Hot-desking: cost-saving or counter-productive?

28 January 2011
Friends at a former workplace told me last week that they were moving to offices south of the Thames: news not welcomed by those who now have a longer commute. The new place has an extravagant interior design complete with artificial grass, garden gnomes and a caravan sitting in the middle of the open-space. This environment was marketed to employees as ‘fresh, young and exciting’, but they are not convinced. At the top of their grievance list is the shift from a fixed-desk policy to that of ‘hot-desking’. This trend, which means staff get use of workstations on a first-come-first-served basis, is designed to cut down on unused space and enable companies to save on extortionate city rents. As part of this policy, staff cannot store anything on or around the desks overnight (drawers and cabinets have been known to be removed altogether). Nor may they customise their workspace with pictures of their beloved partner, children, pet or Anne Geddes calendars. “Not necessarily a bad thing,” I hear you say. But how about the amount of paperwork that builds up over the course of an average day? In this hot-desking model, there is a storage area that staff are to use every evening. Now, apart from the obvious health and safety concerns surrounding 50-odd employees rushing in the same direction at 5.29pm to file their papers away, I suspect it won’t be long before people decide to start tidying their things away 10-15 minutes before the end of the day and queuing up. Over the course of a month this could amount to as much as five hours of lost productivity per employee. There’s also the time lost every day as staff adjust the height of their chair, computer, footrest and angle of lumber support before getting down to work. Companies might also want to factor in the cost of staff training. Some firms are even investing in consultants that demonstrate role-plays around hot-desking and get documents drawn up that explain the concept. In truth, even if hot-desking did make financial sense, I would rather keep my own desk and have the comfort of knowing that whatever organised mess I leave on it I can return to the next day. I am not quite at the stage where I can see a picture of my cat, but working in a space that feels right for you can make a world of difference. So maybe I’ll just make the most of our fixed-desk policy and pin a picture or two on the wall.
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