Tuesday 18th October 2016

As I know well from my day job, the phrase ‘hot desking’ sends shivers through the spine of many, particularly by the employees whose desks inhabit the ‘hot desk’ zone. Luckily, I think the term is now finally on its way out. And, is being replaced by better ways of describing a more intelligent approach to workspace management.

The Decline of Hot Desking

Throughout the past 15-20 years, hot desking was mistakenly embraced by many corporate real estate execs solely as a cost reduction exercise: get people to share usage of a fairly homogeneous set of workspaces. This usually resulted in large open plan rows of chipboard and metal, furnished with a monitor, phone and if you’re lucky, an adjustable chair. There was no real consideration of the people using the space, and what (if any) benefit they would get from relinquishing their hard earned 1000mm wide piece of prime real estate. In most cases, there simply wasn’t anything in it for the hot desk user, so it’s no surprise that the term took up a negative connotation.

Life_After_hot_Desking.jpgEven the word “hot” is itself off-putting, suggesting that whatever work you’re doing better be done quickly. Most managers overlooked the fact that during an average day, many office workers carry out a full range of differing tasks, varying from lively team interaction at one end of the scale, to focused report writing at the other end – the latter needing quiet solace and lack of distractions. By asking staff to book their work slots within standardized office space, a huge opportunity was lost in being able to re-engineer the workplace to better suit people’s needs. By doing so, managers could have increased satisfaction levels and encouraged the ongoing acceptance of no longer needing a permanently assigned desk.

The Rise of Activity Based Working

Enter Activity Based Working (ABW), a powerful concept based around re-engineering the workspace, allowing employees to work where they need to, in a setting that suits exactly what they’re doing. ABW has successfully allowed employees in many companies to vary the space they use during the day. It’s been embraced by leading office interior architects and space planners as a tool that optimizes the use of real estate (i.e. cost reduction) and also gives something positive back to employees: choice and variety of where to work throughout the day.

workplace_utilisation.jpgBut away from the headline grabbing fit-outs, there does seem to be a real emergence of interest in helping staff to share workspaces, rather than having individually assigned desks. For example, at Condeco, we’re seeing a significant increase in the number of queries for desk management software. What’s more, the workplace consultants we work with have noticed a growing interest in “new ways of working” projects, which, at their core, involve workspaces being shared.

Managing Supply and Demand

As a final thought, let’s consider the nature of the hot desking user of the 1990s. In this era, many hot desking programs were introduced into fairly static environments, consisting of large teams of employees. Demand for office space was predictable, as most staff were on full time payroll and coming in daily. Therefore, workplace management was simply a case of switching from 1:1 desk usage over to a lower ratio that takes into account sickness, holiday, meeting time and occasional home working. The adoption of ABW comes at a time when the elastic workforce has emerged and rapidly changed the nature of who is using the office. Part-time workers, contractors and even workers from suppliers and partners take up a large percentage of the workforce. And this will only increase, making it even more ambiguous on who is needing to use space on a daily basis. If space is to continue to be used effectively (with or without ABW), it needs a careful management of supply and demand. For me, this must mean advanced booking and reporting software.

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