At a glance
By Beth Wallace
In the second quarter of 2023, only 30 per cent of global office space was used by workers, according to The XY Sense Workplace Utilization Index. In Australia, a third of workstations remain empty.
“If we’re looking at it from a real estate and operational cost perspective, it isn’t a decision of whether or not companies should do it, but how they can make it work,” he says.
Some workers lament the loss of structure and familiarity associated with hot-desking, while others are concerned about germ sharing.
“Shared desking gives you an opportunity to move around the office, choosing different spaces based on how you are feeling for the day, what the task is, or your preferred working style.”
Here are seven tips for more effective hot-desking, according to the experts.
1. Communicate the why of hot-desking
Employers should be clear about why they are introducing a hot-desking policy – even providing staff with data on occupancy rates and sharing ratios. This can help workers to embrace the move, Marsden says.
“It becomes a change management process – supporting people to understand why you are doing it, how it is going to benefit them, and some of the pros and cons. Be honest and transparent.”
2. Create fit-for-purpose spaces
What kind of work is being performed in the office? If employees are using their time onsite to attend meetings or undertake teamwork, the floor plan should cater for this, with a variety of breakout spaces and meeting rooms.
“Companies need to make sure they are providing the right types and styles of spaces to support the ways that people need to work,” Marsden says.
3. Enable work productivity
Employers should supply the same high-quality workstations throughout the office. Ideally, they will feature electronic sit/stand capability, an ergonomic chair, a dual-monitor screen and internet connectivity, recommends Marsden.
“That makes a big difference to someone’s ability to work really quickly,” she says. “Make it as frictionless as possible and minimise any room for user or technology error.”
Cowdroy adds that, for their part, employees can minimise time wastage by having the necessary tools on-hand.
“If you don’t like the keyboard your employer provides, bring your own,” he suggests. “Some people may need to put a bit of effort into building their ‘travelling kit’ for work.”
A workplace management solution, such as a hot-desking app, can also increase productivity – saving staff the time and trouble of finding a workstation once they arrive in the office.
Individuals or teams can use hot-desking software to book a workspace in advance, which is particularly helpful if colleagues need to work – and therefore sit – together, says Robert Wilkinson, chief experience officer at OfficeMaps.
“You may need something to manage the area for you, especially if you have far fewer workspaces than employees,” he says.
4. Accommodate diverse workplace needs
When every workstation is well-resourced from an operational and ergonomic perspective, most staff will be catered for.
However, for workers that do require a different set-up, due to factors such as mobility issues or specific technology requirements, Marsden suggests employers seek a solution that does not involve giving them exclusive use of a desk, as this can cause tension within teams.
“Often unique requests can be addressed with different technology, such as a better-quality laptop, or a process change,” she says.
5. Facilitate privacy and peace
Since the primary purpose of working onsite is often to meet with teams, many companies are creating collaborative work areas. It’s also important to offer privacy, however.
In addition to establishing quiet areas for independent work, employers can install lockers and even small “drop-in” spaces for phone or video calls.
“I’ve seen some offices with phone booths installed – a stand-up soundproof space, about one metre square, with a shelf for your laptop at standing height,” Cowdroy says.
“This allows the individual to focus, but also stops them disturbing anyone else. That’s part of the hot-desking matrix: having an awareness of your impact on others.”
6. Apply hot-desking etiquette rules
Establishing hot-desking guidelines can reduce confusion and nurture a harmonious and productive environment.
Some organisations enforce a clean-desk policy, whereby staff clear their possessions at the end of each day. Others encourage intra-team social connections by prompting workers to mix up their seating arrangements.
Seeking input from employees around hot-desking etiquette will encourage them to invest in the change, Wilkinson says.
“The companies that do hot-desking well spend quite a bit of time beforehand consulting with employees, so everyone gets to have a say,” he adds.
7. Be willing to experiment
Both workers and employers should approach hot-desking with an open mind, advises Cowdroy.
“Part of the individual’s success with hot-desking is to try different approaches,” he says. “Sit at different desks, or near different people. Or add something to your space to make it feel like [it’s] yours for the day, to help you feel settled.”
If elements of hot-desking are not working, he urges employers to be open to change.
“Listen to your people and ask for feedback,” Cowdroy says. “Employers have to be just as flexible and willing to change as employees.”