Hot desking safety in the post-pandemic workplace

Hot desking has always been controversial. Opponents cite a decline in productivity and morale. Proponents tout the cost-savings and benefits to teamwork.

The pandemic has made hot desking even more controversial. Sharing anything — let alone the same workstation — with people outside our “bubbles” goes against everything we know about the coronavirus. But hot desking is uniquely designed to help workplace managers address the growing demand for a flexible workplace and its impact on office space.

Letting employees work remotely means your workspace won’t reach full capacity most days.

Most office workers want to work from home at least one day a week. More than half of employers anticipate most of their employees will do so even after the pandemic passes.

Letting employees work remotely means your workspace won’t reach full capacity most days. This will have consequences. For example, a PwC survey reveals 30% of executives anticipate reducing their real estate footprint in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But it’s premature to assume the traditional office is dead.

In that same PwC survey, half of the surveyed executives expect an increase in office space needs.

Employees want to come back to the office. They see the office as the best place to connect, collaborate, and socialize with others. And since no one is sure how long social distancing will last, it’s no wonder why half of employers anticipate having more office space needs in the future, particularly as they adapt to a flexible work environment.

Half of employers anticipate needing more office space needs in the future.

But an employee who only comes into the office once or twice a week doesn’t need their own desk. Hot desking helps maximize space, satisfy employees, and maintain specific occupancy limits. The biggest challenge you might face is convincing employees that hot desking is safe in the post-pandemic world. Employees will want to avoid shared objects.

How do you help them overcome this response? 

The safety of hot desking

It’s not uncommon in the hot-desking workplace for one desk to house as many as eight people throughout the day. While they may never cross paths, every employee leaves germs at that desk, increasing cross-contamination chances.

A personal desk — with one dedicated employee — houses around 10 million bacteria. Logic would lead one to assume that the more people who use a space, the more bacteria there likely is.

But there is an issue with this logic — keyboards, mice, and phones are the key bacterial offenders on a work desk. Many hot deskers bring their own equipment.

As a result, cleaning workstations between uses would not be that time consuming or challenging. In fact, hot desking can be safer in the post-pandemic world than offices with dedicated workstations. So the question isn’t really whether hot desking is safe, but rather is it possible for you to convince your team that it is?

Actual safety vs. perceived safety

Keeping your employees safe and making sure they feel safe are different challenges. Your goal is to address both.

It’s not enough to sanitize desks in between uses, for example. You want your employees to know the desks have been cleaned.

It’s even better if they’ve seen them get cleaned. Visual cues and firsthand experiences will reinforce to your employees the safety measure you’re taking at work.

Social distancing signage

Arrows and six-foot markers on the floor demonstrate your social distancing protocols. Putting a sign on a desk that needs to be cleaned eliminates human error — cleaning crews know where to clean; employees know where to avoid.

Occupancy limits

Digital signage like Safe helps employees know when a space is safe to enter by showcasing real-time occupancy of any room. Plus, Safe alerts workplace managers when a room reaches an unsafe occupancy limit.

Check-in equipment area

This idea comes from a recent experience at the grocery store. When leaving the market, someone takes our carriage and wipes it down. When it’s dried, he brings it over to the entranceway and stores it with the other cleaned carriages for the next shopper. This gives us confidence that the carriage we use next time is sanitized.

Use this same approach with workstation chairs and other non-personal items (landlines, for example). When someone reserves a desk, they check out a sanitized chair and other equipment. When they leave the workstation, they return their equipment to be cleaned.

Environmental control

People feel safe when they’re in control of their environment. It’s why many folks sanitized the mail and groceries when the pandemic first hit.

Some still do.

Give your employees a sense of control by letting them reserve workstations from home. Not only does this prevent unnecessary trips to the office, but it also eliminates the hostile first-come-first-serve work environment that many hot-desking workplaces experience.

For the foreseeable future, it’s also best practice to have employees complete a health questionnaire (e.g., symptoms screening, self-recorded temperature) before reserving a spot in the office.

Use data to make decisions

There is no playbook for how to return millions of employees to work — it’s never been done before. While you should be confident in your initial choices to keep your employees safe, you should also let data drive your decisions.

Desk booking tools tell you when and which desks are reserved. Density’s people counting sensors expand on this by validating any difference between the number of reservations/check-ins and actual on-site occupancy. This real-time data can trigger your booking system to pause reservations or release more availability — keeping you in compliance and maximizing your space.

Monitoring how employees use your space will also show you if and how long desks are being used. You can use this data to rationalize how many workstations you should have vs. how many “non-bookable spaces” (like open soft seating areas).

Transparency and data driven decisions

Many employees are anxious about coming back to work. Creating a hot-desk office environment could amplify this feeling. Be explicit with how you’re keeping your team — and space — safe. Use data to drive future decisions. These steps will give your employees a sense of safety and control over their environment — making them more confident about their return to work.