Pros and cons of hot desking

December 4th, 2019

What is hot desking and why is it so popular?

Hot desking, desk hoteling, free seating – the concept comes in many names. In short, hot desking is an office arrangement where employees have no assigned desk, instead they get to choose where they want to sit.

Compared to a traditional office, workplaces with hot desking have a higher employee-to-desk ratio – i.e. more employees than desks. If you’ve never heard of the concept before it might sound a little strange — if there are more people than desks, wont some people be left standing?

You’ll find the answer to that question and many more below as we take a look at the pros and cons of hot desking.

The Pros and Cons of hot desking

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages with hot desking. Before going all-in on this workplace arrangement, consider carefully whether the pros and cons match your specific company and culture.

With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of hot desking.

The pros of hot desking

The growing popularity of hot desking is a testament to the benefits it can bring to a workplace. Here are some of the main advantages of the office arrangement.

Cost effective

Space – just like time – is money, which means that wasted space is wasted money. Money talks, and companies listen.

For many large offices, it’s not an uncommon situation to have 40-50% of all desks unused most of the time. From the perspective of an employee, this might not seem like a big problem. But from the perspective of the Corporate Real Estate (CRE) department, this is equal to paying for something that you only use half the time. For most companies real estate is the second largest expense after payroll, which means this waste of resources can have a significant negative impact on the bottom-line.

Hot desking allows companies to house more people in the same space compared to a traditional office setup. The resources that are saved on space can be spent on other more profitable projects and investments, which makes hot desking particularly attractive to large companies.

Tailors to flexible and mobile workers

In companies with a larger share of flexible and mobile workers, the desk utilization rate (the rate of used vs unused desks) tends to be even lower.

For example in many consultancy firms or other service-heavy companies, it’s not uncommon that many employees spend a day or less per week at the office.

In such a workplace, providing an assigned desk to each and every employee is just not economically sane.

Promotes a collaborative environment

Hot desking promotes a more social and collaborative office culture. In the traditional office environment, teams or deparments are more or less physically sealed off from each other.

A hot desking workplace can help reduce this silo-ization by letting employees of different departments intermigle. When people and ideas interact, new ideas are bound to take hold. An organization where collaboration is encouraged is more likely to tap into the creativity and ingenuity of its workforce.

More effective communication

No email or Slack message can ever replace a face-to-face meeting.

In a traditional workplace arrangement, employees tend to stay at or around their desk all day, resorting to email and instant messaging apps when communicating with fellow coworkers. While instant messaging and video conferencing certainly made intra-organizational communication quicker, it comes at a cost of resolution.

A brief face-to-face meeting is way more effective in terms of communication than a Slack conversation. Because, let’s face it: we’re all human beings who’ve spent the last few hundred thousand years developing our brains to perceive nuances in tone and facial expressions when communicating with our peers. The vast majority of this information is lost-in-translation when we communicate with each other in short, text messages. Even despite the occasional emoji 😉

The open, casual nature of hot desking workplaces lowers the hurdles for employees to have more face-to-face meetings, and in turn more effective communication.

The cons of hot desking

There are always two sides to every story. While hot desking might provide attractive benefits in some areas, it’s important to understand the potential pitfalls of the workplace arrangement.

Not for everyone

While hot desking might be a great fit for certain roles or departments within the company, other types of work might be at a disadvantage in the open and organic hot desking landscape.

As an example, deeper, more analytical work like programming, or work that requires a certain tech setup might be more effective in a traditional setting.

It’s important to remember that hot desking doesn’t need to be a all-or-nothing solution. The hybrid approach, where certain groups of the staff are designated to hot desking, and other deparments have their assigned spaces is quickly becoming the go-to approach for many large corporations.

It might require new IT solutions

It takes more than a policy change to make hot desking work. If you are considering a switch to hot desking, be prepared to invest in IT resources to beat the new challenges that might arise with the free seating.

When switching to hot desking new and previously unknown problems might surface. For example, if everyone can sit where they want, how are employees supposed to find eachother?

>> See how Senion at Work makes it easy-peasy for employees to meet up at work

Another issue might be a race-to-the-bottom where people start arriving earlier and earlier to claim “their” desks. To combat negative spirals like this, consider deploying a system that allows employees to reserve their desired desk a day or two ahead.

Distractions can erode productivity

Distraction is the antithesis of productivity. Collaborative, creative work in teams can benefit from the more organic, informal environment of hot desking. But sitting next to a group of people in the midst of a chaotic brainstorming session can distract even the most focused, patient worker.

If you don’t want to gamble with company productivity, make sure to provide sufficient spaces with reduced audio-visual distractions.

Final notes

The first and most important consideration is whether your current organization would be a good fit with regards to hot desking. If hot desking doesn’t match the work style or corporate culture of your company, it might do more harm than good.

As stated above, there are disadvantages with hot desking. Nevertheless, for many modern companies the benefits tend to outweigh the drawbacks. In the end, hot desking is about bringing people together to increase collaboration, productivity, and creativity.

Looking to improve the utilization of your real estate? In our latest whitepaper we take an in-depth look at some of the drivers of low utilization and what can be done to improve.