What is Hot Desking in 2021 and Beyond?

by Glenn Hicks on July 16, 2020
How To Get Employees Warmed Up To Hot Desking

Hot desking has been a growing workplace trend for years, but it may not be as desirable as it once was — at least in the eyes of employees and business leaders. 

Here’s a closer look at how hot desking works, some of its challenges, and how it’s evolving in the modern workplace. 

What is hot desking? 

Hot desking, also known as “free address,” is a flexible workplace strategy where employees do not have assigned seats and choose where they sit on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no formal reservation system in hot desking; employees simply find a place to work each day and claim it as their own.

Hot desking offers several benefits, including:

  • Greater flexibility for employees
  • Improved space utilization
  • Reduced real estate costs
  • A less cluttered office with fewer personal belongings
  • Easier cleaning

Many workplace leaders have been moving away from assigned seats in recent years to offer employees more autonomy while improving space utilization. In a 2018 CBRE survey, 52% of corporate real estate leaders said they planned to implement some level of unassigned seating.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the need for a more flexible work environment as more employees have been working at home and will likely continue to do so at least on a part-time basis. 

Hot desking increases the ratio of employees to desks, reducing the wasted space that occurs when employees assigned to those spaces aren’t in the office. It also makes desks easier to clean because they aren’t cluttered with personal belongings. 

In other words, hot desking offers flexibility and efficiency.

What are the challenges with hot desking?

Hot desking does have some drawbacks, including:

  • Difficulty finding space
  • Conflict over  preferred workspaces
  • Difficulty finding other employees
  • No way to track which desks have been used
  • Difficulty keeping shared desks clean

One of the biggest complaints about hot desking from employees in recent years is difficulty finding available space each day. Employees who arrive later in the day may spend their first 15 minutes just searching for a place to work and getting set up. Often the best workspaces — those close to natural light or in quiet areas of the office — are already taken. 

Hot desking can also make it difficult for employees to find their colleagues because there’s no way to tell where anyone is sitting. Employees have to ask around or use communication tools like Slack to ping someone to answer an urgent question. 

And more recently, the coronavirus has amplified concerns about widespread desk sharing with no processes in place to ensure those spaces are cleaned and sanitized. Some employees might feel wary of hot desking if they don’t believe cleaning procedures are being implemented.

What are better alternatives to hot desking? 

While the concept of hot desking makes sense, there are better ways to execute it. 

Instead of making every desk available to anyone, you can implement reservation-based seating arrangements, allowing employees to book workspaces in advance or at a moment’s notice. This gives them the same flexibility of hot desking while making it easier for them to find a place to work.

Here are a few examples of hot desking alternatives: 

  • Activity-based working
  • Assigned shifts
  • Desk hoteling
  • Office hoteling

Activity-based working

Activity-based working (ABW)  offers employees a variety of spaces they can reserve depending on the work they’re doing. If they have a long afternoon of meetings, they can reserve a conference room. If they need more privacy to concentrate on individual work, they can reserve a quiet space.

An activity-based work environment encourages employees to move around the office throughout the day, which can improve collaboration. It’s also a healthier alternative to sitting in the same place for eight hours each day, which is often the case with hot desking. 

Assigned Shifts

Employees may be reluctant to give up their desks or private offices, but they aren’t always there to use them. If you want employees to keep their seats but you need to reduce office density, you can assign employees to come into the office in shifts. Our new space planning feature, Space-Right™,  makes this easy. You can assign employees to alternating shifts by day,  by week, or any other arrangement that makes sense for your company. You can even categorize them based on their need to be in the office. This is essential for some employees, while others can easily work remotely and don’t need a designated desk each day.

Desk hoteling

Desk hoteling allows employees to reserve the workspaces they want to use for the day, upon arrival. This gives your workforce the freedom of hot desking while capturing the space utilization data you need to plan ahead. You can see what percentage of desks are reserved and vacant on any given day and plan accordingly, adding workspaces as needed. You can also convert frequently unused spaces into huddle areas or small meeting spaces. 

Desk hoteling also simplifies contact tracing by giving you a record of which employees were in the office on any given day and who was sitting next to them. Hot desking typically doesn’t allow you to keep such records.

Office hoteling

Office hoteling is similar to desk hoteling but requires employees to reserve workspaces before they arrive. This can be helpful for planning purposes, especially if you need the limit the number of people in the office each day to maintain physical distancing. 

What should you consider before implementing flexible seating?  

Before you implement any of these flexible seating arrangements, it’s important to consider the long-term viability of these strategies. Do they make sense based on the type of work you do? How do employees feel about hot desking versus desk hoteling? Asking these questions can help you decide. 

How great is your need for confidentiality and privacy?

Some companies may have business practices that cannot be shared throughout the entire office. Since shared workstations are at the heart of hot desking and other flexible seating arrangements, confidentiality could be an issue. You’ll need to consider how you’ll keep documents secure and include those policies in your plan. 

Does your office layout support flexible seating?

Certain office spaces lend themselves more to hot desking and flexible seating than others. Consider whether such a design would make sense for your office environment. Keep technology logistics in mind and expect these new workstations to create new needs. For example, since employees will constantly be switching desks, you’ll need additional storage space for their personal belongings. You’ll also want workstations to be as standard as possible — with the same chairs, monitors, outlets, and cable connectors — so anyone can sit down and plug in their laptop. To make sure employees feel comfortable wherever they go, it’s a good idea to provide adjustable chairs and desks.

Do you have buy-in from employees? 

Many people are creatures of habit. That’s not to say they can’t change or shouldn’t change, but moving to a flexible seating arrangement will be an adjustment. Some people will embrace it immediately, while others will have valid concerns. Take the time to listen to your employees and address those concerns. If someone is worried about privacy, the uncertainty of hot desking, or finding a quiet place to take sales calls, make sure you’re giving them options. 

Be mindful of these considerations while encouraging employees not to get too attached to a single desk. This will help them adapt to your new office design.

How will you keep shared desks clean? 

With continued concerns about coronavirus, many employees are understandably reluctant to share desks. However, shared desks that aren’t cluttered with personal belongings are actually easier to clean, provided you have a process in place for disinfecting them. Using desk booking software allows you to see which spaces have been used each day so they can be properly sanitized before the next person uses them. A desk booking system that integrates with your facility maintenance software makes it easy to update cleaning schedules based on demand. 

And if you choose hot desking instead of a reservation-based model, consider using sensors that show a daily view of which spaces have been occupied so you can keep them clean. 

What desk booking solutions do you need? 

When it comes to making the flexible workplace work for you, the right technology makes all the difference. Without a reservation system, hot desking quickly becomes a free-for-all that can be inefficient and difficult to manage. 

Office hoteling software makes it easy for employees to reserve workspaces when they need them. Ideally, the software you use should include a mobile app that makes it easy for employees to find a space, reserve it, and request that it be sanitized after they’ve used it.

These solutions are perfect for enterprises that want to offer greater flexibility while making the most of their office space.  In addition to making it easy for employees to find and reserve a place to work, they also enable better space management because they capture the utilization data needed to plan for the future.  

Flexible seating is the future

With the increase in remote work, contract workers who are part of the gig economy, and the need for greater physical distancing, flexible seating arrangements are becoming the new norm.

They can help your organization create a better, safer environment for employees while maximizing your real estate. It’s up to your organization to find the best way to implement these strategies — and we can help.  Learn more about our desk booking solutions


Glenn Hicks

A member of the Business Development team, Glenn has years of experience with business process improvement on the Commercial Real Estate and Facilities Management sides.

Capterra Ratings: ★★★★★ 4.5/5