Addressing the Return to Office Concerns of Hotelling & Hot-Desking

As things return to the new normal, many companies are beginning to embrace a flexible working schedule. Companies are implementing hybrid working conditions that can better meet their employees’ needs while reaping the organization’s financial benefits – namely, savings on office space.

With hybrid work, companies no longer need a desk for every worker. Instead, fewer desks are shared by multiple people depending on when they come into the office during the week. This creates an open office layout and also introduces the concept of hotelling and hot-desking into the organization. The remaining office space can be turned into meeting or collaborative spaces or relinquishing them entirely. Having an “open office” layout can help facilitate collaboration and team building, providing employees with the option of choosing where they want to work in the office.  

To help us define and better understand the true meaning behind hotelling and hot-desking, we spoke to Adrienne Boyd, Senior Program Specialist at UrbanTrans – a woman-owned and operated transportation planning and behaviour change firm. UrbanTrans specializes in transportation demand management (TDM) with a mission to innovate transportation.

What’s the Difference between Hot-Desking & Hotelling?

Many people often use the terms “hot-desking” and “hotelling” interchangeably, but they are completely different.

Hot-desking is when employees find and work at any available working space when they arrive at the office. The open seat is determined on a first-come, first-serve basis. It is centralized on space maximization and being very flexible to the ever-changing needs of the organization.

Hotelling requires reserving a desk in advance through a booking system and is a far more widespread use for companies in general due to its convenience of utilizing the space they need and reserving it in advance.

Addressing Hot-Desking Concerns

In helping organizations prepare their transition into the office and transforming their workplaces, we are debunking four major concerns surrounding hot-desking with the help of Adrienne. By addressing these misconceptions with actual results and successful case studies, we hope it can help corporations implement hot-desking successfully.

Concern: “I won’t be able to find a desk”

This is a huge concern for people coming back to the office, especially those who started their jobs during the pandemic because they do not know the office layout. For others, the office configuration may have changed due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, which may prompt similar concerns.

Some form of booking system and knowing where to go is crucial in ensuring people come back feeling safe and confident while welcoming their return to the office.

As there may be a need for social distancing still, companies can set a capacity limit ensuring that there are enough spaces for the employees that will be in the office. Companies can set up a simple Google Calendar where employees can “sign-in” for the day that they will be on site. These apps usually show you who else is in the office at the same time. Besides, knowing who you will be with for the day provides a sense of assurance, whether you’ll be sitting with your team or someone else from another department.

Concern: “I won’t get a good seat”

Hot-desking can feel like trying to vie for limited resources. In the absence of assigned seating, there might be higher demand – and possibly conflicts – over who gets the more desirable seats (e.g., seats near a window).

To avoid this, companies should implement hot-desking for those who seldom come into the office (less than three days a week). Employees who frequently visit the office may not be great candidates for people who need to find a hot-desk every single day. They should have assigned desks, especially if they require an enclosed space to do confidential paperwork.

Concern: “I won’t have anywhere to put my stuff”

Having to bring all of your work equipment with you every time you switch desks can be inconvenient. It feels like you’re working in a library where there is no “home” for your things.

To overcome this challenge, organizations should have storage spaces for their employees and those who are not frequently on site.

The best hot-desking office design includes designated spaces where employees can leave their items or even store their office equipment at the desk (e.g., a drawer). Another great option is a locker or a cubby area to leave their coats, bags, and miscellaneous work items.

Hot-desking and hotelling allow organizations to have these kinds of flexible spaces and does not mean that the entire office space needs to be revamped or scrubbed clean of any personal items.

Concern: “I’ll be too far from my team members”

Being physically distant from the rest of your team is a common concern for hot-desking, especially for new employees in a larger organization looking to form connections with their team.

Alternatively, companies can specify which areas or floors that certain departments should work in to minimize the possibilities of not finding your teammates on any given day.  

On the other hand, with hot-desking, employees can socialize with employees from other teams, which increases communication between different departments.

How to Improve Hotelling & Hot-Desking?

Hotelling is often a part of our everyday lives in the office, from booking conference rooms and collaborative spaces. Now it would just mean extending it to the workspace as well with hotelling and hot-desking.

Most of these concerns addressed early on can be alleviated through integrating apps and software for booking workspaces. For larger companies, apps like Skedda provide a map-based reservation system across different floors in the office. Employees can check out the floor plan in real-time and even look for their coworkers if permission is allowed. With the right tools, the transition to hotelling and hot-desking will be a breeze.

It is also possible to combine hotelling and hot-desking in the same office. Having a hot-desking space in an area surrounded by hotelling allows employees to choose between different spaces. The company can set up various areas depending on the activities, whether team building or working alone. Incorporating hot-desking and/or hotelling does not mean companies should eliminate fixed seating but offer a variety of spaces that can allow for both work and more cross-department communication and networking, which are critical for building office culture.

Additionally, it is vital to accommodate individual needs in the workplace regardless of whether hotelling and hot-desking are in the picture. Some employers think it can be challenging to manage accommodation since spaces are used in an ever-changing manner. However, arranging a group of workstations that can be adapted for any employee can be done efficiently through an app like Yarooms, where employees can search for a desk that meets their unique needs.

Having employees personalize their workspace in a way that suits them by providing accessible office equipment such as adjustable desks and armrests, lumbar support and ergonomic chairs is crucial in their health and well-being and provides a sense of ownership.

Ultimately, companies should aim to maximize their office space as this is a more sustainable option while balancing their employees’ needs to have more control and certainty over where they work. This can increase employee productivity and satisfaction while still providing flexibility and economic benefits for the organization

Check out Smart Commute’s Return to Work Webinar on hotelling and hot-desking.

Image Credit: Thomas Barwick

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