What are the disadvantages of hot desking, and how to overcome them

October 27, 2022
The Disadvantages of Hot Desking

Like any business decision, the decision to implement hot desking comes with both advantages and drawbacks. Below we discuss some of the common criticisms of hot desking and the things employers can do to be mindful of these pitfalls and help to overcome them.

Not knowing where to find people

While some employees might consider it an advantage that nobody can figure out which floor they are working on, for obvious reasons, it’s not usually a good thing for the staff doing the looking or the company as a whole. There are a few easy to implement strategies which can assist staff in overcoming this problem:

  1. Make sure every desk has a clearly displayed number. This means that staff can let one another know their locations when asked via Slack, Microsoft Teams, or another messaging system. Organizations can do this with ###link digital panels, or a simple printed label can suffice.
  2. Using a searchable booking system to know which people are where. A booking system is slightly limited in this regard, as it will tell you where people are supposed to be, but if paired with a check-in check-out system it becomes a reliable source of information for where an employee might be seated

It splits up employees

Another criticism of hot desking is that it prevents related staff from being able to work together, by needlessly splitting them up. At smaller companies this is less of an issue, but it can be problematic at larger organizations. However, the issue can be circumvented by restricting departments to certain neighbourhoods. If you use software to manage your desk allocations this is usually an option your administrator can help you explore.This can be future overcome by allowing employees to coordinate the days on which they come in.

It makes it harder for new employees to learn the ropes.

The argument here is that it exacerbates the complexity of starting somewhere new, by making it difficult to know who is who, or where to find people. In particular, for very large workplaces, it can be disorientating for new starters just trying to make their way around an office or building complex. There are two things that can be done here to overcome this.

1. Allocate the new starters the same desk for their first few days/weeks. This will help them get their bearings physically within the space.

2. Much like overcoming the “not knowing where to find people” scenario we discussed above the solution here is also to make sure that the desk booking system offers employees a way of searching for people. Ideally this will be possible to do by name, job title, job function, or another category such as specialist skills. If this is done, and you can show where the employees are on a map, it’s arguably easier for employees to find who they are looking for and learn names.

Some employees can’t arrive early enough to find a desk.

If a business uses a first-come first-served method of allocating the desks, it can make it problematic for staff whom, for one reason or another, simply can’t arrive to the office as early as others. This situation is easily overcome by allowing employees to book their desks ahead of time. The key to making a booking system work is two fold:

1. Place a limit on how far into the future a person can book a desk. This will prevent team members from reserving a desk in perpetuity.

2. Pair your bookings with a check-in / check-out system to make sure any “no-shows” are reallocated to the available desk pool.

It sends the message that employees don't matter

Management consulting legend Peter Drucker famously stated “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. For that reason, hot desking, when done purely as a cost cutting measure can make some employees feel alienated, and often causes the model to fail at those organisations.

By contrast, companies that understand and plan the cultural aspects of a change to a hotdesking model fair much better.

Hot desking, when done right, provides flexibility to both businesses and employees. Allowing staff to come in / leave at different times can be a major benefit to each individual employee without having a corresponding cost to the business. In the same vein, a business may wish to consider using some of the freed up space to provide additional facilities to their employees.

Games rooms, quiet rooms, outdoor spaces, collaborative spaces, prayer rooms, end of trip shower facilities are all appealing options to different members of staff at different times. Considering what the newly found space is used for can be key to letting your employees know they are still valued.

Hot desking means you can’t leave anything in the office.

The best way to overcome this is by also allowing employees to book lockers. These can be allocated on longer time frames than desks (which are typically day to day).

It's not as good as remote working

The final criticism of hot desking, which is common to hear, is that it’s simply an inferior model for employees than working from home all the time. The idea being that if employees don’t have a permanent desk waiting for them, then why come in at all?

The benefits of Hot desking is best experienced in hybrid working environments, where staff work from home some days. Hybrid working environments mean that businesses can still spend money on aggregated resources (like printers, laser cutters, ping pong tables, Friday drinks, etc), but don’t need to over-provision their real estate to achieve this.

It is also important to remember that some employees may be disadvantaged by a fully remote environment. This can include:

a) Juniors who want to learn from more tenured team members

b) People who do not have an ideal workspace at home. This could be employees with roommates, employees with children in the house, or simply employees who live in small inner-city apartments.

c) It may also simply include extroverts who get a social benefit from working in an office environment.

Think your team could benefit from a tool that makes hot desk booking efficient and easy to use across all teams? You can start your free trial today.

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