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When companies try to build a hot desking policy (or desk sharing), they typically run into a few big issues:

  • Employees don’t come to the office because they don’t know if there’s an available desk for them or who else will be there;
  • People monopolize desk space by leaving food or personal items;
  • The office can get hectic, with meetings and loud phone calls everywhere.

Fortunately, a few simple etiquette guidelines can help you avoid these issues and still take advantage of hot desking’s benefits like increased flexibility and more efficient office space usage.

Below, you can find a hot desking policy template with 5 of these rules, which you can start using today.

We’ll also discuss a few essential things your company must do, before trying out hot desking (or hybrid work, in general).

5 simple rules of etiquette for hot desking

  • Rule #1: Reserve a desk in advance.
  • Rule #2: Keep personal items on desks only during work hours.
  • Rule #3: Be mindful of colleagues before starting meetings or long phone calls.
  • Rule #4: Take your lunch in the kitchen (or another designated area) and don’t keep food on the desks.
  • Rule #5: Protect your and your colleagues’ health.

We’ve purposefully left these rules broad, so you can tailor them to your needs and add employee responsibilities that are specific to your workspace.

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Rule #1: Reserve a desk in advance

Again, one of the biggest issues with hot desking is that people don’t know in advance if there will be space for them in the office, especially if there aren’t enough desks for all employees. That’s why we believe desk hoteling is a better alternative for your employees.

Desk hoteling involves a proper reservation system, meaning you can reserve a specific desk and all team members can see that it’s taken. On the other hand, hot desking is reservation-less seating, meaning almost no one is permanently assigned a desk. That can’t work well if you’re making it mandatory for employees to come back to the office.

The best choice is to get an easy-to-use hot desking system, show employees how to use it, and ask them to reserve a desk before coming to the office. It’s important to note that the modern desk booking systems are so much nicer and easier to use than the previous generations which makes the overall experience so much better for people.

Rule #2: Keep personal items on desks only during work hours

Leaving food, laptops, and other personal belongings on desks is a classic way of monopolizing them. It’s hard to sit at a desk that’s full of other people’s stuff, so if this behavior is left unchecked, the whole hot desking experiment can go astray.

Also, make sure to remind people not to leave documents containing personal information on shared desks. Leaving those around for everyone to see can lead to massive issues, both for the employee and the company. Enforcing this rule is a lot easier if you have lockers or a storage area where employees can leave personal belongings.

Rule #3: Be mindful of colleagues around you before starting meetings or long phone calls

When you’re switching desks often, it’s easy to forget that people around you perform different tasks and have various requirements. That’s why the office can easily become hectic – one person starts talking loudly, others follow suit and before long you can’t hear your thoughts.

While it might be useful to implement more specific rules (like to book a room for meetings or brainstorming sessions), just asking people to be mindful can do a lot of good. Plus, it’s a good idea to have fewer strict rules, so people still have some freedom to choose how they work.

Rule #4: Take your lunch in the kitchen (or another designated area) and don’t keep food on the desks

Bad smells and greasy desks are more than enough reasons for implementing this rule. However, there are even bigger problems with eating at your desk like the lack of movement and workday balance.

There’s a lot of research on this topic, which points to the same conclusion – everyone should take their lunch breaks away from their desks. So, by implementing this rule, you ensure there’s no food lying around on shared desks and promote a healthier routine for your employees. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Rule #5: Protect your and your colleagues’ health

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the topic of workplace safety to a whole new level. And both companies and employees must do their part to ensure a safe workplace.

Here are two specific things you can do:

  • Provide antibacterial wipes and request that employees clean their desks at the end of the workday.
  • Make some areas of the office unavailable for booking and request that employees don’t gather there during the day.

The specifics here really depend on your business and your government’s anti-COVID regulations. The important thing is to make people feel safe and remind them that even small things like cleaning their desks can protect everyone.

Company responsibilities

All of these rules for hot desking, flexible working, and your overall work environment make sense in theory, but they don’t matter if nobody follows them. If that happens, the issue usually lies within the company trying to enforce rules or an entire company policy, without taking care of its own responsibilities first.

To ensure your hot desking experiment is a success, you’ll likely need to take care of the following things on a company level first:

  • Follow and document your health and safety measures. Nowadays, this is pretty much a must for everyone. Whether it’s reducing the number of people who can be in the office simultaneously, ensuring regular workplace disinfection, or buying special lamps and air purifiers, documenting your workplace safety policy is the first thing to do.
  • Get your technology infrastructure in place. Technology can either make or break the whole hybrid work arrangement. You should have a place where all of your desks and meeting rooms are described so that you and your employees can easily see and book them. That can even be a simple spreadsheet if you’re a very small company. As the number of desks and employees increases, you’ll need proper hybrid workplace software to help you create visual floor plans and ensure you aren’t wasting half your day resolving desk booking conflicts.
  • Make it easy to book desks and see who else is in the office. The friction of booking a desk or a room can quickly make people resent coming to the office, especially if you’re using a spreadsheet or Slack to manage the whole process. Using technology (preferably a solution that integrates with your current tech stack) to make the whole process easier is the main way to avoid that.
  • Communicate your hot desking policy clearly from the start. Don’t shy away from putting things in writing, creating short videos, or even hosting a short Q&A on the topic. It’s important for everyone to know what the company is doing, why it’s doing it, and what’s their role in the whole process. Also, don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t have all the answers yet, as Amazon’s CEO did in their hybrid work announcement.

Once you have these things in place, you can begin experimenting with hot desking to see if it works for your company. On that note, remember to start small and don’t overdo your work policies.

Trying to do too much at once is a recipe for failure, as is overwhelming your employees with 50-page guidelines for coming to the office. That’ll likely discourage everyone and make it impossible for you to draw any meaningful conclusions.

Take everything one step at a time and be ready to adapt if things aren’t working out. As you get comfortable with your new way of working, you can get more advanced by creating entire office neighborhoods (as opposed to workstations) to boost productivity and collaboration.

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