10 Ways Hot Desking Reduces Productivity

Productivity, here you come! You’ve just made the switch to hot desking for your company, and you’re looking forward to seeing your employees do their best, most efficient work yet. What many companies tend to experience though is just the opposite, that staff productivity begins to plummet. What aspects of hot desking could cause this?

10 ways hot desking reduces productivity:

• Lack of privacy 
• Seating stress
• Getting used to your desk mate
• Setting up your computer each day
• Ping-ponging between office and remote work
• Remote work temptations without anyone to oversee task completion
• Not having the right personnel in the office to address questions
• Increased rate of illness
• Mandatory desk cleanup
• Reduced morale 

In this post, we’ll discuss the above 10 areas in which hot desking causes productivity to suffer. By the time you’re done reading, you may decide that perhaps hot desking isn’t the best idea for your company’s bottom line and employee satisfaction.

Let’s begin!

1. Lack of Privacy

If your company is like most offices, then your employees likely worked in a cubicle before they began desk-sharing. Cubicles can be depressing and bland, but one advantage they offer is a sense of privacy.

After all, a cubicle is that employee’s space and theirs only. They know that no one is going to walk into their cubicle uninvited except for maybe the boss. Also, although they can hear other conversations as they occur, the employee doesn’t have to chat with coworkers when in their cubicle if it’s not necessary.

With hot desking, now that illusion of privacy is shattered. There’s no cubicle, there’s not even a wall separating one employee from another. Instead, it’s two or more people sharing a desk. If one of the employees at the desk talks, everyone else is going to hear it.

The lack of privacy can prevent some more introverted employees from getting any work done. Their output may slow down unless they can work with a bit more privacy.

Another issue of privacy has to do with proprietary information. When you’re an employee who’s working with someone new every day or every other day, you don’t necessarily know who’s supposed to see what. Thus, you might feel uncomfortable opening certain documents or working on some projects while another desk-mate is around. This too can grind project progress to a halt.

2. Seating Stress

By far, one of the biggest sources of unhappiness associated with hot desking is the need to find a new seat each time your employees are in the office. This HR MagazineOpens in a new tab. report from 2019 that surveyed more than 1,000 office employees in the United Kingdom corroborated as much. According to the article, more than 80 percent of respondents said their mental wellbeing decreased from having to schedule hot desk seating.

Even once the seating arrangements are made, it’s not like an employee’s stress will magically evaporate. They may worry about where they’ll sit tomorrow, or later this week, or next week. They could fret over the colleague they have to sit with for their next shift.

All this undue stress can become distracting and even debilitating in some instances. Not only can this hurt office productivity, but seating stress can absolutely increase employee turnover as well.

3. Adjusting to Seat Mates

Although the days of school are long behind most of us, naturally, little groups and even cliques tend to form in offices. Your coworkers have colleagues they’re comfortable with and even friendly with. These alliances may have risen out of proximity, sharing a project, or a chance to discover common interests, such as during lunch out of the office.

Now, each time they come into work, your employees may not have their friends or acquaintances to chat with because those colleagues work opposite shifts. Also, now you’re putting two employees together who don’t really know each other well and making them work in close quarters.

It’s like playing “getting to know you” each time an employee comes into work. After a while, this can become draining. Even once your staff is familiarized with everyone else, by the time an employee gets used to a colleague’s working style, they have to sit with someone else.

If your turnover rate begins increasing and you have to hire new employees often, this makes the whole situation that much worse.

4. Computer Setup

Thanks to hot desking, employees don’t have their own desks anymore. The computers at the desk stay stationary, but since it’s not that employee’s computer, they have to set it up each time they come to work.

That means logging in, opening all the programs they use, signing into those programs, and signing into anything online-based, such as an email client. How much time this wastes each day depends on an employee’s setup speed, but we’d say at least 20 minutes, maybe even double that.

Sure, on its own, computer setup maybe isn’t the biggest productivity sucker associated with hot desking. That said, when combined with the other areas we’ve discussed (and the few ahead), any bit of lost time is damaging.

5. Switching Between Office and Remote Work

The reliability that is a steady schedule is comforting to many workers. They don’t have to think about when they’ll start work, where they’ll work, or how long they’ll be there. They can go to bed at the same time each night, wake up at the same time, and carry on their usual work schedule until the weekend.

Yet you’ve turned that schedule predictability on its head with hot desking. Now your employees split their time between working remotely and in the office. They may come in on an every-other-day schedule or thrice a week. The other days, they’re working at home.

We all have weeks that pass by in a blur. When you can barely remember if it’s Tuesday or Wednesday, having to ascertain whether you’re working in the office or remotely can just add to an employee’s stress. By the time they figure out their schedule, they may not very well be much in the working mood.

6. Remote Work Temptations

We also have to talk about the temptations that surround remote work. Millions of freelancers and office employees work from home around the world, and many of them can maintain their discipline to wait until the working day is over to lounge around and watch TV.

Not all can though. Some hot desking employees might appreciate not having a boss or manager looking over their shoulder. They’ll take their newfound freedom and run with it as far as they can take it. These employees will get paid on the company dime to watch YouTube videos, sleep, walk the dog, or do anything that’s not work-related.

We’ve discussed this on the blog before, but it can take weeks, months, and sometimes longer before the ramifications of this employee’s lack of work become apparent. By then, your company could have lost some major bank.

That’s why we always advocate for productivity trackers if your employees will work remotely. This software can clue you in on who’s working and who isn’t. You can also do accountability video calls if you think these will help.

7. Lack of Personnel to Answer Questions and Concerns

Sometimes it’s the very schedule associated with hot desking that hurts employee productivity. Since you’re dividing your staff to reduce office space and thus increase cost savings, you have only half the staff in at a time, maybe even less than that.

What happens if one of your employees needs your help with a project, or they have a concern that’s weighing heavily on them? If you’re not in the office, then the employee is out of luck. They could always call or email you, but if they want an immediate resolution to a problem, this just stretches things out longer.

Eventually, without guidance, uncompleted projects begin piling up more and more.

This problem is solvable, at least to a degree. You should ensure that for each in-office shift, at least one manager or higher-up is on the schedule, be that you or someone else. If that’s not possible, then you have to make a commitment to answer calls and emails almost as soon as they come through. Even that’s not easy to do, especially if you get busy. You can see then how hot desking can be especially problematic for productivity.

8. Increased Rate of Illness

If you remember from this postOpens in a new tab. on our blog, we wrote about a study from Initial Washroom that followed employees in various office setups over the course of four months. Up to 100 employees agreed to the study.

The first half of the study had the employees working as they usually did. Then, for the second half of the study, they began sharing desks. Throughout the study, the researchers tested the cleanliness of the desks. They found that shared desks and other workspaces were the most contaminated with bacteria, up to 18 percent more than workstations used by one person.

Those offices that followed a more traditional setup reduced bacterial spread by 32 percent.

Even outside of the health risks of COVID-19, hot desking has long been associated with higher rates of illness. As employees get sick, they may do the right thing and stay home or come into work and continue to spread their germs.

Sick employees are rarely running on all cylinders. They may be reluctant to start tasks, slow to finish, and the work they do is riddled with mistakes. The employee is too busy trying to fight through the brain fog and sneezing and coughing.

Employees who have to take sick time are also hurting productivity because they’re not there working.

9. Mandatory Desk Cleanup

We talked a little earlier how employees must take the time each morning to set up their respective computers for the day. Well, that’s not all the extra work hot desking requires of them. As their shift wraps up, the employee also has to clean the desk like they weren’t there.

That means saving their work, logging out of programs and the computer itself, cleaning up their papers and documents, and wiping down the computer, phone, and other equipment they used for the day.

This can chew through at least 40 minutes, maybe 60 minutes. Your employees might also start slowing down even a half-hour ahead of cleanup time because why start work now? They’re only going to have to log out of their computer in a little while, so it’s better to just wait until tomorrow.  

When you combine this wasted time with the computer setup time in the morning, all said, an average employee could lose between one and two hours of time a day. By abandoning the hot desking office model, they would regain this lost time instantly.

10. Reduced Morale

We saved arguably the biggest reason against hot desking for last: employees who have to work this way are rarely happy.

Going back to the HR Magazine report, those 1,000+ survey participants had a myriad of other hot desking-related complaints. About 22 percent of them couldn’t bond with their new desk mates. A large group, 44 percent, detested the above-mentioned computer setup time. That’s on top of the 80 percent who said their mental wellbeing was impacted by hot desking seating stress.

If your employees don’t like hot desking, then they might slog through work, but they won’t commit themselves to it. They’re likely unmotivated as well as unhappy. As for those employees that can leave, they will.

Having to hire new employees means taking time out of your busy schedule to interview and train them. Also, it can take a while before the employee adjusts to their new role, so it’ll be slow going in terms of productivity. This doesn’t help matters any.

Related Questions

Do some employees feel more productive when hot desking?

Surprisingly, some employees do feel like hot desking inspires them to do great work. An article from UK resource VerdictOpens in a new tab. detailed a survey of office workers who had to work this way. A pretty high percentage, 46 percent in all, said they did experience a boost in productivity through hot desking. That said, 54 percent of the same respondent group did not share the same sentiment.

Can employees bring their own hand sanitizer to work?

If you’re stuck in a hot desking office setup for now, you may wonder if taking along a bottle of hand sanitizer is allowed. We would say that in most offices, you should be fine. Especially in the wake of COVID-19, using hand sanitizer and washing your hands often should be encouraged.

Steve Todd

Steve Todd, founder of Open Sourced Workplace and is a recognized thought leader in workplace strategy and the future of work. With a passion for work from anywhere, Steve has successfully implemented transformative strategies that enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. Through Open Sourced Workplace, he fosters collaboration among HR, facilities management, technology, and real estate professionals, providing valuable insights and resources. As a speaker and contributor to various publications, Steve remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of workplace innovation, helping organizations thrive in today's dynamic work environment.

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