Hot-desking, the idea that a desk in an office is used by many people whenever they find it free, has mushroomed in use over the past decade despite growing evidence that it’s unpopular with workers – and possibly bad for them too.
Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says: “The idea behind hot-desking is simple: you could save a lot of money by reducing the amount of expensive office space needed by sharing the large proportion of unused desks while people are away, in meetings or working elsewhere.
“Under-used office space in England and Wales for example costs businesses R200bn a year.”
She notes that while the cost savings ambitions are admirable the second tier effects of hot-desking haven’t been fully considered by some companies which have not adapted their offices to accommodate a style of working unfamiliar to many.
“We’ve noticed that workers often have to spend time finding somewhere to sit and can spend as much as 18 minutes a day on average looking for a spot. Clearly this is unproductive, and particularly impacts those who have arrived later to work. It can mean once someone has finally found a desk they are already quite stressed before the workday has even begun.”
While hot-desking suits some people, it can adversely affect the many staff who have to be in the office each day and need to know they’ve got everything they need where they need it.
Not knowing where the people you need to collaborate with are sitting can impair productivity too. “Often a query can be solved much quicker by simply going over to a coworker’s desk, rather than relying on email ping-pong. But that can’t happen if you’re wandering the floor trying to find them,” says Galloway-Gaul.
“In many workplaces now, poor acoustics and lack of visual privacy are a major concern but fixable,” she notes.
Hot-desking isn’t complete disaster because employers could be doing a lot more to make it work better for everyone – by looking into acoustic treatments for noisy open-plan offices and ensuring there’s a decent balance of collaborative and private work areas.
“Rows of open-plan space with hundreds of desks is not appealing to anyone,” she says.
“Companies need to be rethink how people move, create and collaborate and translate that into a thoughtfully designed place.”
Galloway-Gaul recommended companies use use light-scale, light-weight, easily movable furniture which allows teams to feel empowered to take over the space and easily create a space that best suits their needs.
Another suggestion is to combine furniture and technology in a way that encourages equal contribution by all members of a team.
“Companies also need enable privacy and control over the environment to provide a ‘safe haven’ spaces where new ideas can incubate,” she concluded.
The world over, savvy businesses are rapidly moving beyond shared desks to flexible workspaces, which is having a profound effect on job satisfaction and staff turnover.
Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says: ”The hot desk concept is on the wane.
“Many more people have higher expectations for their working lives now want to be able to work in a more flexible way. Offices are adapting to meet that need. A bonus and a pat on the back is no longer enough to retain staff.”
Recent research by a UK social research charity The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that almost half the UK workforce would like the opportunity to work in a more flexible way. Job search firm CareerBuilder’s research revealed that 56% of employees who describe themselves as satisfied in their jobs cited work/life balance as a key factor.
Only 39% cited salary as the root of their job satisfaction.
Said Andrews: “Rather than setting up rows of traditional desks, each with their own power point and telephone, firms should consider shared spaces with work benches and social hubs where staff can work in a group or on their own in a more informal setting.”
Companies are seeing rewards from a more flexible approach. US retailer Best Buy adopted flexibility at its headquarters, resulting in a reduction in staff turnover of 45%.
“As technology develops to enable access to corporate systems, services and applications from any location at any time, employees are increasingly questioning the need to sit at a particular desk in a specific office at set times each day,“ Andrews noted.
The future of flexible working can be divided into three areas – space, location and time.
Flexible work spaces have the advantage that they don’t “belong” to any individual or team, meaning staff are less likely to get territorial over a particular place. They are also a great use of space for businesses looking to get the most value out of building costs, as they can be used in different ways – from a short meeting to an employee needing to focus on a particular project away from their team.
A clear-desk policy is a must when considering any of the above, ensuring that staff don’t reserve a certain seat or desk even when they’re away from an office.
Remote working is being embraced by many businesses to allow staff to work while travelling or offsite. Whether it’s letting staff head home after an external meeting to carry on working, or a more formal arrangement enabling workers to be at home for certain days per week, employees are increasingly demanding these opportunities. Enterprises that fail to offer flexible working policies and options will soon find they are unable to compete with larger companies when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent.
The most radical of the three options, but it’s one already widely practised by micro businesses, startups and entrepreneurs. However, we have yet to see a real shift to flexible hours among larger enterprises.
“Most companies expect their staff to work set days and hours, even if they happen to be working at home or from a hot desk. As offices decrease in both size and number of people on the premises at any time, as more of us choose to work remotely, so the need for staff to all be working the same days and times decreases,” said Andrews.
The most forward-thinking firms will start considering roles and functions in their organisation by employees working their own chosen hours – whether that’s compressed hours, weekend or night-time working – rather than those dictated by the business.
It might be that only one or two of these three options are feasible for your organisation at present, but for all firms it is worth assessing pilot programmes to try out the trio of different