Tools & Technologies

Hot-Desking: Good or Bad for Collaboration?

New Zealand’s Stuff website asks whether hot-desking is hot or not?:

Once upon a time, an employee’s desk was a home away from home.

Adorned with paraphernalia of hobbies and interests and obligatory family photos, it was as much a statement of identity as it was a place to perform a job.

But this cosy space is slowly being taken away. Hot-desking is the culprit.

Otherwise known as ‘hotelling’, it’s a practice whereby employees don’t have a permanent place to sit.

Instead, when they arrive at work, they take any seat that’s available. Where they sit today might not be where they sit tomorrow.

It’s a policy that Macquarie Bank introduced two years ago at its head office at Sydney’s Darling Harbour.

They call it ‘activity-based working’, a more palatable expression of the same concept.

The article considers the benefits of hot-desking:
– people don’t work in silos any more. They can choose where to work on any given day.
– It’s good for organizations with part-time workers or lots of mobile staff.

It also considers the evidence against hot-desking (as well as most of the comments):
– It’s not a driver of collaboration, because people can’t communicate as easily.
– People show less respect to the tidiness and cleanliness of shared environments.
– Productivity and motivation are higher when people have their own workplace.

My Comments
1. I’m not a fan of hot-desking, although as the article and some commenters say, it depends on profile of staff and the nature of the work.

2. For organizations with full-time staff members, clear job descriptions, and medium-term to long-term based projects, don’t attempt hot-desking as a way of “promoting collaboration.” The workplace is depersonalized enough already, and this severs the connection people feel to place and associated people. I’d rather see more breakout areas for groups to work together for a few weeks if the nature of the work demanded it, than hot-desking for everyone.

3. What’s your experience or perspective on hot-desking?

Categories: Tools & Technologies

4 replies »

  1. In my experience an office that begins as 100% hot desking is usually not quite there, but not far off. Senior staff, line managers etc. often have a permanent desk or space. ‘Teams’ that hot desk still coagulate although, individually, they may hot desk.
    For some roles, i.e. call centres, it really works. People just slot in and out of desks, plug in the headset, log in and off they go. But, again, line managers usually have the one desk (which they may share with other LMs if shift based but it’s still the ‘LM desk’).
    At another very large organisation that I know of, the idea is that people hot desk, but really they don’t. The number of folders and amount of paperwork they still need (accountants) is still vast, and the principle of moving it all around to hot desk just doesn’t work for that set of people.
    At Macquarie specifically, in their new Darling Park office, a friend who used to work there said it was utter chaos when they moved in. Nobody knew where anyone or anything was (normal in a new office but worsened by hot desking), and the ‘paper free’ dictat also caused problems. Not sure what it’s like now though as that person left soon after. I’m sure some sort of orderly chaos has emerged.
    The worst example of hot desking I’ve seen was in a serviced office complex where one company often had salesmen come in for the day and make them use the communal hot desks (hot hot desks?!) at the far end of the office floor. I always viewed that as the suckiest place to spend a day!
    Another example I recall is a family member who worked from home who would have to go into the office two days a week and he and his colleagues would sit round a big square table with their laptops. Good for keeping in touch I think as it can be lonely at home while everyone else is at work.
    On a similar note, when I moved to Australia I had with me a handful of reports, a PowerBook G4, and an external hard drive, and picked up where I left off (same company) at home in my new Sydney apartment. There was rarely a moment when I rued not having all of the junk I’d acquired (and left behind) at my old desk back in London. I was pleased to establish a proper office six months later though.

  2. Wow, great perspectives Alex. Thanks for sharing. Fully agree re call centres that operate 24×7, but for knowledge workers – I don’t like the idea.