employees can use for all types of work.

Look around your office. If you can’t spot any inspiring spots that you’d like to jump into for an hour, like the ones at Microsoft Milan, you may want to hold off on hot-desking. Flex desks work best when there are alternative spaces for people to spend time in throughout the day. If you take away 30% of the desks and only have a few measly conference rooms and a teeny kitchen, the workforce could become worked up.What should an activity based work office include?

  • Strong interior design. Clean lines and comfortable furniture to make people feel at home, at work
  • Branding elements to reinforce the company vision that everyone is striving for together
  • An open kitchen with plenty of seating for eating. People can collaborate or work there after lunch (great coffee doesn't hurt either)
  • Lounge seating in various open parts of the office so people can touch down with teammates
  • Dedicated quiet spaces so individuals have a go-to location if things get noisy
  • Smaller (sometimes mobile) pods that employees can hop into to take a quick private phone call

Are these spaces naturally drawing people to them? That’s a good indicator that they’re working.

2. Not everyone will be a candidate for hot-desking

  • Leave out the people who spend more than half their day at their desk
  • And don’t include anyone who has more specific desk tech requirements

Is your office filled with engineers who need quiet workspaces where they can focus 99% of the day? You might want to avoid hot-desking their team. Figure out how much time people spend at their desk. Use surveys, observations, scheduling analytics, or industry knowledge. See what teams make sense working in a flexible environment. Make sure you have focus areas for teams that need to isolate themselves more often.[caption id="attachment_5100" align="aligncenter" width="445"]

Furniture can help build up your space and open areas for new types of work.

Robin’s very own focus area: 90% of the time, it works every time[/caption]Sales, marketing, contractors, and management spend a lot of their time in meetings or out of the office on the road. If they’re never at their desk, it makes perfect sense to have them share a limited number of workstations using hoteling and hot-desking.What are attributes of roles might not find hot-desking successful? People that have:

  •    Long hours of uninterrupted focus time daily
  •    Specialized equipment at their desk, like multiple screens or a Bloomberg terminal, 3D design equipment, specific keyboards
  •    Confidential work, electronic, paper, or over the phone
  •    Hardgoods samples that need immediate access or closeby storage
  • Central info for a specific team or department

Ask yourself and the team: would this create more or less work for individuals every day? In my last role, I was in meetings all day, every day. If I could have hot-desked in spaces near the meeting rooms I was working out of, that would have been far easier.

3. Don’t make everyone carry their own set of dongles

  • Prep each employee with the same laptop and each hot-desk with the same monitor, charging, and internet access, so setting up a workspace at a new desk takes no time
  • If universal equipment isn’t an option, get the right set of dongles for each hot-desk
The right equipment will help your teams be productive in the office

Hot-deskers don’t want to take 20 minutes to set up their desk every day. They shouldn't have to file an IT help desk ticket each morning either. Prepare your office for hot-desking. Make sure each desk has a universal set of hardware. That way every employee, contractor, visitor, and customer can all set up their workspace.

Hardware that stays on each desk should be a universal kit of parts including a phone, monitor, mouse, keyboard, docking station, outlet, and dongles. Indicate which accessories stay at each desk so people don’t take items with them to the next spot. Greeting signs that remind desk users of this may help. Encourage employees to file tickets when things are missing right away, like how rental car companies have users report any car damage before renting. You can also secure all wires and accessories to avoid anything getting lost or stolen. What are the options for hot-desk ingredients?

  •    Monitor
  •    Mouse
  •    Power outlets
  •    Phone
  •    Chargers
  •    Dongles
  • Dry-erase or chalkboard to write your name

Is the hardware taking up more time and space than time and space saved by hot desking? Might be time to reconfigure.

4. Buy your colleagues a rolly backpack

  • Get the hot-deskers a company bag or kit of things to help them stash things on-the-go in between meetings and desks
  • Provide your employees a permanent space to store personal items in the office

Minimalism is on the rise, which is great news for hot-desking. But for those employees who haven’t adopted a low-key lifestyle, hot-desking can be a shock to the system. Desk hoarders aren't sure where to stash extra notebooks, favorite pens, and a picture of Gram-Gram. There’s some stuff that employees need to drag with them everywhere they go. For that, you could help supply them with a company trapper keeper (throwback!) or branded bag.

Office supplies should live in central areas throughout the building. Hot-desking folks can then snag a handful of pens even if they’ve never been to a floor before.For all-day storage, make employees feel like they have a better option than shallow desk drawers. Swanky lockers from Herman Miller or Equinox staple Hollman compliment well-designed open offices. Even the classic IKEA storage unit can do the trick. The emphasis that employees are no longer on lockdown at their one desk should be freeing. And the idea of storing their gear in a more central location should feel liberating -- just like your first locker Freshman year.Options for employee storage:

  • Lockers
  • Cubbies
  • Coat rack
  • Closet
  • Storage basket (under the desk)
  • Backpack
  • Messenger bag

Are employees juggling too much when they get up to move desks? Give them a few options to stash stuff.

5. Get the office into a hot-desking state of mind with advocates

  • Seek buy-in with an advocacy group of employees and put together a rollout plan
  • Offer flexible working schedules
  • Be proactive in managing issues and following up on onboarding
  • Ditch hierarchical culture for egalitarian

Your workplace should be open-minded, flexible, and proactive for hot-desking to succeed. Changing the way employees find a place to sit every day without the right mentality is not going to go so well. Put together an advocacy group and discuss the change with stakeholders. Make sure the general attitude across the office is positive. Or get a contingency plan ready to get people bought in and on board. Change management is more than a trendy buzzword. It’s a necessity to get everyone prepped for the day when individual desks don’t exist.

As for workplace guidelines, make sure to have some hard and fast rules to support hot-desking. If you don't already have a flexible work culture, get one. You’re forcing employees to give up their permanent homes at work. The least you can do is allow them to act like adults by managing their own schedules. You should also have hot-desking guidelines (or policies, if you're more corporate). Guidelines can protect us all from the usual suspects who leave dishes in the sink or used coffee grounds in the machine.And don’t forget about yourself, if you are the one calling the hot-desking shots in your office. You and your team should plan to be proactive once hot-desking launches. Getting everyone on-boarded will take time and constant reminders of best practices. Do people feel like this is an annoyance and not an opportunity? Education, buy-in, and proactive management can make hot-desking a win.

6. Use a desk booking software that works

  • Employees need a reliable and easy to access and use system to reserve desks
  • System should be the point of truth that everyone can depend on and get analytics from
Workpalce experience software like Robin can make planning your week easy and seamless.

Robin's Desks makes it easy for everyone to find out where they sit, choose their own seat, or seek out their teammates.[/caption]If you were considering taping up a piece of paper on a few desks that says, “Hot Desk,” you may want to rethink your strategy. You’re asking your company to make a huge change in the way they work. At the very least, get them the right tools.

With a desk booking solution, you can decide which desks are available for short term (hot-desking) or long term (hoteling) desk reservations, without having to get up from your own desk. You can also select which teams will be hot-desking so that permanent seaters can stay, well, seated. The Move/Ad/Change (MAC) process suddenly becomes self-serve. From there, employees will simply log in and choose their own desking adventure. All in a platform that is trustworthy and easy to use.


Feeling fired up about hot desking? We don’t blame you. It’s exciting to try new ways of working to see how employee happiness and productivity improves.

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