Hybrid working arrangements, partly in-person and partly at remote, are becoming increasingly popular as the ‘new normal’ solidifies. Office organisation is adapting to the mix.
One of the fastest growing trends in the new hybrid workplace is hot desking, i.e. desk sharing, meaning that any employee can use the desk at any time. With a reservation, of course.
In light of the anti-COVID distancing rules, not every desk can be used in former office arrangements. Spaces are being redesigned. The age-old notion of a personal desk has been shelved.
What is hot desking
This system takes its name from hot bedding or hot racking, a practice found on 16th century ships when sailors shared bunks due to a shortage of beds.
The hot desking model actually consists of providing staff with all available workstations for each day and letting employees book the one they prefer, depending of course on availability. The Dutch entrepreneur Erik Veldhoen was the first to theorise about hot desking. He has written numerous books on the subject of organising activities and has always argued that reducing the number of workstations in a physical office gives the opportunity to vary the space and encourage a more diverse range of working styles.
The system takes its name from hot bedding or hot racking, a practice found on 16th century ships when sailors shared bunks due to a shortage of beds.
The pandemic has taken hot desking to the next level, as the possibility of changing spaces has been combined with the need to do so. “Social distancing measures designed to ensure a distance of one and a half metres between people meant that half of the workstations on our premises could not be used. The only way we could bring employees back to work on site was by assigning workstations”, said Desirée Granda, Global Head of Premises and Services at BBVA.
Their offices were the first to do away with drawers and give every employee a locker to store their personal belongings. An important factor in this process was that most of the employees in the central services of the organisation already had their own computers and all the IT equipment at the workstations was already fully standardised.
Cutting the number of desks is especially beneficial for entrepreneurs and company managers. “It certainly suits them because they can cut costs without major problems”, explains Franco Fraccaroli, Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology at the University of Trento. In doing so, many companies are able to optimise space and combine face-to-face and remote work in the best possible way.
“Before the Pandemic, when we had an assigned workstation model, on average 15% of the workstations were left empty each day due to business trips, training or employee holidays. This system allows us to tap into these inefficiencies and free up that space to create more collaborative and interrelated contexts, which are absolutely necessary and required in these new ways of approaching work”, Granda stressed.
This system allows us to tap into these inefficiencies and free up that space to create more collaborative and interrelated contexts, which are absolutely necessary and required in these new ways of approaching work.
Desirée Granda, Global Head of Premises and Services at BBVA
Such an approach makes it possible to reserve the most suitable workstation depending on the use, such as individual work, a meeting or collaboration with other colleagues. The side effect, however, is the risk of worsening the working environment. “Reducing the number of workstations is not good because it also undermines the quality of work itself, as it drastically reduces interaction with colleagues”, concludes Fraccaroli.
Employees are the ones who should benefit from such a situation, as it allows them more freedom of action and the possibility to choose the space they need. Designing spaces this way lets companies generate new ideas that are useful for productivity, but at the same time helps colleagues get to know each other better, helping to build strong relationships within the office.
Working with different people every day can motivate the employee and at the same time create a working environment that is always stimulating but never boring. It also promotes flexibility, one of the most sought-after soft skills in the world of work.
Earlier, the practice was not entirely unknown, as hot desking was also known as office hotelling, which allowed workers to use shared desks by booking them in advance. The advantages are well known. However, not everyone shares in the optimism.
The desk symbolises being part of a company. It is part of our culture to have a chair, a table and an area where you can do your work. When that disappears, I wonder if your loyalty to the company will also disappear.
Knud Erik Hansen, CEO of Carl Hansen & Søn
“It depends of course on the contexts, but certainly hot desking does not improve relations between colleagues and takes away a real point of reference for the worker, namely the desk“, points out Fraccaroli. Once a treasure trove of all kinds of objects, desks are now likely destined to fade away. Sharing space does indeed entail strict hygiene rules to which all companies must adhere, yet one further factor is just as important.
“The desk symbolises being part of a company. It is part of our culture to have a chair, a table and an area where you can do your work. When that disappears, I wonder if your loyalty to the company will also disappear“, said Knud Erik Hansen, CEO of Danish furniture manufacturer Carl Hansen & Søn, during an interview in Quartz.
Fraccaroli also shares this view. “The lack of a point of reference can certainly change the sense of belonging and identification with the organisation, regardless of whether it is public or private. This is where employers should step in to prevent the side effects of this practice”. This should be the goal of business owners in the coming years: succeed in retaining their employees, even without a permanent workstation.