Hot Desking Risk Assessment: Is Now a Good Time for Hot Desking?


All across the country, businesses are figuring out ways to open back up without putting people at risk. Your company is in the same situation. You’ve been closed for months, and you’re eager to let your employees know it’s safe to go back to work. To get there, changes need to be made, so you figure why not shift your office model to hot desking? Is this the safest, smartest choice right now?

To determine if hot desking suits your office, a risk assessment is recommended. Here are the hazards and risks associated with hot desking that you must consider:

• Close proximity by sharing a desk or workstation
• Using the same equipment and tech
• Not working in the same place day to day
• Failing to reset the workstation to how it was originally
• Proprietary data being available to the wrong parties
• Feelings of disgruntlement and exclusion

In this post, we’ll talk more about each of these six risks related to the hot desking office model. We’ll weigh each and even offer some solutions that may work if your company is insistent on proceeding with hot desking. Keep reading!

Conducting a Hot Desking Risk Assessment? Keep These 6 Issues in Mind

The Problem: Sharing a Workstation or Desk

In a COVID world, hot desking had its detractors, especially for certain aspects, such as sharing a desk. Now that a global pandemic has changed the way that employees will work for the foreseeable future, desk sharing is no longer an option.  

Employees will have to stay socially distanced from one another, which means maintaining space of at least six feet. That’s impossible to do when sitting at the same desk or workstation. Even if you had planned to switch to a hot desking model ahead of the coronavirus outbreak because you wanted to save some cash, you might have to use some of that money to reconfigure your office setup.

Potential Solution: Limit Employees in the Office and Give Them Their Own Desks

Few offices have opened in earnest at the time of this writing, but you have plenty of solutions for making a hot desking office model work post-pandemic.

For example, one of the benefits of hot desking is limiting the employees in the office so you can rent a smaller office space. In a world where everyone wants to stay away from others, these aspects of hot desking are very useful. You may have already had half your staff working remotely even before having to shut down due to COVID-19.

If so, then you want to request a handful more employees stay on remote duty while you open your office at half capacity, maybe even 35 percent capacity. Since you’ll have fewer people in the office, you might not have to buy many more desks for everyone to have their own.

Make sure the desks are positioned at least six feet from one another, too. Plexiglass dividers are another alternative to ensure everyone is spaced apart appropriately.

The Problem: Sharing Equipment

Another trademark of the hot desking model is sharing equipment. Since employees share a workstation, it’d be expected for some overlap to exist with equipment and tools as well. Each employee would have their own computer, but there might be only one phone between them or one printer and copier.

This is a major risk to any employee, especially in today’s health-conscious times. People don’t want to touch anything that someone else used, even if the other person was wearing gloves.

Potential Solution: Have Strict Hygiene Rules for All Equipment and Every Employee Has Their Own Equipment

Now that employees aren’t sharing a desk, this problem almost corrects itself. That said, the shift-like nature of hot desking can still pose hygiene and safety problemsOpens in a new tab., even if employees have their own phone, computer, and printer.

As we’ll talk about shortly, with hot desking employees not working in the same spot from one day to another, it’s hard to say who’s used and touched what. For that reason, every item in the office must be disinfected at the end of the day, either by the employees themselves or through a dedicated cleaning crew who comes in when everyone else has gone home.

You also want to make sure that each desk, workstation, or work area has its own equipment to discourage sharing. There should be more than enough equipment so employees can stay in their own area and have everything they need.

The Problem: Employees Don’t Have Assigned Seats

Hot desking can quickly become like a game of musical chairs. One day, you’re sitting with Bob, and the next, with Sarah. You don’t have your own office or cubicle anymore, so there’s no point in putting out any personal effects, or even bringing these with you.

This is one of the biggest downsides of hot desking, and one that tended to trigger the most employee disgruntlement in the times before the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, the thought of putting employees in random seats where they don’t know who was sitting there before them has become unfathomable.

The Solution: Consider Moving to Fixed Seats or Let Employees Schedule Seating for the Week

Few of your employees will feel comfortable coming back into the office if they’re going to be put in random seats that someone else had used earlier in the day. Even when your office implements contact tracing and temperature checks, your staff will want to work in an environment that was touched only by a cleaning crew prior.

Unless you plan to keep most of your employees remote for the time being, then you need a plan. You have two options here that can eliminate most seating risk. For one, you can let employees choose their seat for an entire workweek. This can disrupt shift work somewhat, so you might want to abandon shifts until the pandemic has passed.

You can also let employees have their own permanent seats, even though this strays pretty far from the hot desking office model. No matter how you solve the seating conundrum, workspaces still must be sanitized daily, even if the same employee is coming back to that desk tomorrow.

The Problem: Leaving a Workstation Messy

With hot desking, the rule is “leave it how you found it.” Since it’s not your personal desk or workstation, that means cleaning up all food and other messes, removing any items that belong to you at the end of the day, and resetting equipment in the workstation exactly as it was when the day began.

This may be a rule that you struggled to get compliance with in the COVID days. Now that we’re in the midst of a pandemic, you may find your employees are much more willing to listen to and abide by rules on workstation cleanliness.

Potential Solution: Mandate Rules in the Company Handbook about Workstation Cleanliness

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have an official statement in your company policy that clearly outlines the cleanliness rules and expectations. Explain that since an employee does not have their own seat or workstation, that they must leave everything the way they found it when they first came in.

This is no longer only about office appearance, but about preserving your own health and the health of everyone around you. While you’re busy making changes to your company handbook regarding cleanliness, add rules about maintaining one’s hygiene and health in pandemic times as well.

If you’d feel more comfortable if all employees wore gloves, then put that in the rules. Gloves should be changed out after an employee touches any surface, because then the gloves are contaminated. It’s still possible to spread the virus by touching your face with gloves if you touched a dirty surface.

Face masks are becoming an everyday accessory that people must wear when they leave their homes. You’ll probably mandate that employees have some form of face covering on all day, so put that in the handbook too. When the pandemic someday finally ends, you may be able to relax these restrictions somewhat, but until then, everything is laid out in the company handbook.

The Problem: Proprietary Data Can Be Seen by the Wrong Employees

Imagine this scenario: your first shifted employee of the day is in a rush to leave because they have an appointment they’re going to be late for. Their computer went to sleep, so they don’t bother logging out.

The second employee for the day comes into the workstation. They turn the computer on and, much to their chagrin, find it’s already on. It’s also still actively running a program with proprietary information the employee was not supposed to see.

It’s hard to ignore this information when the employee has to close out the program and then log out.

Potential Solution: Create a Policy about Logging out of Programs and Maintaining Private Data for Each Employee

Since employees won’t share workstations anymore, this is another of those issues that can almost solve itself. That said, it’s never a bad idea to remind employees that they should always log out of whatever programs they were using before the day is done. This goes back to leaving things as they found them, one cardinal rule of hot desking.

If the problem repeats itself, you may want to add to your company handbook the importance of not sharing proprietary information with other employees. If a staff member sees private data that they’re not supposed to, this could cause problems for you. They could tell someone else about what they saw, spreading data that’s supposed to be limited to a few employees.

In the worst-case scenario, a disgruntled employee can leak proprietary information, which would cause undue hardships on your company. Avoid such a situation by adding a policy in your company handbook about proprietary data and enforcing it if necessary.

The Problem: Employees Feel Unhappy or Excluded by Hot Desking

We also have to talk about feelings from the employee side of things. If your staff didn’t get a say in whether your office would start hot desking, they could be unhappy with this turn of events. Those feelings can become magnified now that we’re living in pandemic times.

If you choose to bring a handful of employees back to the office but leave some or most doing remote work, that could create feelings of exclusion. The remote employees may wonder why they’re not allowed back to the office and feel like you’re picking favorites.

Potential Solution: Ask for and Utilize Employee Feedback

These are very valid risks that can impact your company, so you must have a plan. The best way to gauge your employee satisfaction is to send out a survey or otherwise ask for written feedback. You can request this remain anonymous if you prefer.

Comb through the feedback, reading each response, and then gauge how your employees feel as a whole. Are more people happy than unhappy? Then you may continue as you are. If it’s the other way around, then you might request that your employees send in suggestions for how you can run your office in a way that everyone feels safe, heard, and validated.

Be willing to use the feedback you receive in a productive fashion, creating an environment most staff is happy to work in.

Related Questions

What are the steps of a risk assessment?

A risk assessment should have five steps or stages. These are as follows:

1. Determine what your hazards or risks are.

2. Confirm who may be at risk from these hazards.

3. Evaluate the threat level of each risk and how you can combat/eliminate it.

4. Keep records of the process.

5. Review the data to ensure your company is growing for the better after the risk assessment.

What are the three types of risk?

Not all risks in a risk assessment are necessarily weighed the same. Your business might incur financial risks, non-business risks, or business risks.

Financial risks include legal, operational, liquidity, credit, and market risks. Any non-business risks are those created by imbalances in economic or political spheres. Finally, business risks are those related to your company, such as hot desking.

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