Opinions regarding the practice of hot desking tend to vary greatly, from industry to industry and person to person. To some businesses, it presents a way of reducing exorbitant office space costs while boosting employee efficiency and productivity. In reality, it hasn’t always reaped the expected benefits, with the added problem of disaffected and disgruntled staff.
The employees themselves generally seem to be divided on the subject; various reports show that there’s a fairly even split between those who love it and those who detest it.
The ones more likely to see the negative side are those with other commitments outside of work, perhaps with a school run to contend with, a dependent child or family member that needs attention, or a longer commute. Arriving late, they will always get the ‘bad seat’ – or be left searching for one. A report from some years back suggested that the average hot desk worker wastes about two weeks a year looking for a space.
Since it arrived around two decades ago, hot desking has been pushed in some quarters as being the way forward for digital office staff. Terms like ‘flexibility’, ‘Agile Working’, ‘Mobile’, ‘Coworking‘ and even ‘Home Working’ are thrown in, emphasising the potentially positive aspects.
On the other hand, respected publications such as Bloomberg, Forbes and the FT have recently run highly critical articles, claiming that it will ‘Kill Your Business‘, ‘lose you your best staff‘ and exposing the ‘Hidden Hell‘ of such systems. Whatever the truth, the practice of using shared workspace was forging ahead at the beginning of 2020. A whole range of smartphone apps are available to help employees find their nearest ‘hot desk’. In the digital world of marketing, web design & SEO this has been quite easy for companies and freelancers to implement.
And then Covid19 struck. The status quo was well and truly shaken up. Countless businesses fell – and are, sadly, still falling. Others thrived – particularly within industries that suddenly became relevant, such as anyone involved in marketing, web design, SEO & Audio Visual tech like Zoom.
Freelancing and home-working were given an unexpected boost, as employees were encouraged to stay away from the office – wherever that might be – says Dean Signori who is a Digital Freelancer at UK Web GeekZ
Suddenly, the very aspects that were sold as positives by the pro-hot desking camp looked decidedly risky; a shared office generally reduces the size of the average workspace, placing employees in closer proximity. It also encourages contact between people from outside of their usual circle, They may be using a desk at which a complete stranger has been sat, possibly hours before, sharing a phone, a printer, a lamp, and so on. They would normally be expected to interact with their neighbours, to form useful business contacts and share ideas, possibly extending this to social occasions to further the business relationships. Under normal circumstances, this would be reasonable. At the moment, though, it is unthinkable.
Covid19 seems to have put a temporary halt to shared workspaces, or at least dramatically slowed it down. In order to survive, the business world has had to make some serious alterations to the working environment. Many of these are short term, as the only thing that is certain at the moment is uncertainty itself. There will have to be fundamental changes to work practice and culture. After the lockdown, staff in some sectors gradually returned to the office. What is now becoming clear is that the landscape of the office environment is changing, and will continue to change over the next few years.
And there are already signs of what it might look like.
Most business leaders predict that the traditional office workspace will return to some sort of normality, but will evolve, becoming a hybrid. The experience throughout lockdown proved that greater flexibility can be achieved, without the need to be either completely office-based or home-based. Some businesses are responding to a call for more localism, with small, regional hubs rather than large urban centres of operation.
Emphasis will be placed on who is required to be in the office. and strict prioritisation will decide who and when.
When the covid19 dust has settled, hot desking and virtual offices at places like Lewes Werks will no doubt be with us still in some form. But it will be operating in a totally different environment. At the moment, even with special measures in place to reduce the risk of infection, it doesn’t seem to hold the same appeal.