“This seat is occupied”: How Hot-Desking will affect the post-lockdown office space

The discussion of how workplaces will adapt in a post-pandemic society continues to be a hot topic this week following the news that HSBC has changed its working practices in favour of ‘hot-desking’ at its Canary Wharf headquarters. The plan includes shrinking its office space by 40% and moving its senior managers from the 42nd floor into shared work spaces below. The unoccupied space will be repurposed as collaborative areas for teams as well as meeting rooms for clients.

We have previously discussed the implementation of flexible working arrangements as a means of encouraging staff back into office as lockdown restrictions ease. Now that staff are getting settled back into work, attention now shifts to long-term plans for office spaces that involves moving away from the traditional 9-5 to more convenient measures. Hot-desking - while not entirely a new concept- is an increasingly popular choice, but what exactly does it entail?

What is hot-desking?

The practice of hot-desking involves workers sharing workstations on an ad-hoc basis. The original idea of hot-desking was meant for workers in large organisations who had multiple shifts within a 24-hour period. A shared work station allows staff to come and go at different times without having to be stuck in a confined space for 8 hours a day. The lack of assigned seating also means that staff can move freely around the office to make phone calls or hold meetings without risk of disruption.

The advancement of IT technology as well as the focus on employee wellbeing has increased the appeal for flexible working over the last decade, and the recent pandemic has only ramped up expectations for businesses to boost employee morale and productivity.

What are the advantages of hot-desking?

The key benefit is that it is cost-efficient. Smaller businesses with limited physical space can invest in fewer desks and implement a staff rota so that everyone gets the most out of the system. Larger businesses can even cut down running costs by as much as 30%. With the right IT system, staff can book desk space for however long they need it, making reservations run as smooth as possible.

Flexible working also works well with this arrangement, allowing staff to work from home or elsewhere at their own pace. As an added bonus, the money saved from operation costs can be spent on improving IT systems, contributing to staff bonuses, or adding recreation hubs for staff to relax and unwind.

Hot-desking can be beneficial for employees who work from home or regularly visit client sites to carry out their roles. Time spent coming into the office can be used for collaborative scoping and relaxed conversation with colleagues without a need to schedule a meeting (not a Zoom link in sight!). The increased interaction among staff can improve communication and productivity between departments.

Are there any disadvantages?

As with most things, hot-desking is not suited for everyone. For example, it might not be ideal for staff who require a quiet environment to focus on tasks. Not having an efficient booking system in place will also create a lot of frustration, particularly on time-sensitive projects that have to be delayed due to overbooking or otherwise lack of space.

It is also not ideal for those (like me) who like to keep physical copies of notes when working on projects. The thought of hauling numerous files, bags, and hot/cold beverages from station to station throughout the working week -on top of a daily commute- does not hold much appeal.

Whilst the tidy, minimalistic appearance of offices with hot-desking practices presents a contemporary aesthetic allure for some, the lack of personalisation from assigned desk spaces means that offices lose their individuality. General desk ‘clutter’ such as family photos, novelty plants, etc. have no place in a hot-desking system, which makes for boring empty spaces that blends into the corporate landscape of any other office building with the same system.

Finally, there is the matter of hygiene (a very important factor in these times). Risks of catching a virus could be significantly higher in offices with hot-desking systems in place. Current HSE guidelines recommends avoiding the sharing of workstations where possible, including hot desking.

In places where this is not possible, consider limiting the number of staff using a shared desk as well as implement a regular cleaning schedule for these areas. Social distancing measures must also remain in place to mitigate any potential risks to staff and clients visiting the site.

 

Summary

If your business is considering implementing a hot-desking system, it is crucial that you weigh up the potential pros and cons. While hot-desking can reduce operating costs, it comes at the expense of staff morale. IT systems must be robust to handle the new changes as well as mitigate any risks to personal data being accessed offsite.

Additionally, staff should be informed of any discussions regarding implementing hot-desking and be allowed to have their say. After all, they are the ones who will be affected by the strategy.

About the author

Jessica joined RWA in 2018, having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Film Studies. Her role as a content designer involves developing new and engaging e-learning modules as well as assisting in the creation of articles for Insight. 

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