The idea of having an office space without assigned desks is not exactly new. It’s been around since the 1990s but was being applied in a limited way — by companies that had shift workers or in places where real estate was too expensive. Some even claimed that introducing hot desking would kill your company.

But that was before the pandemic. Then everything changed overnight.

Remote work rose to fame in no time because of the COVID-19 restrictions and considerations for employees’ health and safety. Also, because of the necessity to adapt offices and working processes to this new reality.

As the pandemic is subsiding and employees are gradually going back to the office, businesses are looking for innovative ways to cater to their needs for health protection and flexibility — and the hybrid workplace is the natural answer.

How do you manage office capacity in this completely new work environment?

Many companies around the globe are turning to hot desking for a practical and long-term solution to their office arrangements. The shared desk concept has already gained traction — and for good reasons. It allows companies to accommodate their changing workforce, embrace flexibility, and reduce overhead costs.

In this guide, you can find all the basics about hot desking, including:

  • What Exactly Is Hot Desking?
  • The Benefits of Hot Desking
  • The Hot Desking Challenges
  • How to Make Hot Desking Work for Your Team
  • Technology Is Here to Help You Manage Hot Desking

Let’s dive straight in — and check what’s so hot about hot desking.

What Exactly Is Hot Desking?

The essential idea behind sharing desks is the evolution of the office space in tune with the changes in the global working trends.

Hot desking is a relatively novel workspace system — yet already applied in numerous contexts — in which employees don’t have their individual desks. Instead, each person can use a different desk whenever they are in the office, depending on the availability and arrangement for that specific day. Sometimes it’s referred to as ‘desk sharing’ or ‘desk hoteling’, though there are slight nuances between these terms.

As a related read, check out our guide on office hoteling policy.

In fact, ‘hot desking’ is related to ‘hot racking’ — the practice of sailors using the same bunk, or rack, when working different shifts. In the modern context, though, hot desking is a way nicer practice.

The concept rose to prominence with the growing popularity of remote work and the hybrid model. Many companies turn to hot desking for practical reasons, considering the increasing number of employees working from home and occasionally coming to the office. Businesses end up with a bunch of empty desks on a daily basis — while they still have to pay for renting a large office space and covering overhead costs.

The pandemic accelerated the trend to move work to remote and hybrid models, and today hot desking is not considered a company killer anymore. Quite the opposite — and here’s why.

The Benefits of Hot Desking

The shared desk concept has gained popularity for companies across the globe because it has a bunch of advantages.

Here’s an overview of what you can gain by introducing hot desking for your team.

Maximize Office Space Use and Decreased Costs

One of the basic purposes — and advantages — of hot desking is that it optimizes how your team is using the physical office space. Rather than having numerous empty desks while a significant part of the workforce is working remotely, the available desks in the office can be put to maximum use.

This means you’re likely to need a smaller real estate property. Renting smaller office spaces, naturally, is cost-efficient. Cleaning and maintenance are typically cheaper too. This allows you to reduce overhead expenses and redirect finances to more important projects.

Easier COVID-19 Compliance

In times of pandemic, disinfection of office spaces needs to be more regular and thorough. Having a smaller workspace makes the cleaning process easier and faster.

To comply with COVID-19 social distancing measures, having fewer people in the office at one time is generally preferred. This also provides for easier tracking of contact persons in case somebody does get ill.

Enabling the Hybrid Workplace

The hot desking model is a common companion to the hybrid workplace. It allows for the flexibility and agility embedded in the hybrid concept, in which the office space is not the only place where work happens.

Having fewer desks in the office than the number of your team members also means there’s no pressure on employees to attend physically at all times. This can be a psychological factor for some people who still feel uneasy about the way remote work is perceived by the management.

Improved Communication and Collaboration

Hot desking allows a new kind of organization in the workspace. It enables a less hierarchical arrangement in the office since all desks can be ‘created equal.’ Seating arrangements can be used on an ad-hoc basis to enable different forms of collaboration.

You can use the mixing of employees from different teams to foster better communication. Mingling and collaboration across departments are improved, which can lead to unexpected benefits in terms of creativity and productivity. At the same time, team members who need to sit together when working on a project can also arrange that — and then switch around for the next project with other people.

Escaping the Office Routine

Changing places in the office space can be refreshing for some people. It can make team members appreciate the workspace better and give them a sense of novelty in the work routine.

Switching spots in the office also means that team members will have new desk neighbors — which can be stimulating and fun. Or if people don’t get along so well, the good news is that they’ll sit next to each other only for the day.

The Hot Desking Challenges

Hot desking has been welcomed by a large pool of companies. Yet it does have its limitations — so it’s better to keep them in mind from the start.

Personal Desks Are No More

One of the main challenges for company culture, that hot desking presents, is the loss of personal space in the office. Employees don’t have their private cubicles or desk anymore — and that may be difficult for some.

This naturally leaves companies pondering the hot desk vs dedicated desk conundrum. As both options have their benefits, it’s important to figure out what your team’s needs are and how to meet them in the best possible way. Plus, even with hot desking, there are still ways to create privacy for those employees who need it.

Hardware Issues

Another potential challenge relates to hardware use. Some employees need a special technical setup to get their job done. This typically requires a dedicated space where the arrangement can stay permanently.

Having to move the setup around isn’t practical and can get quite complicated in shared desk space. For such cases, it may be a good solution to have dedicated desks within your shared desk space — either on a permanent or project basis.

More Chaotic Environment

It’s no secret that hot desking can become chaotic if not managed well. Organizing who sits where and when can get overwhelming, and it can be confusing for employees too.

The good news is that hot desking is definitely manageable — especially when you plan in advance and use a solid software solution. It’s all about setting clear rules about room and desk booking, providing an easy way to book for team members, and keeping an eye on arrangements and trends to make changes on the go.

Increased Cleaning Needs

Fewer people in the office at one time are safer in terms of COVID-19 measures. At the same time, different employees use the same desk spaces on consecutive days — and each of them should get a clean one.

That’s why running a shared desk office may entail more disinfection and stricter hygiene rules. Employees have to collect their personal belongings from the desks whenever they leave for the day. Then all desks and shared spaces have to be thoroughly cleaned, so the next people using them are protected.

Security Concerns

As employees can’t leave personal belongings and computers on the desks, there can be issues with the security of private items. This also relates to the lack of personal space, which may be problematic for some employees.

Lockers may be a good solution for both issues — so team members can safely store stuff in the office without having to carry it around. With good hot desk booking software in place, you’ll also be able to track who’s been in the office and in which part of it, in case a security breach occurs.

How to Make Hot Desking Work for Your Team

What do you need in order to apply the shared desk concept successfully?

With careful preparation, you’ll be able to escape the common pitfalls of shared desks — and create a great experience for your team while reaping the efficiency benefits of hot desking.

Figure Out Your Desk Needs

Planning how to manage hot desking starts with getting to know country-specific regulations about COVID-19 social distancing.

The measures that apply in your area can guide your decisions on how to ensure safe distance and proper facilities for employees. There may be restrictions on the number of people who should be in one space, or similar rules that will inform your approach.

Consider Team Collaboration

Taking into account your team’s necessities and dynamics is essential in planning how to implement the concept of the shared desk in your office.

It’s important to consider the following aspects:

  • Which team members need to work together and how often
  • Do you need zoning within the office space for different teams
  • Which employees will use the desks more regularly (i.e. if they have preferences for remote-first work, or if there are periods when many people have to work together in the office at the same time)

Team collaboration should be your priority in making decisions on how to approach hot desking — there’s certainly no single solution that fits all.

Provide a Storage Space and Guarantee Security

Even though they’re hot desking, people often need to keep personal stuff in the office. It’s essential to provide them with an option to do that. This might be in the form of lockers or other spaces.

This also relates to the feeling of security in the office. Employees should consider it safe to leave personal or work items in the dedicated places you provide. This would help team members have a good attitude towards the common office space.

Storage spaces are one of the most important hot desking accessories for your hybrid office.

Set Up Private Spaces

There are times when an employee or a team would need privacy to take a call or discuss sensitive matters.

Besides the shared desks, your office should have private spaces for meetings and calls. They can be conference rooms, phone booths, lounges, or any other creative solution you may come up with. You can make them bookable in the same way as the working desks.

Create a Hot Desking Etiquette

Getting used to the new way of working takes time and effort. You can help your team by creating a how-to guide where you explain how the shared desks policy works in your office.

It’s a good idea to include best practices for sharing desks, too — such as not leaving personal belongings on the desks after work hours, and using the dedicated storage spaces, among others.

Use the Right Tools for Managing Hot Desking

Handling hot desking without appropriate software can be burdensome. Tables, graphs, and sheets of paper all get confusing when you have to manage, say, where 50 people will be sitting today.

Technology makes the management of shared desks easier and more efficient. Equipped with the right tool, you’ll be able to optimize the process of desk booking and management, as well as the use of storage and shared spaces for meetings and calls.

The good news?

You can even start for free. Read more about it here.

In addition, don’t t miss reading our article on activity-based working versus hot desking.

OfficeRnD Hybrid Is Here to Help You Manage Hot Desking

Introducing the shared desk concept in your company is an exciting endeavor, but you’ll need solid management practices to make it work.

Luckily, at OfficeRnD we’ve designed the right tools that help you stay on top of hot desk management. We won’t dive into much detail but we’d love to give you just a quick overview of the product.

The OfficeRnD Hybrid platform allows you to automate desk booking and other shared resources such as meeting rooms. This means less hassle for you and for employees! The floor plan booking option allows booking rooms and desks with a few clicks on an interactive map. On the other hand, the in-depth workplace analytics such as desk occupancy, and who has been sitting where help you make optimize office footprint and costs.

​​If you’re curious to learn more, check out the full list of product features or book your demo to see the platform in action. We’d love to show you around!

Ralitsa Golemanova
Ralitsa Golemanova has been roaming the boundless content writing fields for the last 8 years. She has experience in a wide variety of industries, from startups and SaaS to remote work and company culture. Ralitsa has a strong interest in the modern workplace, with a special focus on flexible working, the hybrid model, and the future of work.