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Is Hot Desking Right For Your Small Business?

Is Hot Desking Right For Your Small Business?

By Mark Swartz

Monster Contributing Writer


The latest trend in office design? It’s hot desking. No more assigned seats or offices. Arrive at your job, pick up your gear from your locker, and reserve a workspace.

Proponents claim that it boosts collaboration and lowers real estate costs. Critics argue that the lack of assigned desk, plus minimal privacy, decrease productivity.

The nature of your workforce will determine if hot desking is right for your firm. Its appeal skews to younger employees and mobile road warriors. But if implemented right, it could revitalize your workplace dynamics.


The Bare Bones of Hot Desking

If the concept sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a natural step in office design. Walled rooms were common in the 70’s and 80’s. Then came cubicles (and the much reviled cubicle-farms). Open offices followed: walls came tumbling down, while assigned seating stayed.

Hot desking is based on open offices, combined with flexible telecommuting and “hoteling.” Employees reserve a workstation or meeting room in advance, based on need. There are no permanent desk assignments. Instead there’s plenty of collaborative space to encourage interaction. Also available are quiet areas and at least one or two private meeting rooms.


Why it’s a Hot Idea

A significant percentage of any firm’s workforce is out of the office on a given day. A 2013 study from real estate firm CBRE found 30% of U.S. offices are vacant on average. Why pay for wasted space?

This ties into the trend of shrinking office sizes. In 1970, the average amount of space per employee was 500-750 square feet. By 2017, it’s expected to be down to about 150 square feet. Hot desking lets you pack in more people per square foot.

Technology is aiding the transition. Now many employees can use their laptop and mobile phone to work from just about any space. You’ll want to have a telecommuting policy in place to really exploit this.


Who’s Doing It

In late 2015, accounting and consulting firm Deloitte will open its massive new headquarters in Toronto. Even the managing general partner will forgo the usual corner suite. They’ll get a locker to stow their personal stuff like everyone else.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies (H+K) has undertaken redesign of their Toronto offices, also with open concept space and hot desking. They’re betting that collaborative workplaces help to nurture an innovative culture.

Real estate agencies have been hot desking for years. With employees mainly on the road or meeting clients, there’s little need for a large investment in excess office footage.


Ways to Make It Work

Deloitte will offer 14 variations of workspaces their employees can choose from. Included are unassigned stations in shared areas, stand-up and treadmill desk areas, small rooms where an employee can close a door and work privately, reading chairs near windows, and open areas where employees can sit alone or with a team. Some spaces can be booked in advance. Others are for popping into.

H+K wants to take advantage of “casual collisions” between its workers. It has designed spaces where people who might not normally meet can bump into one another. Some of the common areas are strategically located so that people’s paths will be likely to cross.


Some Folks Think Hot Desking Isn’t Cool

The idea of hot desking was first introduced to house telecommuting and frequently travelling employees. So not everyone whose desk is replaced by a bookable docking station will be pleased right away. 

Lugging your belongings to and from a locker each day can grate. You can’t be sure of having a chair that conforms to your sitting style. As well, people will be looking for each other due to constantly changing seating assignments.

Compared with standard arrangements, workers in open concept offices experienced more interruptions and lower levels of concentration. You have to clear your desk when you leave – hence no pictures of loved ones or pets.

Something else that may be troubling. Hot desking could be somewhat discriminatory against those with various allergies, disabilities, or exceptionalities that require accommodations. Hopefully it won’t discourage diversity hiring in the realm of special needs.


Warming To the Concept?

If you’re considering this new office design, be sure to do it in a holistic way. Equip your staff with the proper technology tools for collaboration: laptops, mobile phones, and secure software to communicate privately.

And speaking of privacy, create some spaces where people or teams can hold confidential conversations. You can’t let insider information float about freely.

Hot desking could just be a fad, or it may take hold gradually. Keep in mind your workforce’s needs before leaping into it.