Welcome to the New Office Environment: Hoteling and Hot Desking

One of the driving factors for organizations to adopt telework is to reduce costs.  Specifically, real estate costs.  If employees are mobile or working from home on a frequent basis, then why do they need a permanent office or cubicle?  By consolidating and creating shared workspaces, organizations can reduce overall office space.  This new office environment of unassigned seating is known as hoteling or hot desking.

Although the 2 terms are used synonymously by many people, they are different.  Simply, hoteling is reservation-based unassigned seating, while hot desking is reservation-less unassigned seating.  Some hoteling environments can be a little sophisticated, using kiosks or reservation software to allow employees to select their workspace for the day they spend in the office.  The system may check-in and track employees or route phone service  to a local landline.  Hot desking environments are less formal.  Employees may select any work area on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Hybrid models may also exist, such as allowing employees of a particular department to congregate in the same common area or  “neighborhood.”   

 I personally enjoy an unassigned seating environment and have lived through the transition from traditional office seating to unassigned seating. For organizational leaders that are about to make the move to hoteling or hot desking, I offer the following advice:

  1.  Communicate and allow time to incubate.  Never underestimate an employee’s personal attachment to his or her cubicle space.  In scenarios that would be fodder for Dilbert comic strips, I have witnessed people fight tooth and nail against moving to unassigned seating.  The personal shrines people tend to create in their workspace will not come down easily.  Expect resistance.  Ensure you communicate why the organization is moving to unassigned seating.  Then communicate the reason again.  If possible, set up a portion of the building or floor in the new format so employees can see and experience what they are moving to.  Also, allow enough transition time and a chance for employees to ask questions or familiarize themselves with the new environment.  
  2.  Establish and enforce ground rules.  If you are moving to a hot desking model, establish and communicate rules and policies.  For example, if there are only so many closed offices or conference rooms, how will you prevent employees from squatting all day long and preventing others from using them?  What about employees that intentionally leave personal belongings behind for days at a time in order to preserve their spot?  If someone leaves their seat for a few minutes, does that make their seat open for someone else to take?  Who mediates disputes between shared resources?  Trust me, all of this will come up.  It’s critical that office rules are set up and communicated.  Then, decide who and how the office environment will be monitored and how rules will be enforced. 
  3.  Don’t leave people homeless. When planning for a unassigned seating environment, it’s likely that facility management has done some sort of calculation (usually based on average office occupancy) to figure out how much space is needed.   But what happens when you hit or surpass peak occupancy?  You can’t tell employees there’s no more room in the inn.  In a reservation-based hoteling environment, this could have unintended consequences.  Employees will begin to reserve space “just in case” but never use it, filling floors or buildings with unused spaces. Prevent this with a little pre-planning to ensure there are overflow areas or monitor unused reservations.

 Got a tip for surviving the new office environment? Let me know.  Until then, enjoy your new workspace.

 – Jason

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