Hot-desking is fast catching on in offices – but is it good for your health & wellbeing?

hot desking & hot desks

What is hot-desking and how does it work?


Hot-desking has become common place in offices, particularly ones located in CBD areas.

Basically it involves employees sharing communal desks or workstations instead of being individually allocated one.
The practice was originally used by large corporations that had staff working in shifts over the course of 24 hours.
It is also often adopted in offices where staff are not always at work at the same time, where providing an individual workstation for an employee would take up space and resources.
While the practice is designed to encourage collaboration and break down workplace silos, many have found the reality to be rather counterproductive.
Some employees have found it easier to adapt to the practice of sharing office real-estate, for example, sales staff who are on the road often may be used to not having their own desk.
But hot-desking is not for everyone.
Some people find it difficult to adjust and acclimatise to different colleagues and different locations on a regular basis which may affect their long term health and wellbeing resulting in decreased productivity, morale and potentially, higher rates of absenteeism [link to the blog on absenteeism].

What are the pros of hot-desking?


On the face of it, hot-desking presents a number of benefits that should, in theory, make this form of office structure a no-brainier.
First off, there’s the obvious benefit of saving cost – less furniture and infrastructure support means less money having to be spent on these elements – cost savings of up to 30% have been cited.
Closely following cost savings, comes increased collaboration and team-work. Hot-desking is designed to breakdown the ‘silo’ mentality or office cliques that tend to form in offices. Removing this can lead to an environment that encourages creativity by boosting opportunities for employees to talk to colleagues they wouldn’t normally talk to; leading to a better team ethic and an increase in productivity.
Doing all this should help to create a more inclusive and thus happier workplace.
And finally, it seems the ‘in thing to do’ – so it must be good!

What are cons of hot-desking?


As is with most things in life, there are always two sides to a situation.
While there is no denying the potential benefits of hot-desking, consider some of the negatives that come along with this type of office setup.
A study showed that unwanted noise and competition for space can make employees feel less valued. And the fact that no-one ‘owns’ some shared spaces can lead to clutter and neglect.
The same study also raised concerns about people not having their own desk, with the loss of control making it harder for some people to deal with stress.
There are also anecdotal reports that hot desking can actually harm communication in small teams, if the team has to split up and sit in different areas of an office.
The presence of ‘extra’ noise can also have a dramatic impact on productivity, with figures as high as a 66% reduction being found in some studies.
It has also been shown that sudden unexpected noises can give rise to higher levels of stress hormones in the body.

A 2012 survey showed that;

  • 90% of respondents said it had a negative effect on morale;
  • 90% said it increased their stress levels;
  • 80% said they do not have the same access to peer support; and
  • only 15% felt that flexibility and efficiency had increased

Sharing office equipment, such as phones, can have a significant impact on health – hygiene analysis has shown the number of microbes, on a per square inch basis, is much higher on a telephone than a toilet seat (25,127 vs 49 respectively)!

Finally, the need for familiarity and predictability cannot be dismissed.
Justine Humphry, of Sydney University found that personalising workspace, or nesting, as she calls it, enhances employee wellbeing. In an age where the importance of creating a psychologically safe workplace is well known, surely organisations should be facilitating employee wellbeing, social interaction and collaboration?
Certainly hot-desking can work, however it’s not a one size fits all
Before considering hot-desking for your office, a thorough and detailed analysis needs to be conducted, including consulting with your employees.
A unilateral management decision to implement hot-desking with the notion of tangible savings could in fact result in higher costs through a number factors discussed above.
If you’re thinking about hot-desking for your office, WRM can help you make an informed decision.