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OK, It’s True: Hotdesking Is Terrible

If, like most of us, you’re a sucker for a great lead paragraph, check out this Forbes article on hotdesking. I’ll wait.
OK, you’re back? Despite the fun opening, espousing the idea of introducing hotdesking if “you hate your company, its employees and the shareholders,” I think a lot of what this author says in the article is way off base. For example, he argues that if you’re in a hotdesking situation, it becomes impossible to find people with expertise you may need, because they’re not all physically located together, presumably in a departmental space with a shingle hanging from the ceiling or a wall near the entry to the space. That’s crazy. How many sizable companies have everyone from every department sitting together, in the same building as all the other people who may need them?
Enterprises today are distributed, even if individual workers are all required to go into an office somewhere. Finance is in the San Francisco office, HR may be in Denver, and so on. If you need help with these things, you IM or Slack or whatever. It’s too bad this author seems to have an idealized notion that people sitting together with others in their department is the only or best way to organize things. It may be; but there’s an abundance of virtual teams in corporate America that work great together.
The reason why this overkill of hotdesk-bashing is unfortunate, is because the author starts out making a really great point. His first and most convincing point about hotdesking? “It sends the message that employees don’t matter.”
He writes: “Employers frequently say their employees are their biggest asset. But when the company can’t even be bothered to let you have a permanent desk, then the opposite message is sent. Put another way; hot desks mean you don’t matter to the company.”
I have to say he’s right about that. I’ve made a point, whenever I encounter people who work in hotdesked offices, of asking them what they think about it. I have never once received even a slightly positive response. Maybe there are people out there who like or at least are indifferent to hotdesking, but they are hard to find.
And I think the reason why people hate hotdesking so much is not just because you don’t get your own special little place to call home while you’re at work. It’s because of the chaos hotdesking can create. Most people want to have a feeling of stability and consistency about their job, which is hard when every day is a new adventure in just finding a place to sit down. The signal that sends from above is: In spite of all this other stuff we say we’re doing for you, we don’t really care if we wind up making it harder for you just to settle in and get work done.
I’ve been a bit more sympathetic to hotdesking in the past, but I’m starting to think maybe I’m just the oddball here. In theory I still don’t think I’d have a problem working in different parts of an office each day; I tend to be a restless and fidgety worker. So I don’t think I’d mind the changing desks part, but I wouldn’t want it turning into a whole thing every day.
I still think hotdesking ought to be an acceptable condition for people who mostly work remotely—and this is an exception that our Forbes author also allows. And maybe someday when the generational turnover is farther along, and employers have figured out more nuanced ways to implement the system, hotdesking will be more viable. But for now, everyone seems to hate it, and I can understand why.