Hot Desking: Musical Chairs for Grown-Ups?

5 mins read
hot desking
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Here are just a few of the descriptions I’ve heard in relation to an office trend that’s been high profile in 2018:

Time wasting.  Great.  Lots of variety.  Annoying.  Unsettling.  Fun.  S@*t.

Can you guess what these words are describing? Yes, these are all about hot desking. Recently I took an unofficial poll and spoke to a few people –– those who are, or have been with companies that operate hot desking, including candidates, clients, friends and friends of friends —to uncover their views on the topic. And wow, the response has been varied. Hot desking is a controversial subject.

So what does it actually mean? 

I looked to Google for a useful definition and here it is: ‘Hot desking’ is the practice in an office of allocating desks to workers when they are required or on a rota system, rather than giving each worker their own desk.

Why is it popular?

Companies implement hot desking for many reasons. Cost saving is probably a big one, as it’s widely reported that up to 30% may be removed from business costs through using this system.  Hot desking is also said to help break down work silos, encouraging cross-department communication, and collaboration. In theory, hot desking stimulates health and productivity, as employees are not ‘stuck’ in one place.

Are these positives the reality?

I can’t help but wonder what it’s doing to companies and employees. There is no right or wrong way to structure an office because it’s not going to be the same everywhere, but it has to work for the industry, company and its people. Certainly not everyone I spoke to had great things to say about their hot desking experience. Here are a few more comments from my surveyed contacts, which demonstrate this variety of opinions:

It’s a fun and great way to meet new people!

In a big organisation this makes sense when you think about it. It’s hard to meet everyone when you first start and hot desking could be a great way to get to know more people especially people who are in different departments.

It’s no different because everyone sits where they always sit out of habit.

We don’t hot desk in our office but we have this situation with carparks. We don’t have individual carparks but we park in the same place every day because why not, it’s comfortable.

It’s amazing! A new desk every day, a new spot in the office, it’s varied and exciting.

Some desk positions are better than others ,that is always going to be the case. The morning sun window is the winner for us, it’s a prime position. So you get the opportunity to sit in ‘good’ place every day, what could be better?

It’s time consuming having to pack up and get out all of the things you need each day from a locker.

I estimate it takes about 10 mins at the start and end of the day to unpack and pack your work life into your locker. Then add time to actually locate an available desk in the morning, let’s say it takes you 5 minutes each day. It all adds up. That’s just over 2 hours each week of non-productive time.

It’s unsettling

If you are more introverted at work this could be an unnecessary daily stress for you. For employers, you have to think are you potentially losing high quality staff over something like a floor plan? (You would hope not!)

Impacts on employee experience

I read something the other day that really made me think. The writer expressed the opinion that hot desking is just another way for companies to show that they don’t value their team members. Ouch. It’s a pretty extreme view, yes, but I can see how a person might come to feel that way. I mean, many of us are used to having a desk to call our own. Whether you stick to a minimalist style, or deck it out with your favourite colours, photos and knick-knacks, it doesn’t matter, because it’s ‘your’ desk and it has a feeling of home. Taking that feeling away could be very challenging for some people, perhaps depending on your personality type. It makes me wonder about the possible longer-term impacts of hot desking, and whether there is a negative impact on employee engagement and general happiness at work.

Would it suit me?

I have thought a lot about hot desking since starting to write this, and I honestly don’t know if it would be something that would work for me. In recruitment you work as an individual AND as a team so it makes sense for teams to sit together. If we weren’t able to, it would be difficult to communicate quickly, and I feel like we’d miss out on some of the collaboration that is an essential part of our role. However on the other side of things, I do think it would be interesting experience to hot desk. I like to try new things, and perhaps I’d adapt, after ironing out some of the team-work challenges.

What do you think about hot desking? Is this something you do at your work? I’d love to hear from any readers who’ve worked in a hot desking environment. Let me know what you think – positive or negative? Comment here, or email me

India Bell
Senior Consultant

A bit about me I began my career with Madison as a Branch Administrator in early 2016 progressing to a Candidate Manager, a Consultant and most recently a Senior Consultant. Progressing through Madison…

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