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Hot Desking 101: What Is It, and Should You Use It?

Has your office become more of a coworking and collaborative space? Learn how hot desking may be a beneficial way to embrace a hybrid work environment.

Hot desking is the new way to optimize your work environment. It's a flexible work model that can help save on real estate costs by doing away with private offices and assigned desks.
A hot desking office functions more like a coworking environment. In some offices, desks are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and in others, employees use a desk booking system (known as hoteling). This allows multiple employees to share a workspace during different shifts.
In this guide, we'll explore how hot desking works and what benefits it offers so that you can decide if it's right for your company.

What Is Hot Desking?

what is hot desking?
During the early stages of the pandemic, many office workers had to work from home and adjust their lives to account for social distancing. As a result, many came to enjoy the flexibility of the remote work style.
But now that many of these employees are returning to on-site offices, they're bringing some changes with them. Two of the biggest changes we're seeing include hot desking and the hybrid workplace model.
Hot desking actually comes from the term "hot racking," which refers to a military practice of rotating bunks to account for a shortage of beds. It entered the professional world in the 1990s with freelancing and coworking spaces, and it's now becoming a popular workplace model for large companies.
The hot desking system changes the office space. Instead of each employee having their own desk, they'll share desk space over different days and shifts, allowing for more flexible schedules. And to account for a loss of personal space at a permanent desk, employees are often given lockers for personal items.
Businesses that use the hot desking model also use it for conference rooms, allowing them to be reserved as needed. For example, team members might book a meeting room when they have a task that requires face-to-face teamwork.

How Does Hot Desking Work?

Hot desking can work in a couple of different ways, depending on the company's office management approach:
  • Reservations: Many companies release a pool of available workstations once a month or once a week. Hot deskers then reserve office desks and meeting rooms via an app or a booking service for the days they'll be working in the office environment. This is also known as hoteling and allows the arrangements to be more static.
  • Open seating: Some companies do not allow reservations. Instead, the workspaces are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, similar to how a restaurant works. Working arrangements can, and often do, change from day to day. In most cases, employees who arrive early will have the first pick of workstations, and there is sometimes a risk of overcrowding.
With either of the above options, employees will arrive at work, grab their personal supplies from a locker if needed, locate their workspace, and plug in to start their day.

Main Benefits of Hot Desking

Main Benefits of Hot Desking
The working world is changing, and hot desking looks like it's here to stay. Here are some of the main benefits it offers.

1. Cost Savings

Hot desking can help cut back on real estate costs by allowing your company to have fewer employees in the physical office on any given day. It pairs well with a flexible workplace model, which enables employees to choose when they want to work in-office or at home.
Real estate is costly, especially in big cities, and each vacant desk can cost $7,000 or more per year.
As a result of social distancing and pandemic measures, employees are often out sick or quarantined for weeks at a time, while others can easily complete their work from home. With hot desking, when an employee can't (or doesn't need to) come into the office, it simply opens up a workstation instead of creating unused space that you're still paying for.
Some companies share coworking spaces with other businesses instead of renting a dedicated office building, creating more cost savings.

2. Cleanliness and Organization

The nature of hot desking prevents employees from accumulating clutter around their workspaces. And a clean, organized workstation can increase productivity and workplace satisfaction.
Hot deskers must take all of their belongings with them or store them in their locker when they are finished with a space. Many businesses also require employees to sanitize and clean the desk and accessories they use when they arrive or leave, which keeps things cleaner.

3. Employee Autonomy

Hot desking is the ultimate way to communicate that you trust your employees to manage their own projects and schedules. In addition, it gives employees the autonomy to work when and where they want to, which can improve performance and morale for your teams.
Employee autonomy with a hot desking environment also demands that team members take ownership over their schedules and work, increasing responsibility.

4. Collaboration

Most hot desking and hoteling arrangements will change up who your employees sit with regularly. This encourages team members to talk to fellow employees with whom they wouldn't normally interact, increasing cross-functional interactions and collaboration.
If your company is remote-first, and is now expanding into a hybrid model, it also offers up the opportunity for folks to work together in-person when they normally wouldn't have had that chance to. Having a smaller space with hot desking, as opposed to a formal office that has enough workstations to handle every employee at once, is certainly better than having no in-person work environment for your workers at all!

5. Data

Hot desking gives you direct access to data that provides insights into how your employees choose to work and how your space is being used. As a result, you can spot trends in your workplace, make better use of funds, and make informed decisions for future real estate costs.

Disadvantages of Hot Desking

Disadvantages of Hot Desking
While hot desking has many benefits, it can be a polarizing topic for some employees and businesses. Most workplace models and office layouts come with a few disadvantages. Here's what to expect.

1. Hierarchy Disruption

When you let everyone reserve desks equally, you disrupt the hierarchy. It removes some of the empowerment that comes with leadership by tearing down walls and putting everyone on the same level. This may be a positive thing in some company cultures, but it could cause disturbances in others.
For example, someone who has worked at a business for 15 years and previously had a private office might be working adjacent to a new hire. While that might make the new hire feel good, it could be discouraging to the person with 15 years of experience who worked hard just to earn their office.
The disruption of the hierarchy can also leave employees confused about who to talk to with an issue, creating stressful situations.
Solution: Clear communication, team structuring, and flexible work arrangements for those who request them are good ways to address the issue.

2. Communication

Is Lindsey in the office today? Where's Bryon sitting? If a hot desk system is poorly managed, communication can break down.
For example, when an employee can't find a coworker, they can't talk to them. This is important to address, as some employees may find it hard to manage their work without being able to find help at a crucial moment.
Solution: Hot desk booking and business communication platforms like Slack can help solve the issue.

3. Distraction

When you have people coming and going on their own schedules, you're bound to have distractions. For noise-sensitive people, this problem could lower productivity and workplace satisfaction.
Solution: You can solve this issue by providing private nooks for people who require quiet working time or by allowing employees to choose to work from home exclusively if they don't like hot desking.

Is Hot Desking Right for You?

Hot desking is changing how we work, but that doesn't mean it's right for everyone. You might want to switch to hot desking in a coworking space right away, to try it out to see what your employees think, or to skip it entirely.
It helps to be flexible and open to experimentation until you find what works best. For example, some offices have an open hot desking area for those who switch between remote work and in-office time, leaving permanent workstations for employees that want them. Others use a combination of reservations (hoteling) and open seating. It's all up to you.
Whatever you choose, we're here to help. Check out our Design My Office feature for easy recommendations on creating an office that works for you and your team.

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