When offices reopen, expect resurgence of dreaded hot-desking
Most office workers now dream of weeks in which they can choose to come into an office as and when they please. A recent study from strategy firms Iometrics and Global Workplace Analytics found that two days a week was the most popular choice when staff were surveyed on how often they would like to work from home.
Almost a quarter — 23 per cent — said they would like to come into an office three out of five days, compared to 16 per cent who chose five days, and 7 per cent who said they would prefer to never come in.
However, there is a catch. For HubSpot employees who come into work two days or fewer, they will not find themselves at their regular desk. Instead, they will be allocated a “hotel desk” — one that, on other days of the week, is occupied by other “flexers”. Those who come in three days or more will have a permanent desk.
When the pandemic struck, a silver lining was that more acute concerns about hygiene and personal space would halt the rise of hot-desking, a long-lamented space-saving technique in which workers are left to find and set up a desk instead of having a fixed station.
But instead, as employers grapple with the prospect of a scattered workforce, the idea is regaining traction. Just don’t call it hot-desking.
Robin Powered, a US start-up whose clients include Twitter and Shopify, develops software that lets staff reserve desks and meeting rooms. During the pandemic, it has added “distance planning” to ensure that workers could not book desks too close to other employees, and contact-tracing technology.
Freespace, a British company that operates control software for hot-desking, uses sensors on desks to direct cleaners to desks that have been vacated before they scan a QR code to confirm they have been disinfected.
Meanwhile, Chargifi, a London-headquartered wireless charging start-up, uses smartphone-charging pads and light rings to tell employees whether a desk is free. If a desk is available, the pad will glow green, turning to amber when somebody places their phone on it. In a socially distanced office, this can flip the lights on either side to red to warn staff not to use them.
Part of the reason companies are likely to embrace hot-desking is simply because they can. The rise of working from home has forced staff to get to grips with software such as virtual desktops, video-calling and chat apps. Desk phones and business cards have started to seem like anachronisms.
With many employees still likely to be working from home even after the pandemic, teams are less likely to all be in one physical location. Those who are in the office may even be encouraged to sit apart so that those at home do not feel left out of conversations.
All this might generate a groundswell of resistance. More than two-thirds of workers would like to see less hot-desking as they return to the office, according to recent research from the design and architecture firm Gensler. Significantly, those who had worked with hot-desking before coronavirus were more likely to be sceptical of it than those who had not, suggesting opinion could decline further the more people experience it.
However, a majority of workers say they would give up a fixed desk if they were allowed to work from home some of the time, according to Iometrics’ survey.
Employers may well embrace that option. Property is often a company’s second-highest cost after salaries, and the economic consequences of the virus are set to be felt long after it is safe to go back into the office. Few executives are likely to view banks of empty desks without wondering if costs can be cut. The death of hot-desking may have been exaggerated — just don’t call it that.
The Telegraph, London