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Check out this post at The Register and see if you can guess where the author stands on the topic of hotdesking…. I’ll give you a hint: While I’m not an expert on British English and so I don’t know if “bloody” can ever be used in a positive sense, I’m quite familiar with the word “frigging,” and as both words appear in the lead paragraph, I’m gonna say this writer comes down on the anti-hotdesking side.

The author cites two bits of research to back up his position: A Harvard study whose findings show that open office plans (not hotdesking specifically) inhibit collaboration rather than encouraging it; and a vendor survey that found 21% of workers with hotdesking spend more than half an hour finding an open place to work. A company selling a solution to this problem sponsored that second survey, so there’s that to consider.

Still, I’ve heard plenty of hotdesking horror stories firsthand as well. The biggest problem I’ve heard about seems to be that people try to sidestep the system by simply installing themselves at their preferred desk without signing in; then they claim squatters’ rights when someone plays by the rules and selects that workstation via the hotdesking system. That scenario never ends well.

A lot may depend on the assumptions an enterprise makes when it decides to deploy hotdesking. If you see your workers as just a mass of undifferentiated rear ends that have to be placed into a mass of undifferentiated chairs each day, you’re liable to wind up with a hotdesking deployment that creates the kinds of failures I’ve heard about and that the Register contributor is bemoaning.

If you’re open to the idea that this isn’t a single engineering problem that you must solve via a single solution, but rather an opportunity to incrementally solve a people-based problem—then maybe hotdesking can be part of a solution.

Suppose you had a policy that said anyone who works in the office three days or more a week isn’t eligible for (condemned to?) the hotdesking system, unless for some reason they choose to opt in. If you work in the office one or two days a week, then you must hotdesk. That seems like a fair request to make of someone: You get to work remotely, which presumably is the arrangement you prefer, but then it’s not really fair for you to take up a whole desk for the majority of the time when you’re not even there. If this arrangement can save the company money, those funds may be available to invest in other workplace solutions or amenities beneficial to everyone.

To me, there’s nothing wrong with blowing off some steam, hating on open offices and specific strategies like hotdesking. Too many companies see these strategies as an opportunity for cost-savings and nothing more. Those employers deserve the scorn that is heaped upon them.

But if an enterprise is willing to work with its employees to balance everyone’s needs—workers as well as corporate bean-counters—there could be a way to use these concepts effectively without damaging the workplace environment.

Drop me a line at [email protected] with questions.

Eric Krapf
GM & Program Co-Chair WorkSpace Connect &  Enterprise Connect
Publisher, No Jitter

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