“I can’t seem to create that feeling of a ‘second home’ when the employees are constantly asked to book their seats and move from one workstation to another every time they visit the office,” shared with us an HR manager of a tech company recently. This quote underscores the challenge of finding a balance between efficient office space utilization and fostering a sense of connection between employees and their company.
POC provides both hot-desking and permanent seating management solutions. However, despite the hype surrounding hot desking, only 25% of companies have adopted this model. This may be attributed to the fact that employees who spend a significant amount of time at the office desire a sense of ownership over their workspace. They want to have their own desk where they can personalize their environment, display pictures of loved ones, and keep their belongings.
Flexible work arrangements are immensely popular, but most organizations reject the practice of desk booking.
Why is this happening?
Over time, a once-popular principle of the hybrid office has completely lost its popularity: hot desking. Initially, shared desks were considered to be staples of the future office. The idea was that permanent desks were no longer needed, as employees could work from anywhere. To work on-site, hybrid employees were required to book such workstations for the necessary time slot.
This arrangement was intended to support creative teamwork. Additionally, many companies took advantage of the change to downsize their real estate and save costs. What could possibly go wrong?
Hybrid offices but permanent desks
Numerous companies that have adopted the hybrid work model have rejected the hot-desking practice. Desk-sharing seemed to be a natural development of the spirit of the hybrid workplace. If so, why do companies adopt the hybrid model but keep the fixed seating arrangements?
The employees’ perspective
For countless employees, desk sharing is a truly stressful experience. Here are some of their complaints:
· Privacy concerns
Employee privacy is vital: a distraction-free office environment is necessary for efficient work. Indeed, a survey among almost 5000 office workers revealed that most respondents want improved privacy at work. Fifty-five percent of the respondents were willing to trade remote workdays for an assigned office desk.
Integrating shared desks into the hybrid workspace without compromising employee privacy is challenging. Because of this, most office workers prefer permanent desks.
· Technical and organizational difficulties
The need to change desks may create unexpected technical and organizational difficulties. Also, one cannot leave personal items at shared workstations, but some employees need special equipment, such as ergonomic office furniture, keyboards or mice, web cameras, etc. Such issues might cause a waste of valuable in-office time.
· The power of habit
Humans naturally strive for routine, and we rely on habits in every aspect of daily life. For this reason, most employees will book the same desk even if they can choose to sit elsewhere. A permanent desk can create a more predictable workspace for employees and encourage them to come to the office. This explains why employees do not want to give up their favorite place in the office.
Over time, HR managers also began to criticize the practice of hot desking. These are some of their most substantial concerns:
· Protecting the management structure
A hot desking environment is inherently fluid and changeable. People gather in groups as needed and book desks in different areas. Such a lack of structure may endanger the management structure of the company. This risk is especially significant for organizations whose activity relies on a clear hierarchy.
· Avoiding discrimination
Employers strive to create an inclusive work culture. However, standardized hot desks may be an obstacle for employees with special needs. Thus, hot desking may contradict the commitment to workplace accessibility.
In a notable case from the UK, the court ruled that a disabled employee suffered from discrimination because of her employer’s hot desking policy. Due to her condition, she used specialized orthopedic equipment at her workstation. Despite this, her employer ignored her unique needs and refused to reserve the specially adapted desk for her.
· Maintaining employee trust
Desk-sharing may damage the trust between the employer and the employees because employees may perceive the practice as cost-saving at their expense.
For example, when Meta adopted a hot desking policy, it was presented as a “new employee experience”. This caused outrage among its employees. Meta was accused of a lack of transparency and disregard for employees, and HR experts have warned that the move appears to be cost-cutting under the guise of innovation.
· Preserving employees’ sense of belonging
The sense of belonging to the organization is essential for employee engagement and welfare. It depends on colleagues’ appreciation, identification with corporate values, and a feeling of professional accomplishment.
Having a personally assigned desk can contribute significantly to the feeling of belonging because it creates a familiar, welcoming work environment. Employees want to adjust their workstations according to their personal preferences. Many employees like to leave their personal belongings, motivational items, photos, and souvenirs at the office. All of these foster a vital emotional connection. For this reason, companies prefer to keep personally assigned desks even for those employees who come to the office only occasionally.
· Resolving unnecessary conflicts
When there are no permanent workstations, unnecessary conflicts are likely to break out between employees for various reasons, such as increased stress, distractions, and a lack of privacy. This creates additional difficulties for HR managers. A separate personal work environment for each employee can prevent such conflicts.
These considerations deserve to be taken seriously, and it is understandable why so many companies reject hot desking. They realize that employee comfort and personal needs must not be ignored.