Should we cool down on Hot Desking in 2017?

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February 22, 2017 by Louis Cooper • Jet-setter, part-time chef, PPC and grammar ace.

What Is Hot-Desking?

The concept of hot desking has been around for a while but has only gained momentum as a flexible working solution over the last few years. This is largely attributed to technological developments making the concept more viable for businesses across the world.

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So What Exactly Is It?

It is primarily a work space sharing model whereby employees don’t have an allocated work desk or station. Instead, employees every morning wonder around the office to find an unoccupied work desk or station to set-up at for the rest of the day.

Most businesses who use hot-desking provide their employees with Wi-Fi as well as their own laptop or fixed desktops on each of their office desks, so naturally their expectation for the model to work is high because they believe they have provided employees with all the ‘tools’ to successfully facilitate it. Whilst the views of are understandable, how do employees and experts alike feel about the perceived benefits gained from hot-desking in the workplace? Does the reality meet the expectation?

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The Two Biggest Pro Hot-Desking Theories

Theory One: Greater Cross-Departmental Integration

It is believed that since employees are not sitting together in their respective teams, they’re more likely to integrate with those outside of their own department. With greater integration, it is hoped employee collaboration and innovation will benefit. So is this really the case?

We spoke to Darren, who worked at a London based digital solutions company which implemented hot-desking within all their offices.

Darren (36) a Senior IT Consultant said: “When the company initially announced that they were going to be introducing hot-desking, I was really open to the idea. The biggest selling point for me was that I would be able have professional conversations with employees from different departments whom I would normally never get a chance to meet.

By the time hot-desking came into place, I didn’t really notice that much of a difference. Since most days you were sitting next to someone different, you didn’t really develop a meaningful working relationship with anyone outside your team. Similarly, even though you were away from your entire team, you would still be constantly wondering the office to find fellow colleagues to go through different projects and documents with them”.

Maria Parker a Business Consultant commented: “I have seen a lot of businesses subscribe to the hot-desking model over the last few years because they believe it will enhance cross-departmental cooperation and collaboration. Businesses though must realise that these components do not simply just happen because you split teams up and get them to sit separately across the office. It’s a more complex process than that.

What many businesses tend to find after introducing hot-desking is that even though teams are away from each other, they still end up going to each other’s work desks or stations multiple times throughout the day. Instead of making valuable connections from other departments, they end up gravitating back towards a circle they have always been familiar with. Its human nature”.

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Verdict on Theory One (Hot or Cold): Cold

Theory Two: More Focused and Cleaner Working Environment

Many employees treat their work desk or station as a second home because they spend so much time on it. Just like a home, they become really comfortable at their desk, therefore don’t feel the need to maintain it.

Whilst it’s justifiably each employee’s prerogative as to how they keep their own work space, many businesses believe that a sea of messy and scattered work desks/stations not only reduces concentration but reflects poorly upon a company’s image. Conclusively, that’s another associated factor as to why certain businesses favour hot-desking. With employees not having a specific work desk or station to themselves, they either have to take their work as well as personal belongings home or keep them in a storage unit at work.

We asked Christina, a Merchandise Buyer and Justin, a Junior Financial Analyst on how hot-desking has impacted their work.

Christina (29) a Merchandise Buyer said: “I personally find hot-desking really irritating. Moving from desk to desk on a daily basis you never truly feel settled. Also I am one of those people that needs to splash files, notepads, documents, electronics and stationary across the desk to fuel my work ethic – so packing everything up at the end of the day is not only time-consuming but frustrating. Additionally, with so many employees at our company, you often end up worrying about not getting a spot in-case you’re running late or have an external client meeting. If it was up to me, I would prefer to have my own desk for peace of mind”.

Justin (23) a Junior Financial Analyst said: “Even though hot-desking has reduced mess around the office, we don’t have the same harmonised spirit we used to have when sitting together in our teams. With our company also introducing flexible working hours complimentary to hot-desking, face-to-face interaction has also dropped enormously. With my role involving analysis of multiple physical and digital documents, my preference would be to have my own desk where I can leave things without the stress of taking it all home and then remembering to bring everything in the next day”.

A survey conducted by Unison a few years ago focusing on the implications of a hot-desking policy found that 90% of respondents believed that it not only had a negative effect on morale but equally, stress levels.

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Verdict on Theory Two (Hot or Cold): Cold

Our Survey

Reboot Online Marketing carried out a survey to find out what office workers really thought of hot-desking. We received a respectable 460 responses from office workers across the UK, who are currently or have had previous experience of working under a hot-desking model. The results from the survey revealed:

The Forgotten Truths

Hygiene

Considering on most days, different employees would be using and occupying a desk or workstation for the day, hygiene could be a prominent issue. Each employee’s attitude towards hygiene will be varying. This is evident by the recent results of a survey whereby 32% of office workers admitted to not washing their hands after using the toilet. With a lot of companies choosing to equip their office desks/workstations with computers, keyboards and telephones – they could become the primary facilitators of bacteria growth, especially in the hot-desking model. With some employees being less considerate towards sanitation than others, bacteria on such ‘working tools’ could not only be harmful but cause illness. Additionally, with employees not having their own working space, they will feel less inclined to wipe or clean any minor spillages or stains caused by themselves.

The Pleasure of Discomfort

With employees not having their own work desk or station, they would have to go through the hassle of adjusting their workspace in accordance to their needs. This would include re-positing their chair and computer screen to avoid any back pain or eye strain respectively. With employees becoming accustomed to working in a different space each day, they may feel less bothered to make the appropriate adjustments on a daily basis. Overtime this could negatively contribute towards their health and well-being. From a business’s point of view, that could potentially equate to lower productivity and more sick days.

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Identity Crisis

Everyone in life, needs to feel a part of the environment or setting they are in to truly thrive. For many employees, as ridiculous or redundant as it may sound, it is their work desk or station that gives them the individual identity they crave. To simply put, their own little sanctuary to function in exactly how they want. With the frequent desk-hopping that hot-desking entails, employees may begin to feel dis-jointed with the company. Feeling like they are just an another disposable component in the machine, without an individual identity or personality.

Conclusion

With hot-desking undeniably, a growing trend amongst many different companies across a range of industries, should its momentum be derailed? The evidence from this research overwhelmingly reveals that should be the case. Despite its value proposition of prospectively cutting the costs of running an office by up to 30%, financial gains may be significantly overshadowed by employee dissatisfaction with the hot-desking model. The results from our survey certainly show that employees are not enthused or captivated by the hot-desking model. With employees not entirely embracing hot-desking, companies in turn are unlikely to reap from any of the perceived benefits of the model.

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