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Why workers hate hot-desking - and how you can make it work

Find out why hot-desking often fails, and how you can make sure it doesn't.

When open-plan office designs came back in fashion in the '60s, personal space became sacred.

Without walls, doors and name plaques to differentiate workspaces, invisible territories had to be staked out in other ways: personalised mugs, hand-written labels, novelty stress balls and carefully curated displays of family photographs.

But then one day, out of the blue, hot-desking came along and everything was thrown into disarray. As well as walls, office workers had to ditch their desks, take their personal items home and *gulp*... start to share spaces with their co-workers.

The office turned into a free-for-all. That perfect spot you used to own (by the window, with the air conditioning and the nice pot plant), was suddenly the hottest turf in town. Everyone wanted a slice. Your co-workers were queuing up outside the foyer at 7 am to claim it for the day and you were left with the rubbish desk with the cranky computer right next to the toilets.

Not to mention the dirt. Did people eat lunch off their keyboards?

Before you knew it there was an undercurrent of discontent running through the office. Each morning started with a cacophony of tutting as people tried to adjust computer monitors and chairs to the right height. Passive aggressive post-its plastered the notice board and people were openly starting to complain about the terrible conditions.

Hot-desking: you're probably doing it wrong

You'll know you're doing hot-desking wrong if:

  • Disgruntled employees feel turfed out and undervalued.
  • Germs spread as people share dirty equipment.
  • MSDs result from poorly set up workstations.
  • Business reports lower productivity as people feel less motivated.
  • Morale drops because of the uncomfortable environment.
  • People start to leave.

Hot-desking is not as simple as asking co-workers to share desks. It is a delicate process that usually requires a solid strategy, expert guidance and specialist equipment.

Change Management Practitioner Holly Sorce recently presented a webinar for us about supporting staff through changes like the implementation of hot-desking and agile working. She said:

"We have to ask ourselves, what are the implications on staff when we're asking them to change their ways of thinking and transition to an agile or smart working environment?

"What is it that staff have to go through? We're asking them to break the comfort of the possession culture. That's moving from the sense that 'this is my desk, my pedestal, my cup in my part of the cupboard'. We're asking them to break that and move into a hot-desk scenario with shared locker space where nothing is theirs any more."

Change is often perceived as a threat. It can make people feel unsettled and out of control. To limit the negative impact of change, Holly suggests taking a change management approach. You can find out what this is and how to do it by watching her presentation here:

When done well, the benefits of hot-desking include:

  • Frees up space for other perks, like comfortable break-out areas, fitness spaces and games rooms.
  • Cuts cost of running workstations.
  • Encourages cross-departmental communication and collaboration.
  • Encourages agile working - more movement between environments.
  • Fosters more trust and loyalty.
  • Stimulates health and productivity as staff are no longer rooted to the same spot every day.

Hot-desking: how to do it right

Plan plan plan

As with any business decision, plan every move - the time it'll take, the resources needed and the budget you have. How will you communicate the change to staff? How will you support them and manage their needs? How will you redesign the space? What is your budget? Your time limit? What is your desired outcome and how will you measure its success?

Be open about things

We're all human, we're all creatures of habit and change can be unsettling. Hot-desking takes away the comfort and familiarity of an 'owned' workstation. This is why it's important to be transparent with your staff. They need to be in the know or rumours and negativity will spread. Hold a company-wide meeting, print posters, send emails with plans, ask for feedback and ideas. Getting staff involved creates a more inclusive, democratic culture.

Make hot-desking part of an agile working strategy

Think about the bigger picture. Hot-desking is just one element of agile working. Have you prepared a home-working policy? Are you going to consider sit-stand desks and other physical activity initiatives? Hot-desking only works if you see it as a deeper, holistic change. It is about freeing your workforce, unshackling them from their desks and allowing them to use best judgement when it comes to the day's work environment.

Find out more in our agile working section ›

Get the right equipment

Switching to a hot-desk environment is a good time to evaluate your office equipment. Is it up to the job? Does it comply with DSE regulations? Are chairs and computer monitors easily adjustable? Are they going to fit everybody in the office?

Our 'projects' team specialise in tracking down and installing the perfect equipment for offices. They take into account all factors - budget, looks, ergonomic features and space.

Popular hot-desking equipment includes:

  • Opløft - A sit-stand platform specifically designed to be light and slim (when in flat position) enough to be easily picked up and stored away when not in use, ideal for sharing.
  • Anti-microbial mice and keyboards - Plastic designed to kill germs.
  • Laptop packs - These include a laptop stand and external mouse and keyboard to create a portable ergonomic workstation.
  • Positiv Me - Adjustable, affordable ergonomic chairs ideal for hot-desking.
  • HÅG range - Stylish, highly adjustable ergonomic chairs.

For help choosing the right hot-desking chairs for your office, please download our Invest in Seating brochure ›

Create a variety of spaces

If teams aren't sitting together on a daily basis then it's important to provide plenty of places to hold meetings. Break-out areas with a more relaxed lay-out can be effective. Sofas, armchairs - even swing chairs or hammocks can provide a change of environment that stimulates creativity and collaboration.

Planning well, communicating clearly and using space intelligently is the key to effective hot-desking. We would love to hear about your experience with hot-desking. Do you think it's a good idea? Are you thinking about making the transition? Comment below, or get in touch with our consultants for a chat ›