The post-pandemic rise of remote work and hybrid working environments has forced us to look at our office space in a new light.
A traditional office, where employees work at a desk all day long, is no longer the standard.
“I think the days of being at a desk, and being at an office 8 hours are gone.”Izzy Sanchez, Head of Global Workplace and Real Estate, Twitch.
Employees want to come and go as they please. Abolishing the standard practice of assigned seating enables office workers to “check-in” to any open seat. This system is known as hot desking, and it’s an increasingly popular solution to managing a flexible workforce.
But what is hot desking?
Hot desking (or hoteling) makes the flexible management of your workforce within the confines of your existing real estate footprint easier. It also empowers your team to choose how and where they work and offers cost savings by potentially minimizing your need to expand your real-estate footprint.
An alternative to the traditional assigned seating seen in workplaces, hot desking abolishes the need for a permanent office desk and creates flexibility. A desk, private office, or meeting room may become a communal area that anyone might use.
The term likely comes from “hot racking”, which sees sailors working different shifts share the same bunk. The goal is to maximize the efficiency of your space while reducing redundant space and property risk.
Hot desking is popular in offices with open floor plans. But it can be used to reserve more than just desks. Employees who need private office spaces for heads-down work can reserve these spaces just like an individual workstation. Teams that need to brainstorm and collaborate can also book meeting rooms.
Hot desking vs hoteling
While both hot desking and hoteling refer to open seating where any available desk can be claimed by whoever gets to it first, hoteling requires the space to be reserved. Both are generally used to claim a spot for a day or half-day. Software allows employees to book the desk or private office space they need, for whatever purpose they like. Hot desking doesn’t have such formality and works on a first-come, first-served basis without the need for desk booking.
Meeting room booking, on the other hand, usually refers to booking a space like a conference room for a shorter period of time.
The benefits of hot desking
One of the biggest potential advantages of hot desking is cost savings — it can reduce unnecessary real estate expenses by eliminating excess space.
For example, facilities managers can shift away from a 1-person-1-desk ratio, giving them more room to create hackable spaces with flex furniture. Employees can essentially create the space they need, for the type of work they’re performing.
Hot desking can also promote cross-team collaboration. Employees might find themselves sitting next to colleagues they rarely work with. This encourages teamwork, strengthens relationships, and improves rapport between departments.
Managing your hot desking environment
For your occupants, hot desking should be straightforward: reserve a desk, plug in, and start working.
Making it a seamless experience for employees takes effort. Admins need to continuously monitor space usage to determine and adapt to the needs of their workers.
The ideal hot-desking model ensures employees never have to struggle to find a workspace that fits their needs at that given moment. That means making accessible (and reservable) space types like phone booths, conference rooms, quiet spaces, collaboration spaces, and more.
“A lot of people talk about the office being just for collaboration and socialization, and I think that’s missing a big part of the picture if you inadvertently assume home is best for focus,” says Sameer Pangrekar, Director – Global Strategy, Design & Construction, REW at Twitter.
Hot desking is a personalized strategy. Your approach should reflect the unique needs of your people. Real-time workplace data helps you ensure you have the suitable space types based on actual demand. But it’s also important to couple your analytical data with employee feedback.
For example, surveys might uncover that while some of your people want lockers, others avoid storing personal items at work. And data might uncover that some teams spend much more time at their desks — meaning they may need dedicated workstations.
Your strategy should adapt to the realities of the workplace.
Making hot desking work
Managing the change
Studies have discovered a link between hot desking and increased innovation among entrepreneurs. The flexibility of hot desks, coupled with the ability to pool knowledge, diversify social interactions, and decentralize the innovative process, encourages new ideas.
It also reduces the risk of project fatigue and burnout.
Many employees feel ‘unmoored’ without assigned office desks. They’re attached to their personal space or work area.
Often, this is a change management issue. Many workplace leaders say that after the initial hurdle of transition, teams embrace this new structure.
Case in point, CBRE. More than half of CBRE’s portfolio is in a Workplace 360 office featuring unassigned seating.
“Shockingly, across 90 offices, 93% of our people said they would not go back to the old model [assigned seating].”Peter Van Emburgh, CBRE.
Nida Mehtab, Bay Area Lead for Workplace Strategy, Experience Transformation, and Change Management at Advanced Workplace Associates, says change management is about leading employees gradually to your desired result.
“It’s really important to think, ‘how do I bring my employees along this curve?'” she says. “Frustration occurs when you don’t respect that certain expectation of predictability.
Design for variety
Hot desking isn’t as simple as throwing a few desks in an open space and leaving people to it.
You have to plan for future needs, for the needs of potential remote workers, freelancers, or contractors who may be brought in. Twilio’s tackling this, in part, through hackable spaces.
Devorah Rosner, Twilio’s Senior Manager of Global Workplace Operations, says her team will convert approximately 30% of previously desk-occupied square footage into communal areas with reconfigurable furniture.
She understands that the collaboration that happens in a shared space is unique. It encourages a sense of community that allows people to comfortably share ideas and allows for those accidental interactions that can lead to surprising innovations.
“We’re reallocating those spaces as hackable spaces, scrum spaces,” she says. “We’re calling them dynamic spaces, where furniture is reconfigurable. It’s no longer one-size-fits-all. It allows more variety to meet people where they are, to work how they work.”
Choose how folks can reserve space
Hourly. Team members can reserve a desk for the length of time they anticipate needing it, be it one hour or multiple hours. Super flexible in nature, but not ideal if employees seem to prefer to reserve spaces for hours at a time (your insights will tell you this). Also, this can create a safety issue in the post-COVID world (you have to sanitize each desk between use).
Daily. Employees have a single desk or an area to work in for an entire day. This is incredibly popular; however, many workplace leaders we’ve talked with think daily isn’t long enough. They’re thinking about reservations based on a project’s needs, which can be weeklong or monthlong.
Teams. If you have employees who need to function together, an area (often called a neighborhood) can be reserved. Below is an example of how Density’s booking software, Workplace, lets admins quickly allot reservable space by the team.
Global brands who have embraced hot desking
When Deloitte moved into their clean and ‘green’ futuristic new building, the Edge, in Amsterdam, they implemented a new hot-desking initiative. According to Ron Bakker, Partner of PLP Architecture, “A quarter of this building is not allocated desk space, it’s a place to meet.”
He has described their office environment as being less about space than it is about “making a working community, and for people to have a place that they want to come to, where ideas are nurtured, and the future is determined.”
Microsoft shifted to an activity-based workplace in response to a struggling collaborative environment. They hoped it would ensure better communication between their employees and customers.
Division Business Group Director Steven Miller said of the initiative, “If you asked people what they love, it’s the flexible environment.” He explained that making team members accountable for their jobs vs. being present at an office 8 hours a day has caused a significant shift in workplace culture. “The key difference is that we’re empowering people and making them more creative.”
Operating from their San Francisco office, Square has a completely open and innovative floor plan that offers various environments for staff to choose from.
Square’s layout is activity-based. It gives employees at all levels a chance to sit at high-top tables with their CEO while finding different ways of collaborating with the rest of the team.
Maja Henderson, Office Manager at Square, said of their hot-desking policy, “I love how flexible it is, and that there are always different people sitting at my desk. It makes me feel more in touch with my co-workers and what’s going on in the company.”
A tour of LEGO’s London offices will show you flexible working zones without any assigned seating to ensure team members can choose the setting that best supports their activities or tasks for the day. A mixture of open booths, small huddle rooms, private meeting spaces, and plenty of room to write on the walls truly embraces the character of the LEGO brand.
Sophie Patrikios, a former Project Leader at LEGO, reflected on their hot-desking system, stating that “Momentum is key, and we’re using that momentum to change anything from ownership of desks to better meetings to clearer lines of communication.”
Hot desking is rapidly becoming an established part of the new normal. It allows you to offer flexibility, optimize the workplace experience, and make the most of your real estate footprint.
Whether you’re implementing a permanent remote working policy, adjusting to a hybrid working environment, or trying to find ways of simply being more flexible in the wake of COVID, hot desking may be the answer.