Hot desking is the practice of designating office space only when needed and allowing employees to choose where they want to sit.
Since its inception in the early 1990s, more and more companies are shifting from traditional fixed-desk office workspaces to support this promising alternative.
But before jumping in the hot desking bandwagon, hold your horses first and consider the whole picture.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Hot Desking
Read on to learn the key advantages and disadvantages that will help you make an informed decision and discover whether hot desking is right for you.
1. More Effective Communication
2. Power of Social Capital
3. Savings on Money and Space
4. Easier Organization
2. Hidden Costs
3. Lesser Privacy
4. Limited Space and Storage
Breaking Down The Advantages of Hot Desking
1. More Effective Communication
In any type of work environments that you can find in today’s knowledge economy, whether traditional workplaces or hot-desking, the importance of effective communication cannot be overstated.
All employees have a constant need to communicate information with colleagues or clients, in one form or another.
For instance, even a simple request like the delivery of office supplies to a specific room requires effective communication if you want to receive the right supplies and have them delivered in the right room.
With effective communication, you can ensure that the right job is done right the first time, every time. This is important more so when stakes are high. For instance, a multi-million dollar contract negotiation with a big-name client demands careful attention to the way you communicate, from your body language that must convey that you know what you are doing down to the composition of your sentences that should make it easy for your client to say yes. And most of the time, you only have one shot at it.
The success or failure to impress and persuade your client through communication can spell the difference between a new long term source of revenue for your company and loss of revenue that can even cost you your job.
Effective communication can also help develop a good working relationship among colleagues – one that is not merely transactional – resulting in a company culture that is conducive to teamwork and productivity.
Unfortunately, not all forms of communication are effective. Email, for example, the long-time crowd favorite in traditional workplaces, may be convenient due to ease-of-use but is ineffective in real-time collaboration.
When trying to solve a problem through email, workers are often directed to long email threads that can even cause confusion and frustration. Imagine having to wait for a reply for half an hour from an email loop of which you are no longer a part. This results in delays that may keep you from getting to the root cause of the problem and finding the solution fast.
Communicating through email is also prone to miscommunication, so much so that even one letter can ruin a deal. Imagine sending an email to a customer saying, “We are not prepared to deliver your order.” You intended to say “now” instead of “not,” but by the time you realize your mistake; it is too late. The damage has been done. The customer already canceled the order and went on to search for a new vendor, vowing never to do business with you again.
By far, face-to-face is still considered the fastest and most effective form of communication since there is live and instant feedback, and the problems inherent in other forms of communication like too much formality and bureaucracy can easily be eliminated.
There will be no need to take the time to back read on a 30-message long email chain before replying when you can give your response personally, complete with all the detailed information you want to share, but in less than 5 minutes. You can even tailor your response based on the feedback you receive, avoiding the risk of saying more than what is necessary.
Effective communication goes beyond words and their meaning. The transmission of non-verbal yet crucial information like body language, facial expression, and tone of voice is an advantage of face-to-face communication that other forms of communication lack.
And if you are considering hot desking in your company, these advantages of more effective communication and collaboration through face-to-face interactions are within your reach since distance, one of the major barriers of communication, will not be an issue.
Employees can sit on their preferred desk, and they can sit close enough to be heard by other members of their team without resorting to email and other forms of written communication.
2. Social Capital
Unlike in-line factory machines that can be programmed to work alone for the whole work week, humans by nature are social creatures who seldom work alone.
This is without exemption, regardless of the type of working style and personality.
Even self-proclaimed introverts need company, though to a lesser extent. No man is an island, and we all naturally seek companionship and belongingness as part of our overall well-being. Our ability to unite and work together to achieve shared goals is one of the reasons why despite the aggressive move to automate everything, humans are indispensable in the workforce and will remain to be the best resource that companies have at their disposal.
Companies realized that aside from the technical expertise of people they hire and keep, the aspect of human resource that they long thought was the most important for economic advantage, there is another resource that often goes untapped: the social capital.
In the context of the corporate world, it is defined as the resources that are available to companies and employees because of networks and relationships. One example is bonding social capital. It is the link among like-minded individuals of similar backgrounds through which synergy, defined as the combined result of the effort of a group working together that is greater than the result of individual effort, is possible. Then there is also the bridging social capital. It is the bridge that builds connections among different workers from different backgrounds, turning strangers to acquaintances, and acquaintances to allies.
There is so much potential in social capital, but because of lack of intent and awareness along with desk setups that discourage more social interaction, companies miss out on a lot of opportunities that arise when employees are less isolated and more exposed to one another.
With hot desking, it is easy to take advantage of the benefits of social capital, especially through collaboration that capitalizes on individual strengths.
You will be surprised how great things happen when people with complementary strengths work together on a common goal. Simply choosing to sit on a hot desk next to a top performer can result in an improvement in performance of up to 15%, according to a study by Harvard Business School.
Not everything about productivity involves the work for which employees are hired to do. Among employees, even small talks that are not necessarily related to work can have a big impact. For negotiators, small talk builds up social capital needed for bargaining power according to a new study by a team of researchers from Germany and the USA.
And in general, small talk made easier because of lesser proximity in hot desking provides the avenue for cultivating social capital through networking and sharing of information unbridled by needless formalities.
Social capital serves as the oil that helps the machine of collaboration run smoothly, allowing the free flow of information.
Through valuable conversations with different employees from different backgrounds and specialties, you can learn new ways to solve problems and improve your methodologies.
If as a digital artist, you want to know more about the intricacies of a motor, you can ask your resident electrical engineer — no need to craft a formal email request that may even go unanswered.
You can simply ask.
That is the power of social capital in hot desking.
3. Savings on Money and Space
If there is one thing in the business world that owns the biggest voice and the loudest shout, the title goes to money.
Money always talks, and when it talks, companies listen.
So, if a specific seating strategy, proposes saving up to 30% on office space and then deliver solid, quantifiable results, it will be no surprise how companies would go to great lengths to not only consider it but implement it as well.
Such is the case with hot desking. Whereas in a traditional office, every worker is assigned a desk of his own, with hot desking, every desk is free for all and up for grabs, sometimes with no questions asked.
Think of office space as a scarce natural resource that you allocate to where it can be used to the full.
Wasted space is wasted money. Unoccupied and underutilized space every single working day is costly to companies. Consider that in a traditional office, 40% of desk space is vacant most of the time, and companies pay for that vacancy through loss of profit and productivity.
Hot desking significantly reduces this wasted space each time a worker’s shift is over. Not only that. Hot desking also results in less spending on space leasing and maintenance.
If you are on the lookout for a solution for cost reduction that allows you to keep more of your dollars that you can otherwise spend on other profitable company projects and ventures, then consider it solved with hot desking.
4. Easier Organization
Clutter that leads to being disorganized is the silent productivity killer in companies.
You see clutter pile up in offices, unnoticed, in every nook and cranny. It can be in the form of stacks of paper you used only once for a business presentation, never to be touched again for months, but kept stacked, growing thicker for that unknown day when you may need them, just in case. It can be sticky notes posted inconspicuously to remind you of your appointments next week. It can also be sentimental clutter, like that first travel mug you bought that meant a lot to you, or perhaps those keychains from several of your colleagues, pinned right where you could see them hanging and dangling.
You do not even need to wait long before clutter turns to an eyesore, because clutter accumulates in proportion to workload.
The busier you are, the easier it is to accumulate clutter. And of course, the more clutter you have, the more disorganized your desk will be. You will eventually come to a point where you waste so much time looking for the information you need.
If you are an executive, you probably waste almost six weeks in a year searching for lost items and information, according to Forbes. And in line with this, another research by American Demographic Society says that Americans waste more than 9 million hours each day searching for lost and misplaced articles.
All that time wasted negatively impacts productivity at work because the more time you waste, the less time is left for you to do what is necessary, like learning a new skill to get that promotion or creating a new business plan to tap on an emerging market.
But with hot desking it is different: getting rid of clutter and organizing is easier.
Since space is limited, there is not much room for clutter to grow, and the less clutter there is, the less need there is to organize.
Psychologically, it also helps not to own a desk, as is the case in hot desking.
The irony with the freedom you have to do what you want in assigned desks is that it also gives you the freedom not to declutter even when already necessary. No one will notice as long as you do your job.
But with hot desking, it is your job to make sure your desk is empty, cleaned and cleared at the end of every workday. There is an unwritten clean-as-you-go desk policy that everybody needs to comply with. After all, your desk is your command center, and you don’t want to be someone whose workstation doesn’t befit a professional.
With hot desking, there is a place for everything and everything will be in its place so that you can get more done and you can focus more on achieving important goals.
Breaking Down The Disadvantages of Hot Desking
Have you ever experienced losing yourself into a task you found so absorbing that you forgot everything else?
It would seem out of this world. Completely engrossed with what you were doing, you became oblivious of the people around you and the time that quickly passed by, and then you felt incredible at how much work you accomplished in the limited time you had. It was the kind of work that so far exceeded your best.
If you already have, then you know how it feels like to be in a state of flow.
The state of flow, a psychological concept coined by the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, involves a highly focused mental state.
It is essentially the holy grail of worker productivity.
Once you are “in the zone,” as flow enthusiasts would fondly call it, your work would seem fluid and effortless. You can work seamlessly and at the peak of your ability to build momentum at a task and achieve the kind of productivity that other workers can only dream of.
A 10-year study by McKinsey even reported that workers are five times more productive when working in a state of flow. The McKinsey researchers further added that overall workplace productivity would double when workers increase their time spent working in a state of flow by even 15-20%.
However, to enter in this promising mental state and reap the benefits, there is one important caveat: you have to eliminate distractions, or at least reduce them to a tolerable level, a daunting challenge that you have to overcome every day in a hot-desking world, a connected yet potentially distracted world.
Distraction is the antithesis of flow. You cannot experience flow when you are distracted, and with hot desking, distraction abounds everywhere. Since there is little space to separate every worker, you are within reach for a quick and harmless morning chit chat while you are working on an important sales presentation. Before long, three hours are gone, and you are left cramming on a task that should have been finished had you been in a state of flow.
Distracted workers are unproductive. They also tend to multitask, switching from one task to another. Multitasking may look productive on the outside, but research has shown again and again that it is counterproductive and time-wasting to do multiple tasks at once.
Every time workers multitask, a remnant of their recent task called attention residue persists in the mind, lasting for as long as twenty minutes, significantly affecting the ability of workers to focus and concentrate.
Inducing flow in hot desking is inherently difficult because there is no shortage of the influx of distractions that can cost workers another unproductive day.
2. Hidden Costs
If you already experienced ordering a product online only to find out after you clicked the buy button that some fees are hidden, then you know how frustrating it can be when information that can affect your decision is withheld from you.
So before you get fully convinced to get on with hot desking, know that not everything about it is about savings in time and money. Yes, it is true that you can save up to 30% of your budget in space utilization, and you can have a more flexible and mobile workforce which can significantly increase your company’s profit and productivity. Hot-desking also comes with a cost you may not want to pay, often hidden and overshadowed by the benefits touted by companies that already hopped in like Deloitte, Gensler, and even Microsoft.
One hidden cost is lost or misplaced assets.
Since every desk should be clear and empty after your shift for the next hot desker,
the company assets entrusted to you need a place elsewhere. Depending on the nature of your job, you may even need to bring them out of company premises. Your assets are then at risk of loss, damage, and theft.
Hot deskers are digital nomads, hopping from one desk to another to take advantage of the increased collaboration for teams. Every member is productive until someone misplaces an important document that leaves everyone’s work on hold, a scenario that is not uncommon in hot desking.
Just be prepared to spend a couple of thousand dollars for an asset management software and several hours of employee training just to safeguard your precious assets.
Another hidden cost is a loss of productivity. Though at its core, hot desking is geared for maximum productivity, mobility, and flexibility, it is only valid for select types of jobs. For example, computer programmers who just need their laptops to perform their jobs will have a lot to gain and nothing to lose. But for researchers who may need more space and reading materials that they can peruse at will, the need to clear everything from their desk only to set up everything again tomorrow on a different desk takes away time they could spend doing their job.
It is evident that the need to set up and pack up every day because of shared working space takes up time and hurts productivity.
Hot desking is not a blanket strategy for office resource management. If you think the majority of your workforce will do better with a seat of their own, then put hot-desking at bay, at least for now.
3. Lesser Privacy
With hot desking, you can say goodbye to your right to be left alone most of the time, a privilege you used to enjoy on the comforts of the desk that you could solely call your own. Privacy
Here is an inevitable dilemma: you need to give up much of your privacy to gain the promised benefits like mobility and flexibility among others, and the reason is simple.
Privacy depends on proximity.
It is proximity that defines the personal space a person is comfortable with while working with others. Culture, upbringing, and nature of relationship are subjective factors to consider, and the level of comfort is mostly a matter of preference, but in general, two feet is the minimum distance required for personal space when working with acquaintances and three feet for total strangers.
If you ever tried working with someone you barely know, and he sat too close that you could feel his breath billow lightly in your face, then you know it was not a pleasant experience. You were not at ease. If only you were not in the middle of an important meeting, you would have ended the conversation and walked away. You may have even vowed not to talk to the person again.
And that was just one person.
Imagine the discomfort you will experience in a throng of workers on every side, mostly strangers to you, working less than two feet from you.
Not only that. Cases of accidental peeping or eavesdropping will be common occurrences. Even without intruding on purpose, expect to see things you should not be seeing and hear things you should not be hearing, and those may be things you cannot unsee and unheard. If you uphold the virtue of politeness, you will have to get used to somebody coming up to you without knocking at the door.
Hot desking policies may help draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not, but that line is thin and almost invisible. For some companies, lesser privacy or lack thereof in hot desking due to lesser proximity is enough to be a dealbreaker.
So if you put a high premium on privacy, consider carefully if you are ready to adjust before giving in to the lure of hot desking.
4. Limited Space and Storage
Hot desking also affects working space and storage.
Space is scarce in hot desking, so an empty desk after every shift is the norm.
Not anymore do you have the luxury of space big enough for work and non-work related items. To be fair to the next hot desker, you have to clear everything from the desk before you call it a day. Everything. You cannot personalize in the same way you can with a dedicated desk. If you are one of those lovers of knick-knacks and collectibles, you will have to find a new home for your collections.
This change may not sit well with workers who are territorial, those who have grown fond of giving their desk a glint of their personality.
If you are a copywriter relying solely on your laptop to do your work, you can adapt to a new working style in a limited or even cramped space with minimal disruption on your workflow. Not a problem. Just type away. But what if you are a professional who needs piles of files to your job? Yes, pedestals are typically provided for every desk, but only throughout your shift. Aside from your desk, you need to clear it too before you go.
Granted that you can leave your stuff at work for convenience, provision for additional storage is still necessary if you want quick access to your working documents. But that comes with a hefty price tag that may not be worth all the space and money you saved.
Why doesn’t hot desking work?
Because it takes the involvement of the whole workforce and not just a few enthusiastic supporters to make hot desking work, with people of different personalities, interests working together, a hundred percent involvement is unlikely to happen.
Some will not buy into hot desking because of preference in space. For instance, there will be some tenured employees who regard personal space as sacred, so they will be the least motivated to fully comply in a desk allocation scheme that threatens to take away what used to be theirs for years already. Feeling forced to work on a foreign desk each day, soon they will become disgruntled, sowing discontent among their peers that may eventually lead to the abandonment of hot-desking due to lack of cooperation by the majority.
What is the effect of hot-desking on mental health?
Hot desking may be bad for your memory because of stressors that hinder effective retention.
One stressor is seeing too many faces at the same time, which causes your brain to attempt connecting to everyone, weakening your ability to block out the presence of other people.
Another stressor that is also challenging to your brain is noise level. It can be one that is out of your control like noise from loud talkers.
Eve Edelstein, an expert in the “psychoacoustics” or the psychology of sound, reported that white noise, exactly the kind of noise that is almost absent in hot desking, is needed to be able to think creatively.
Another stressor is the need to adjust to your surroundings every day, which can lead to a feeling of loneliness and isolation. You tend to associate memories on the things you are used to seeing, and the constant shuffling of desk everyday impedes better memory retention.
How does hot desking affect hygiene?
The practice of hot desking leads to dirtier working areas compared to traditional workspaces where seats are permanently assigned, according to a study by Initial Washroom.
The results showed that on average, hot desking offices showed bacterial contamination readings that are around 18% higher.
The likelihood of cross-contamination and infection through viruses and bacteria is higher in hot desking due to shared equipment like keyboards and computer mice, which were found to be the main source of exposure.