Hot Desking Etiquette: What You Need to Know


You have certain unspoken etiquette rules in a regular office. Flush the toilet, don’t eat someone else’s food, wash your hands after leaving the stall, don’t eavesdrop on a personal conversation. What about when hot desking? Do you need etiquette there? If so, what kinds of rules should you set?

Hot desking etiquette is a must to maintain sanity and cleanliness in the office. Some basic etiquette rules include:

1. Don’t leave messes behind; everyone will know you did it

2. Don’t take too long to leave your station after a shift ends

3. Avoid keeping your things in or on the desk; use bags, jackets, organizers, or anything else for storage

4. If you bring food, throw it away or take it home at the end of your shift; it won’t be there tomorrow

5. If working around someone else, then don’t have loud, boisterous conversations; use a professional voice

6. Give the desk a cursory cleaning before you leave

7. Log out of computer software and programs as your shift ends

In this handy article, we’ll cover all these etiquette rules in greater detail. You may be guilty of one or two yourself if you’re new to hot desking, but it’s never too late to correct bad behavior. Keep reading!

Hot Desking Etiquette Rules to Follow

Earlier this year, we published a great article about hot desking rulesOpens in a new tab.. While we’d recommend you check that out, those rules are more about hot desking success. This is about what to do (and not do) as an employee in a hot desking arrangement.

Just to recap, hot desking is when you share a work desk or station with other coworkers in shifts. You might come in on mornings on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays while another coworker covers mornings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Other employees work the afternoon and evening shifts as needed.

When hot desking, you might be the only one in the office at any given time. That can make it tempting to bend or even break the rules. Trust us when we say there are repercussions, and that repeated bad behavior could cost you your job.

Keeping that in mind, let’s go over the hot desking etiquette rules we outlined in the intro.

1. Clean up Your Desk Messes

Imagine this: you arrive to work for your morning hot desking shift. You’re the only one at your station, and it will be that way until the afternoon. You sit down and see an empty, squashed bottle of water under the desk and a dirty paper plate over by the corner. You clean it up only to come in the next day and see another mess.  

If this messiness becomes a regular habit, that’s when you can start running into trouble. You’re probably going to complain to your boss that each time you come in, the desk is a mess. The boss will get in touch with the evening shift worker and ask if it’s them making the mess. They’ll deny it and say it’s you.

From there, it can turn into a game of he said, she said. Well, unless of course your office has cameras, which many workplaces do. Then, it’s pretty easy to narrow down the culprit.

Always give the next shift worker the courtesy of a clean desk. Throw your bottles in the trash or, even better, the recycling bin. The same goes for plates, cups, bowls, or whatever else you bring. You can even bag the trash up and leave it by the door to get taken out. Now that’s courtesy.

2. Be Ready to Leave When the Shifts Change

Listen, sometimes you get a call five minutes before your shift ends and this person proceeds to talk for the next 20 minutes straight. There’s not too much you can do about that. It’s rude and against company policy to hang up. You just have to grin and bear it.

If something like that doesn’t happen, then there should be no reason for you to still be hanging around your station when the shift ends. Your coworker has arrived and they’re ready to clock in. However, they can’t do that until you clock out.

The longer you delay your exit, the more you’re screwing over this next employee. They’re now late in getting to what they need to do. This maybe isn’t such a big deal if you’re late once and have a valid reason for it, like in the example before. If you’re just wasting time because you can and you do this often, then you can create an enemy in your coworker.

Five minutes before your shift ends, begin getting ready to leave. Turn off the computer (more on this later), pack up your things, throw any messes away, and wait for the next shift worker to show up.

3. The Desk Is Not Yours; Keep Personal Effects Off It

In traditional office arrangements, each employee has a desk. Maybe that desk is in their own office or perhaps it’s in a cubicle, but either way, it’s theirs. They can decorate it, put a vase of flowers on it or framed photos of a spouse or children, the works.

If you work in a hot desking space, now is not the time to tend to your new indoor plant. You cannot leave it when your shift wraps up. Since other people will come in and work at that desk, sometimes a lot of people, you can’t guarantee what would happen to your poor plant. The cleaners could even throw it away during their nightly sweep.

Yes, it’s a bummer to come in to see a sterile, empty desk each day and not be able to put your personal stamp on it. That’s fair. If you care about your valuables, though, it’s much better to leave them at home. Otherwise, there’s no guarantee of what will happen to them.

Now, that’s not to say you can’t bring anything you own. Feel free to take in your smartphone and even your laptop computer if your workplace allows it. Charging cables, USBs, and the like are also okay. You just do not want to leave any of this stuff behind when you go home for the day.

To prevent you from forgetting your belongings, you might keep these items in your own bag, such as a laptop bag or even a gym bag. You can also stash things in your jacket pockets or even use an organizer to keep your stuff tidy.

4. Don’t Save Food for Later; Get Rid of It Before You Leave

If there’s one point of contention in any office, it’s food. Your coworkers don’t want to smell a stinky homemade dish that wafts through the office and permeates everything. Unlabeled food is open season for whoever finds it first. Employees make food in the office kitchen and then don’t do dishes, or they leave their utensils, plates, and cups out when they’re done.

If there’s one good thing about hot desking, it’s that you don’t have to deal with most of the above. You’re all by yourself or with a few other coworkers, so there’s not nearly as much activity in the office kitchen (provided you even have an office kitchen).

Still, that doesn’t give anyone license to start acting like they own the place. Just like with your personal effects, if you leave food at the office and go home, there are no promise it will be there when you arrive tomorrow. Coworkers can throw things away, as can the cleaning staff who comes by at some point.

You don’t have to refrain from bringing in a breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You can even order food to the office if that’s allowed. Just whatever you eat, make sure you leave no trace of it when you go home.

The only time it’s cool to leave food is if you’re buying donuts or bagels for everyone or perhaps even cake. Maybe leave a note though just to be on the safe side.

5. Avoid Having Loud Phone Conversations

This tip really only applies if you share a hot desking setup with another coworker or even coworkers. Your boss might not come in every single day, which makes you feel more at ease. That sense of easiness, while nice at first, can quickly morph into carelessness. You feel like you can behave however you want with no consequences.

There are a few reasons to avoid getting too reckless. For one, if you share a hot desking arrangement with other coworkers, your loud conversations are going to get on their nerves fast. They could report you to human resources or even your boss.

Even if you work alone, you never know when someone else can walk in. It could be a customer, a potential client, a coworker, or even your boss himself or herself. You would hate to embarrass yourself and look terrible in front of these people, right?

What if there’s zero chance of anyone coming into the office? That still doesn’t give you license to goof off. Like we said earlier, your office could have cameras installed. Your manager or boss can see exactly what you’re doing, or—more accurately in this case—not doing.

6. Be Courteous and Clean the Desk Before Your Shift Ends

You know how it’s very off-putting when you go out to eat at a restaurant and the table or booth is kind of sticky? You’re suddenly hyper-aware that people were there before you.

The same is true when you walk into your hot desking office and you see a desk that’s a mess. It’s covered in papers, food wrappers, crumbs, paper clips, and other assorted junk you shouldn’t have to deal with. And that’s true, you shouldn’t have to clean it all up. Inevitably, because the person who worked before you hightailed it out of there and you have things to get done, you will clean the mess up.

That’s a bad situation to put a coworker through time and again. Not only do you want to be conscious of the mess you make throughout your shift and clean it up, but go the extra mile. Use a disinfectant wipe and clean the desk so it’s not sticky. Wipe the phone and the computer since everyone shares the same one.

Not only can this stop the spread of germs, but your coworker will very much appreciate the kind gesture.

7. Log out of the Work Computer

Another small but nice thing you can do that takes two minutes? Don’t stay logged in on the computer.

Since you do share a computer with everyone you work with, everyone has their own logins. When you sign onto the computer, you use certain tools and programs to do your job. Then, when your shift ends, you let the computer fall asleep and get out of dodge until your next shift.

Well, your coworker comes in and now has to log out of all your programs. Not only does this waste their time, but it’s a good way to potentially leak proprietary information. Sure, the info is going from one coworker to another, but should someone see something they shouldn’t, that would fall on you.

It’s much better to take two minutes to log out of all the programs and tools you use and then sign out of the computer altogether.

Check out other Topics:

CoworkingOpens in a new tab.TechnologyOpens in a new tab.StressOpens in a new tab.WellnessOpens in a new tab.SustainabilityOpens in a new tab.Workplace ProductivityOpens in a new tab.Employee ExperienceOpens in a new tab.Hot DeskingOpens in a new tab.

Related Questions

Why is it called hot desking? Have you ever wondered why the term hot desking is referred to that way? Is it because the desk is hot from one employee using it when the other shows up to work? Not exactly. The name comes from a related term called hot racking.

With hot racking, sailors in one bunk on a boat would split shift duties. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? 

What is a hot desking policy? A hot desking policy is a set of rules designed to dictate and better manage employee behavior. The policy will include etiquette and other regulations so hot desking is a smoother arrangement for all the staff.

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