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The end of hot desking?

Published: Thursday 17th September 2020

Hot desking. Two words that, rather ironically, continue to divide many offices across the UK. Fans see it as a natural way of increasing creativity and improving workplace management. Also pointing to cost savings and increased interaction between staff. Meanwhile, those against it claim it is the worst thing to happen to the workplace since work. However, because of the pandemic, many people are now asking if this is the end of hot desking?

Office workers in tiny spaces to represent the possible end of hot desking.

So that we are all clear, hot desking is the practice of staff using any desk in an office on any given day. This involves a first-come-first-serve system – think towels on sun loungers. Therefore, you sit where you want, or if you are late, where you can. The idea is that this forces people to work in different areas of an office, breaks up daily routine and increases office interaction. Other, perhaps less voiced consequences of this practice include staff feeling obliged to work earlier to avoid the desk no one wants. Furthermore, companies can make significant savings by reducing office space and equipment. However, does hot desking even work?

The elephant in the room

Despite some complaints of hot desking damaging employee morale, many companies see it as a natural progression from open-plan offices. Considered a trendy, tradition-breaking process, it was hailed as the next big thing in workplace management. Hot desk guidelines were introduced, specialised equipment became popular and it seemed we would all be sharing desks at some point. Then everything changed.

Various PPE on a desk highlighting the possible end of hot desking.

Covid-19 has and continues to alter the way we look at virtually every aspect of our lives. One such place these changes are being felt hard is in offices. And at the forefront of many concerns is the issue of hot desking. Suddenly, the idea seems less like sharing and more like spreading. Furthermore, the UK government now recommends businesses avoid the practice entirely during the pandemic. Whilst only natural, industry experts predict this could signal the beginning of the end for hot desking.

Will hot desking recover from Covid-19?

Companies introducing hot desking are now faced with numerous challenges because of social distancing guidelines. Experts are claiming all companies are being forced to completely rethink office layouts. Kate Cooper, head of research, policy and standards at the Institute of Leadership & Management believes this is a logistical nightmare for many. She said, “Before Covid-19, people shared desks, sat in unusual or shared spaces and managed as best they could. That is no longer a solution. So much more thoughtful planning is required.”

However, there is a glimmer of hope for hot desking. Remote working and flexible-time options are becoming common. This means less people being in offices at the same time. Therefore, theoretically, desks can still be shared among colleagues. However, for this to work, work stations need to be deep cleaned on a regular basis to avoid any cross contamination. For businesses, this creates two important questions, how much will it cost? And will employees still agree to hot desking? Whilst costs should not be too much, employee sentiment regarding sharing space is likely to be less straight forward.

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