The WorkPlace Collective | The death of hot-desking: is dedicated desking the key to employee engagement?
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The death of hot-desking: is dedicated desking the key to employee engagement?

The death of hot-desking: is dedicated desking the key to employee engagement?

It turns out that hot-desking may not be so crash hot after all. Are dedicated desks the answer to luring employees back to the office to improve colleague collaboration and increase productivity? The WorkPlace Collective examines the advantages and disadvantages of hot-desking and compares this practice with the rebirth of dedicated-desking and assigned seating arrangements.

It is difficult in this post-pandemic era to encourage employees back to the office after years of working from home perks. Attendance mandates are complex to enforce, particularly across large workforces. Any perceived barriers to entry, such as unassigned desks or seating, discourage employees from attending and reduce overall engagement, increasing absenteeism and turnover. Petty disputes arise from competition for workplace resources such as a preferred monitor or a mouse.

Hot desking, also known as hotelling, is the practice of an employee working from a desk or workspace that is not assigned specifically or solely to them. This is in stark contrast to dedicated-desking, whereby employees are assigned their own desk or workstation.  Hot-desking can range from a temporary to semi-permanent arrangement depending on the employer and the industry they operate within.

Hot-desking comes in many forms. One is the hot arrangement in the truest sense, where spaces can be used temporarily throughout the day. Desks are typically replaced by alternatives, such as privacy booths, small huddle rooms, and large open tables or benchtops. Ideally, each day the workspace is left bare for the next user. Chairs may be low or high-set or adjustable depending on the workstation.

Another form of hot-desking is the daily hotel style whereby a first-in, best-dressed approach is used. Employees first to the office get the best (or preferred) office real estate, usually close to a window with a view and natural light. This can lead to equity issues for employees who have caring arrangements such as school drop-offs and start later. Employees argue they are less productive when they are wasting time searching for workstations that suit their needs, such as stand-up desks.

The popular semi-permanent desk arrangement allows workers who have rostered days to share their desk space with another employee who works the alternate days, and thus rotate the seating arrangement. However, in reality this can be difficult to implement and practice. It reduces the flexibility that so many employees crave and value. In terms of ratios, a common ratio for hybrid offices is 1.5 to 2 people per seat. However, seat sharing comes with issues like damaged or malfunctioning chairs.

Employees may raise work health and safety concerns regarding ergonomics. They want the physical and psychological comfort of knowing that their chair and desk will be tailored to their height so that they are not spending time readjusting their monitors and chairs each day. Further, disgruntled employees may express concerns around hygiene because they are unsure whether the previous user cleaned the area properly after use.

The benefits of hot-desking for employers are significant cost-savings through reducing overall office space. It was recently reported that the software company Atlassian only provides 12 desks for its staff members in its Flinders Street location, but provides other incentives for employees to turn up. Indeed, the software company refers to the space as a connection hub rather than an office. This futuristic view presumes that an ‘office’ denotes compulsory attendance, artificial lights, cubicles and endless rows of desks. Atlassian is also betting that full flexibility will attract and retain the best candidates.

The company wants to promote spaces that encourage collaboration and networking, and to create a general feeling of spaciousness. With permission, you can even bring your beloved pooch to work! The new workspace takes up two floors of the Melbourne CBD building. It has a communal kitchen, foosball, table tennis and air hockey tables, as well as large windows with views of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Employee attendance is encouraged further by free snacks and an onsite barista.

Businesses practicing hot-desking can encourage in-person attendance by providing other perks such as state of the art exercise amenities, gyms and yoga and meditation areas. Bike storage facilities are being spruiked as the ultimate perk, where expensive road bicycles used to commute to work can be stored safely and change room facilities provide floor to ceiling lockers, fresh towels, hairdryers, hair straighteners, drycleaning facilities, soap, shampoo, conditioner and even sunscreen.

While this may lure active employees, other employees seek personalised, private spaces. Dedicated desks enable employees to place plants or photos of their family members in their assigned space to remind them why they commute in the first place. To feel engaged and valued, employees expect to be catered to, and they view the provision of a desk not as a perk, but as a standard or basic tool of trade. It can also signal to other employees that they have a certain ‘status’. Ultimately, employees want to feel valued, and in control of their surroundings.

So is hot-desking or dedicated-desking better with regard to attracting and retaining employees? Should businesses enforce mandatory workplace attendance? It depends on your business type, structure and employee retention strategy. Employees who work a hybrid arrangement may be content with hot-desking two days a week, as long as they can continue working from home the remaining days. It’s all about listening to employees’ individual needs and catering to their personalised work preferences.

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