“Hot desking” is a popular design strategy in which employees don’t have permanently assigned desks or cubicles. The thought of giving up an assigned seat may sound radical to many people, but it is actually a natural outcome of shifting workplace needs. The growing popularity of hot desking is spurred partly by advances in personal computing and the agile workplace. At the same time, smart building tech can help make hot desking a less intimidating and more seamless experience.
Hot desking is part of a larger trend towards more activity-based office designs, ones striving to create ideal places for specific activities, instead of limiting employees to one workstation where a person has to do all activities well. Systems are put in place so that employees are empowered and encouraged to move around to different parts of the office during the day. An employee might sit at a desk in an open office, then get up and take a phone call in a privacy pod, work at a standing desk for a couple hours, migrate over to a corner sofa, or head into a meeting room with communal tables. A hot desking workplace might have 200 employees but only 100 desks, with the rest of the space being used for alternative seating arrangements.
Hot desking first became popular at large consulting firms to manage a real estate portfolio full of transient employees. The nature of their work means that consultants are only at their desks when they are not on assignment and corporate real estate teams don't want to pay for square footage that sits empty the majority of the year. Today, at companies predominantly composed of a knowledge-based workforce, people aren't at their assigned seats for more than half the day. Hundreds of real estate utilization studies show that at any given time, only 40% of desks have a human being sitting at them and right-sizing real estate can reduce costs by up to 30%. It's easy to see why rising real estate costs and increasing pressure to use space more efficiently have made hot desking appealing across all industries.
Another big factor in the growing popularity of hot desking is the newfound ability to untether, launching the ensuing debate on work-from-home policies. During the Cubicle Farm era of the '80s, employees worked in offices filled with large filing cabinets and clunky computers. By contrast, a 2015 forecast from International Data Corporation (IDC) projects that the U.S. mobile worker population will account for nearly three-quarters of the total U.S. workforce. Many people can work from anywhere with an internet connection, accessing files from the cloud and speaking with co-workers virtually. In the early 2000s, many companies took advantage of this newfound ability by offering a work-from-home option, effectively cutting down real estate and utilities costs, while offering employees a welcome perk. However, we've also seen a counter-reaction to the work-from-home trend. Notably, the CEO of Yahoo Marissa Mayer created an uproar in 2013 when she banned the company's popular work-from-home policy and spoke about the benefits of cross-collaboration in the office. Today, many real estate teams are placing a greater emphasis on agile "come-to-work" designs that strive to make the modern office place more appealing than home and as productive as (or even more productive than) a traditional office.
At any given time, only 40% of desks have a human being sitting at them and right-sizing real estate can reduce costs by up to 30%.
Hot desking can be a happy compromise providing the flexibility that employees desire, the cost-savings that corporate real estate teams seek, and the opportunities for productive collaboration that CEOs and managers demand. Chances are most offices are already participating in some form of hot desking informally, every time a temporary worker or remote employee stays at an unoccupied desk or every time an employee unplugs and moves to another part of the office.
Smart building tech can help make the process of hot desking easier and improve the quality of options. Numerous platforms now exist specializing in helping employees quickly find and reserve available workstations and rooms, effectively eliminating the awkward moments of wondering whether a desk is occupied or desperately searching for a quiet corner for a conference call. As buildings become more dynamic and responsive to occupant desires, it will also become easier for employees to identify and book work areas that actually meet specific environmental preferences and activity-based needs.