Will hot desking be a workspace trend in the future?
Far from bringing about the end of hot desking, the post-pandemic period might make shared, flexible workspaces more important than ever.
Hot desking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The scramble to get a good spot, the depersonalised space and the lack of routine has in the past made it a less-than-ideal experience for some workers. But anyone hoping that COVID-19’s social distancing and cleaning protocols would bring about hot desking’s demise should think again.
As office spaces evolve in the new normal, the practice of sharing desks may become more widespread than ever, says Ian Worthy, Principal of Strategy at global office-design firm Unispace.
It’s not just a question of some desks being temporarily put out of action to meet social distancing regulations; offices are about to become different types of spaces entirely.
“There’s going to be a dramatic shift in how people will work in the future,” says Worthy. “Our research suggests up to 90 per cent of people want to continue working from home at least one or two days a week.
“With this new need for flexibility, it’s going to be hard for organisations to give people their own dedicated place to work, given there’s not going to be the same capacity of people in the office.
“Our research shows that people get that. Organisations have a willingness to embrace this concept of working remotely, and people understand they’re not going to come back to work to a dedicated space.
A desk for a day
While coronavirus remains in the community, many people will be nervous to return to work. They might potentially be even more nervous about using a desk someone else has recently occupied.
Fortunately, there are ways of minimising any health risks associated with hot-desking and tackling some of the things people don’t like about it.
Unispace is advocating a “desk for the day” policy, in which people book their desk ahead, and have exclusive use of it for a whole day. Strict cleaning protocols should be put in place, as well as clear signage indicating whether a desk is in use, free, or needs cleaning.
“We think this is a really important development post-COVID,” explains Worthy. “When someone gets to a work point, they know it’s had a deep clean overnight. Reserving a desk also sits more comfortably with people than a random scramble for space. It’s an emotional thing.”
Technology can also provide reassurance. “There are some really smart technologies being deployed to give people a sense of safety around shared environments,” says Worthy.
Smart meters, for example, can indicate a desk’s status as well as keep a record of usage and cleaning.
“It’s a disc, with a series of lights on it, that sits on a desk,” says Worthy. “You can reserve your desk prior to arriving at work. When you get to that work point, you swipe your card and that light goes red to say the desk is in use. If you’re finished for the day, you swipe and release the desk, but instead of it resetting and saying it’s available, it says ‘I need to be cleaned’. A cleaner cleans the desk and resets it with their card, and then someone else can use it.”
Unfamiliar routines, revived office spaces?
In the longer term, the question of dedicated versus shared desks may become irrelevant. As offices evolve, sitting at a desk may not even be part of someone’s day.
“You have to consider why people are going to come back into the office,” says Worthy. “One beneficial aspect of this whole concept of mobility and remoteness is that individuals have discovered they can work better independently on focused work.”
Unispace research across 237 organisations worldwide backs this up: 74 per cent of employees reported an improved ability to focus and be productive when working from home.
“People may not come back into the office just to do emails all day,” says Worthy. “They’ll come back to do different things to what they can do at home. We’ve found that people are returning to the office to do team-based activities, collaboration learning and be immersed in the social aspects of the workplace. People won’t come back in just to work individually.”
Worthy expects future office designs will “champion the idea of people working together”. This means fewer desks and more activity-based collaboration spaces, huddle spaces, open and closed meeting spaces, whiteboard rooms and theatrettes.
Perhaps these highly sociable workspaces and shared desks will make going to the office ‘hot’ once again.