How to Cope with Hot Desking

It’s a new year and we’re still wrestling with the COVID-19 pandemic, so you weren’t all that surprised when your manager mentioned wanting to make some changes around the office. What did catch you by surprise was their initiation of hot desking. There are some elements of this office model that seem okay, but many more do not. How do you cope?

Here are some suggestions for coping with hot desking:

• Ask your manager to allow you to personalize your space
• Be upfront if you don’t want to work with somebody
• Encourage a desk reservation system
• Request more workspace variety
• Give feedback and encourage your coworkers to do the same
• Be willing to walk away if it’s just not working

In this helpful guide, we’ll elaborate further on the above coping mechanisms for hot desking. Hopefully, through a combination of one or more of these tips, you’ll be able to find a working balance in your office even if you are stuck hot desking for now.

6 Methods for Coping with Hot Desking

1. Request Some Desk Personalization

You feel a bit blindsided by this whole jumping headfirst into hot desking thing. Your company had ended the year with most of you working from home, and now there are a few of you in the office at a time and in specific workspaces.

Since your desks shift constantly as part of the hot desking office model, matters can get a little confusing. You never know where you’re going to sit when you go to work, and that’s something you’ll want to change (more on this a little later). You also hate how the workspaces have been stripped of any and all personality.

The workspace you’re using today isn’t yours forever, that’s true. While it doesn’t make sense to unpack all your personal effects, you can ask your manager if you’re allowed to put out a few items that make the space feel a bit more like yours.

Whether it’s a framed photo of the family or a desk trinket, if it makes you smile, it’s important!

Your manager should think your happiness is important too. Not only to reduce employee turnover, but to increase productivity around the office as well. This MediumOpens in a new tab. article from 2017 cites a study published in a book by Daniel Akst called Temptation: Finding Self-Control in an Age of Excess.

The study involved school students and their willingness to pay attention. Here’s an excerpt that’s especially interesting: “Procrastination is a mood-management technique, albeit…a shortsighted one….Far and away the most procrastination occurred among the bad-mood students who believed their mood could be changed and who had access to fun distractions. This group spent nearly 14 of their 15 minutes of prep time goofing off! Students who believed their bad mood was frozen (those who were not given a supposedly mood-lifting candle) spent less than 6 minutes goofing off. (Even the good-mood students procrastinated slightly more if they believed their mood could be altered).”

Now, from the perspective of a manager, personal effects are not all that can influence an employee’s mood. Their work/life balance, personal relationships, diet, nutrition, sleep levels, and mental health can affect their happiness too. Still, anything small can help when it comes to coping with hot desking and thus should not be discounted.

2. Make Your Preferences Clear

This is the third time this week you’ve been paired with the coworker who spends all day making personal phone calls. Maybe it’s someone who types loudly and it drives you crazy. Perhaps you’re working with a colleague who spends their time online shopping or playing games on their phone rather than getting anything done.

Due to the proximity that hot desking demands, you have to become a little more understanding of other people’s habits. These traits may not have bothered you before because you had your own desk and the coworker theirs, but those days are over for now. The importance of workspace zones is important, which is why we’ll talk about it shortly (so keep reading!).

There are differences between distracting traits and those you can tune out though. Thus, you might want to let your manager know how you feel about sharing your desk with Chatty Kathy or Internet Shopping Steve. Since hot desking setups are flexible and some employees are remote while others are in the office, your manager should be able to easily enough shift seats so you don’t have to work with that person.

That said, this is a privilege, so don’t abuse it. It’s one thing if your coworker is preventing you from concentrating with their loud typing or constant conversations. It’s another thing entirely to want to switch seats because you don’t get along with them. That probably won’t fly with your manager more than once, as it very well shouldn’t!

Everyone has someone (or several people) at the office that rubs them the wrong way. If you have to work near them for a day or a week, know that at least with hot desking, the musical chairs system won’t have you desk-sharing with that same person again for a while.

3. Encourage a Desk Reservation System

In 2019, facility management software company iOfficeOpens in a new tab. published a piece on employees’ biggest complaints about hot desking. The top gripe? Seating difficulties.

This should come as no surprise if you’ve read this blog and our ongoing hot desking series. A handful of surveys taken among hot desking offices have found that employees dislike the musical chairs game for a multitude of reasons.

Some don’t appreciate how they’re separated from employees they like being around. Most don’t prefer the stress of having to find a seat each time they go to work.

Imagine this. You’re running late for work because your alarm didn’t go off or you spilled your bowl of cereal all over the kitchen floor and you had to mop up the mess. You’re already extremely frazzled, then you get into work and remember that you have to pick a place to sit.

Except since you arrived 20 minutes late, almost all the seats are already taken. You might have to work in some remote corner or with a coworker you’re not really fond of because hey, that’s all you could find available at that time.

Here’s another very likely scenario with a hot desking office model. Since the work is shift-based, if an employee is scheduled for a later morning shift or an early afternoon one, they don’t get their first pick of seats either, far from it. It’s like when someone brings donuts to work but you find out about it last. Everyone has already descended on the good stuff and you get maybe that stale cruller or some crumbs.

We already talked about the importance of mood when it comes to productivity. Having a stressful start to your day like in the above scenarios can put a black cloud over your head that you can’t shake off. The last thing you’ll feel like doing is getting that big project done, so you procrastinate and procrastinate.

These types of situations are all very avoidable with a seating reservation system. If your manager instituted such a system, then all employees could log in on a certain day and time, like Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. You’d then reserve your seats for the week on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Since everyone gets access to the reservation system at the same time, they all get a fair crack at where they sit. This should lead to far fewer complaints about seating arrangements in the future. Is it still best to have a permanent desk or cubicle that’s exclusively yours? Yes, at least in your humble opinion. Even still, this is better than nothing, so if your manager is willing to offer scheduled seating, take it.

4. Ask for Workspace Variety

A sea of cubicles is extremely depressing, but so is a cabal of desks for employees to share. The best hot desking offices are ones where you have spaces you can get away to besides your temporary workspace.

For instance, if you need to work with someone who’s not at your desk, you could retreat to a collaboration space. If you’re part of a sales team or marketing team, these spaces come in handy, as you can brainstorm and plan with others in your department who you may be separated from.

Open kitchens and cafés allow you to spark conversations with colleagues that you might otherwise not have made much contact with. Talking to someone else outside of your seatmate can be a refreshing change.

For those meetings that spring up out of the blue, huddle rooms are a smart addition. These private rooms allow for meetings with two individuals or even small groups. The huddle room may have a conference table or even a few desks to encourage productivity.

Most crucial are solitude spaces, of which several should be available around the office. A solitude space is a part of the building for one where you can go to decompress for a few minutes. If your coworker is getting on your nerves but your manager won’t switch you, you can take a few deep breaths and get yourself centered in a solitude space.

Hot desking is all about reducing office space, so your manager might be reluctant to designate more room across the building for the above uses. Do be prepared for that.

5. Give Plenty of Feedback Along the Way (and Ask Your Colleagues to Do the Same)

Good or bad, you’re going to have a lot to say about hot desking in your office. At the beginning, you might have mountains of feedback, and that will also be true as your manager institutes further changes.

Any manager worth their salt should give you and your fellow colleagues the opportunity to share your feedback through anonymous surveys or even one-on-one meetings. Please make sure you take advantage of these feedback opportunities, as they’re extraordinarily valuable. After all, if your manager doesn’t know what to change, then everything will continue on as it’s been.

If there’s a certain aspect of hot desking that you can’t stand and you know a few employees feel the same way, you might all go in together to discuss the matter with your manager. Sometimes a manager can discount a complaint if only one or two people have it. There’s power in numbers though, and being confronted by four employees about the same issue will definitely make your manager have to at least consider it.  

Keep in mind that one conversation about the issue might not be enough. Once you talk to your manager and they say they’ll do something about the problem, check in with them a few weeks later. Don’t be accusatory, just say something like, “hey, how’s that issue going that we talked about a few weeks ago? Any progress on that?”

If your manager only said they’d do something to placate you, your reminding them might light a fire under them so they actually get started. Even if the process is slow-going, a progress report like this shows that your manager is taking this seriously and intends to make a change.

6. Know When to Walk Away

You’ve long since given up hope that your manager is going to abandon the hot desking model. They’re stuck to it like glue even though employee complaints are seemingly nonstop. If it’s not you who’s bringing something up, it’s your colleagues. Your manager duly notes the complaints and says they’ll address the issue, but nothing has changed.

Despite your suggestions, including the ones we recommended in this article, your manager seems set on doing things their way. That’s their decision at the end of the day, but it doesn’t mean you have to go along for the ride.

If you’ve given it several months and coping is all you’re doing, not adapting and certainly not thriving, then it’s time to seriously think about your long-term future with this company. The incompatibility you’re facing is a good enough reason to exit your current role should you decide that’s the best decision for you.

We’d suggest that before you quit that ideally you have another job lined up. That will keep you financially stable. If you can’t do that, then make sure you have at least three months of your average monthly revenue saved up. It’s better if you have six months’ worth of income, but that’s not always possible.

The money you have saved should be enough to cover your living expenses for three to six months. You also need a light cushion for any potential emergencies. At this point, you can quit and take your time finding a job that’s better for you than this one.

Related Questions

What Is a Clean Desk Policy?

A clean desk policy might be part of your manager’s new hot desking plan. The policy dictates that everyone who uses desks and workspaces around the office must clean them of all personal effects at the end of every working day. Besides personal items, you’re expected to tidy up after yourself by removing trash, charging cords, and other signs that you used the desk.

Hot desking and the clean desk policy are not necessarily synonymous with one another. Offices that don’t use hot desking may have a clean desk policy just for better cleanliness around the building.

How Many Square Feet Do You Need Per Employee?

An office, even one that follows the hot desking model, must have the appropriate amount of space from one employee to another. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these space requirements may be lengthened even further.

On average, you should afford 125 to 225 square feet of space from one person to another. This should constitute usable space, or that which doesn’t include a wall or other obstructions.

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