Hot Desking in Social Work: What You Need to Know

Throughout this hot desking series, when we’ve discussed the concept of hot desking, it’s mostly applied to commercial business offices. Some specific industries have utilized hot desking as well though, such as social work. How does hot desking in social work play out, positively or negatively?

According to a 2019 poll on hot desking in social work, up to 86 percent of respondents believed that hot desking not only didn’t suit their field, but that it was “incompatible” with their type of work.

Ahead, we’ll clearly define what social work is, discuss how hot desking is used in this field, and dissect the data on hot desking effectiveness in social work. You’re not going to want to miss it!

What Is Social Work?

First, let’s talk more about social work.

Social work is a field that’s community-driven and strives to make lasting social changes. In this field, one must have an innate knowledge of cultural interactions, economic institutions, human behavior, and human development.

A social worker may seek to prevent or change child abuse and neglect, Medicare and Medicaid provisions, mental health stigma, unfair worker’s compensation, unfair disability pay, and lack of civil rights.

Some social workers are involved in legislative changes that could drive new social policies. Others work more with their local community to impact and inspire change. Sometimes, the roles of a social worker are more research-based, as they do their due diligence to create the skeletons of what can become research and development plans.

Social work has seven pillars according to a 2017 research article called Indigenizing Social Casework Principles in the Light of Thirukural. Those seven pillars are as follows:

• Expression of feeling: Communication with individuals from all walks of life is at the forefront of a social worker’s job. Not only must a social worker be a good communicator then, but they must be able to express their feelings in a purposeful, authentic way, such as when delivering speeches.

• Controlled emotional environment: Few jobs are more emotionally difficult than social work. As much as they are the driver of change, sometimes changes happen for the worst. Both verbally and nonverbally, a social worker must have the ability to keep their own emotions in check when on the job, especially in situations when the emotions of their clients may be extreme.

• Confidentiality: When a client confides in a social worker, the expectation is that this information will remain private. Confidentiality extends beyond just personal conversations, but also encompasses the names of some clients the social worker might help.

• Self-determination: A social worker should be trusted to make their own decisions without influence, and these decisions should be guided by a good moral compass. This requires a degree of personal development, emotional adjustment, and social responsibility on the part of the social worker.

• Non-judgmental attitude: Social workers often see some pretty harrowing situations, such as abused children, battered spouses, drug addiction, homelessness, and poor mental health. Judging these people or situations is not in a social worker’s job description. Anyone who’s in contact with the social worker should feel able to talk to them no matter their personal circumstances.

• Acceptance: Failing to judge the clients the social worker sees and deals with goes hand in hand with acceptance.

• Individualization: After enough time in social work, biases can naturally creep in. It’s crucial then that a social worker always individualize each client of theirs, even if they share traits with past clients. Every person has their own fears, dreams, and motivations, and that should be respected.

How Has Hot Desking Been Used in Social Work?

Now that you understand what social work entails, let’s discuss how hot desking is used in this job area.

Social workers may be out on the case often, but not all the time. During those in-between periods when they’re at the office, hot desking has become incredibly common. So says this 2016 article from 4Recruitment ServicesOpens in a new tab., a social care recruitment resource.

In the area of child protection especially, hot desking has risen among social workers. According to the article, “several councils with hot desking said they’d taken steps to ensure social workers were supposed to sit with their teams, most commonly by giving them allocated ‘zones.’”

The article also mentions that despite this team-based setup, that social workers didn’t necessarily have their own desk.

The setup as described above is designed in such a way to prevent the spread of confidential information, notes the article. After all, confidentiality is one of the seven main principles of social work.

So why the switch to hot desking? For two reasons, the 4Recruitment article states. The first is a growing demand in the area of social work. This is certainly a good thing, as the more people who are hired as social workers, the more positive change that can occur in their neighborhoods, communities, and maybe even larger swaths of the country.

However, many social work businesses have found that they don’t have the space to accommodate all these newcomers. That puts a strain on those who are already there, forcing them into a hot desking arrangement when before there had been none.

The second reason hot desking is on the rise in the sphere of social work is due to budget cuts. With less money to go around, social work companies have had to allocate funds more smartly. This means cutting down on unused office space and even shrinking offices if necessary, both of which hot desking can achieve.

Has Hot Desking Affected Social Work Positively or Negatively?

You already likely know from reading our hot desking series that in many office environments, employees don’t particularly like this office model. What about in social work? Is hot desking more or less effective than usual?

We’d say hot desking is about as effective in social work as it is in a traditional office, which is not very. According to a 2019 survey from UK job resource CommunityCareOpens in a new tab., when 2,400 social workers were asked how they felt about hot desking, the consensus wasn’t very good.

Up to 86 percent of respondents called hot desking incompatible with social work. Another sizable group, 57 percent, said they were in strong disagreement that hot desking was compatible with social work. Further, 29 percent of respondents said they disagreed that hot desking was compatible with social work. Only eight percent said they didn’t have a strong opinion either way, while six percent said hot desking and social work were compatible.

Some of the CommunityCare respondents shared their insights into why they thought hot desking was such a poor fit for social work. Among the complaints were a feeling of being disjointed, increased anxiety, and more stress. One respondent said that hot desking “is particularly difficult after a challenging visit,” such as after seeing a troubled client.

Hot desking has not just been a problemOpens in a new tab. in social work over the past four or five years, but for much of the 2010s. A CommunityCare surveyOpens in a new tab. from all the way back in 2012 found that hot desking was believed among social workers to “sap morale.” That survey was much smaller, as fewer than 500 respondents participated.

In 2015, UK news source Guardian did a bigger survey with 1,420 respondents in social work. Most of them did not think hot desking was very beneficial.

The 4Recruitment article has some quotes from social workers talking about hot desking. One said: “Employers sell it [hot desking] as enabling social workers to work more flexibly, but it destroys team and professional identity, and undervalues staff (how much do you really value a social worker if you can’t/won’t provide a fixed workspace for them?)”

Another said this: “It would be a blessing to be able to bounce off my idea and de-brief with a colleague after a difficult visit. When I am sat next to a Business Support Officer, whom I don’t know, this is not possible.”

Granted, not every social worker who spoke to 4Recruitment Services blamed hot desking on an inefficient work environment. Some said their management responses are outdated, or that these responses are not adapting to any flexible work environments at all. Others say they’d be more willing to try hot desking if there were separate areas for private discussions versus socializing with others.

Related Questions

How many people work in social work in 2020?

The National Association of Social Workers North Carolina Chapter or NASW says that in 2020, the US has about 700,000 social workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS notes that, between 2018 and 2028, the field should grow 11 percent. That’s faster than most other industries.

Is it possible to improve hot desking in social work?

If you’re a social worker whose office has recently switched to a hot desking setup, you can indeed cope with and even adapt to the change. Here are some tips to try:

• Ask your boss or manager for training on the new rules
• Have your boss update their company handbook so everyone knows what’s expected of them
• Add personalized surroundings if possible to give your office space more of a permanent feel
• Consider asking your boss to try agile working instead, as more social workers have had success with this office model

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