Hot Desking vs. Agile Working: What’s the Difference?


Throughout our hot-deskingOpens in a new tab. articles, we’ve framed an office’s options as either embracing hot-desking or sticking with more traditional office setup, no in-betweens. What if we told you there was another office model, and it could be one you’re interested in trying? It’s known as agile working. What is this, and how is it different than hot desking?

Agile working relies on a workplace model in which employees can work how and where they want, typically doing remote work for greater flexibility. The primary way it differs from hot-desking is the lack of being in an office. 

Curious to learn more about agile working to determine if it might be right for your company? Then this is the article for you. In it, we’ll define agile working, show how it differs from hot-desking, and give you some tips for choosing one or the other for your office going forward. You won’t want to miss it!

What Is Hot Desking?

A hot desking setup is one in which employees are scheduled on shifts to come to the office to increase office space efficiency. When employees are in the building, they typically share a workstation or desk. The employees who are not in the office will often work remotely, such as from home, a café, or anywhere. 

Hot desking makes better use of space, especially if you’re in a small office that doesn’t have a lot of room to move around. Rather than try to cram 20, even 30 employees in an office at the same time, perhaps 10 to 15 people will work in the office with the remaining employees wrking remotely. These employees might not even necessarily be in the office at the same time.

Even if you had a bigger office, through hot-desking, you might be able to decrease office space, and lowering real estate cost. There are also promises that hot desking could promote greater collaboration and bonding between employees as they work closer in proximity.

Through shrinking the office and reducing your carbon footprint (not to mention your expenses) with fewer people in the office, employers can lower space demand up to 30 percent through hot-desking. 

That said, hot desking does not work for every company. If you have a small business with 30 employees or under, then you may have success with hot desking. The same is true if some of your employees already work remotely, or they’re often out of the office traveling for work. 

5 Challenges with Hot-Desking:

1. Productivity can suffer if employees have never worked remotely or mostly unsupervised and decide to slack off 

2. Employees may have issues sharing close space with another colleague

3. Issues can go unresolved if an employee can’t reach the right party because they’re not in the office

4. The workplace can get messy without enforceable rules about hygiene and cleanliness 

5. Employee training and onboarding can take much longer or fail midway through if all the right staff members aren’t in the office for the entirety of the training 

What Is Agile Working?

“Agile working is a way of working in which an organization empowers its people to work where, when and how they choose–with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints–to optimize their performance and deliver ‘best in class’ value and customer service” ENEI.

In other words, when your office institutes agile working, you’re giving all your employees the freedom to work remotely should they so choose. Agile working exists on the premise that “work is an activity we do, rather than a place we go.” If employees feel like they do the best work from the comfort of their home or a café rather than the office, then you’d offer them that option. If they’d rather work in the office, they can do that, too.

Some people confuse agile working with flexible workingOpens in a new tab., but the two aren’t the same. With flexible working, there is not necessarily a nine-to-five schedule. Instead, employees can set their schedule around the hours that are most productive for them, allowing employees to get the most work done.

Agile working promises more freedom with where you work while flexible working lets employees choose when they work. That’s the main difference between the two.

It’s believed that agile working can benefit both employers and employees in many ways. Your office staff feels like you trust them in giving them more autonomy so that they may do better work as a result. 

Also, this added control allows employees to incorporate other elements into their lives that matter most to them, such as exercise, spending time outdoors, being with loved ones or pets, and eating healthier. When your employees can do this and still get their work done to your satisfaction, their happiness goes up, which can reduce employee turnover. Also, your staff is healthier, meaning they take fewer sick days.

Employees also save money on gas, lunches out, etc. since they’re not commuting every day. 

On the employer side of the equation, there’s the abovementioned reduction in turnover and absenteeism. Agile working may also lead to better performance, more innovation, and a higher rate of productivity. You save money on parking, fuel, property costs, and office space as well. 

Since your employees work remotelyOpens in a new tab., if you have bad weather like a snowstorm in your area, there’s no risk that your staff can’t get their jobs done. They can just turn on their computer at home and continue working. This means fewer lost office days and again, more productivity. 

Also very important is how your company can reduce its carbon footprint, something that should be at the top of any priority list today.  

How Are Hot Desking and Agile Working Different?

While hot desking and agile working shares a lot of features and concepts, they are not the same workplace model. Here are some noteworthy differences between the two. 

Hot Desking Is Not Completely Remote Work

The primary difference between hot-desking and agile working is where remote work fits into the equation. As we discussed in the last section, with agile working, your staff may work from home or elsewhere 100 percent of the time. They can come into the office, but it’s not guaranteed, nor is it necessary.

When employees begin hot-desking, they will work remotely when they’re not scheduled to be in the office. They may split their time 50-50 or 60-40, even 70-30 between being in and outside of the workplace. Hot desking is not centered around working remotely, as we’ve established. Mostly, it’s about desk-sharing, and to share a desk, your staff must be in the office.  

There’s More of a Benefit for Employers Than Employees with Hot Desking

While both hot-desking and agile working are advantageous in many ways, the latter has more benefits for employees. In a hot desk office, the perks are more for the employer, such as saving money and potentially improving productivity. 

Employees may want to engage in agile working, whereas, with hot-desking, it’s not necessarily something they desire. As we’ve said, in some offices, employees do thrive working beside one another in such proximity. They also do well in a remote office setup. This won’t be the case for all companies, though, which makes hot desking feel more like a burden or a punishment than anything else sometimes. 

Employees May Have Less Freedom with Hot Desking 

There’s also freedom, or a lack thereof, as a big difference between hot-desking and agile working. As an agile worker, you can choose where you want to work every day. Yes, you have standard working hours like you would at an office, but if you’re going to stay home and work in your pajamas, you can. If you want to venture out to your local Starbucks and stay there all day, there’s no one telling you no. You could even rent a coworking space if you wish. 

With hot-desking, since you’re only working remotely, maybe half the time you would with the agile working model (sometimes even less than that), you lose just as much freedom. There’s no sense in getting too comfy with your remote working setup when you know you’ll have to abandon it the next day to work in the office on a shift. 

How to Decide Between Agile Working or Hot Desking for Your Business

You may have been thinking exclusively about hot desking for your company, but now that you’ve read about agile working, you wonder if this would be the better option. Both working models can be effective for a company, but to determine which is better for you, we recommend trying them out.

You should institute a multi-month trial for hot-desking, then agile working, or vice-versa. We recommend several months because 30 days might not be long enough to realize both the benefits and issues that can come with either hot-desking or agile working.

Before initiating such large-scale changes, you want to have a companywide meeting and discuss what your plans are. Create temporary but working rulebooks that apply to hot-desking and then agile working. Be available to answer the multitude of questions that will inevitably come your way. 

To gauge how successful both trials are, you should seriously consider sending out a customer satisfaction survey before starting the hot-desking and then another one once the trial wraps up. Do the same when attempting agile working. You want these surveys to be as anonymous as possible so employees can be truthful and detailed in their responses. 

Once both trials complete, you need to do some comparison work. Did you get more employee complaints and concerns before beginning hot-desking, during hot-desking, before agile working, or during agile working?

Review the survey replies as well. Does employee satisfaction skew higher when you instituted hot desking? Maybe agile working saw happier employees instead.

There’s always the possibility that your employees don’t necessarily like hot-desking nor agile working. If so, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means that, for your staff, the traditional office setup is best. 

Related Questions 

How do you promote agile working?

If you’ve decided based on the trial that agile working suits your workplace culture better, how do you promote this new working model among your staff?

Here are some tricks to try:

– Be upfront about why you want to move towards agile working. Is it to save money, improve employee satisfaction, or for an entirely different reason? Don’t keep employees in the dark before switching to something big like this. 

– Identify the benefits and explain them in depth. This may get employees on-board with agile working when they weren’t before.

– Have a plan. You don’t just want to cut employees loose on their own. Instead, whether it’s skills training, equipment, or something else, you want to set the staff up for success.

Does agile working work? 

Whenever you examine any model like agile working, flexible working, or hot-desking, there are always success stories and failures. The tales of failure can admittedly outweigh the successes.  

While agile working can work, it will depend on your office. You do want to be aware of and avoid these pitfalls:

– Some employees will hate such a significant change and not be willing to go along with it.

– In some instances, turf wars can break out.

– Employees might feel under-managed or even completely unmanaged, reducing their productivity in the process. 

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