Hot desking: hot or not?

Ohh Deer Gemma Correll Nope Large Pencil Case, ASOS

Lucy Dunn on the politics of hot desks, open-plan offices – and sneaking a jazzy pen on expenses to cheer you up

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By Lucy Dunn on

According to the latest gossip – and this is from a friend of a friend of a friend, so the details are unclear and most probably exaggerated out of all proportion – a shocking incident recently occured in glossy-magazine land. An editor, whose magazine had recently been moved into a new building and who was previously used to the comfort of her own glass-fronted, air-conditioned, orchid-filled office, threw her toys out of the pram when she found out that she was now expected to hot desk in an open-plan space with her hoi polloi. In protest, she Instagrammed a few cryptic – some might say quite sarky – posts about “modern working” and was asked by management to take them down.

Oh, dear. Because, actually, if the story is true, I can sympathise. Hot desking can be tough. My job at The Pool is split between departments, so I hot desk after a fashion – but I am lucky that I have two permanent desks and I can choose how much time I work in each. I don’t have to rock up early to bagsie a spot or else be left with the chair in the corner that no one wants.

The term "hot desking" is thought to derive from the naval practice of “hot racking”, where sailors on different shifts share the same bunks. The idea is that no one gets a desk to call their own and it’s a trend that’s on the rise. More companies than ever are installing a shared-desk policy and if they haven’t yet, they’re planning to – a recent survey of 400 multinational corporations found that two-thirds plan to implement it by 2020.

Hot desking can actually stop proper friendships from forming. Then there’s the fact that it can be bad for your career progression

So, does hot desking work? There are two schools of thought. Some work psychologists say it can be great for “boosting productivity and creativity”, helping teams bond and work together. It means you get to know everyone in your team, even the quietest coworkers, and it encourages more understanding of each other’s roles. Plus, you get a different view each day, different “What did you do this weekend?” conversations and different people to go to lunch with.

But – and it’s a big but – in some professions, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Hot desking can actually stop proper friendships from forming, especially if you’re in a big organisation and sit next to a new person every day, and studies suggest that this can “increase distrust, anxiety and uncooperative behaviour”. Then there’s the fact that it can be bad for your career progression – employees lose out on supervisory support when they are never sitting near (or on the same floor) as their boss. This, say experts, can lead to a loss of confidence, marginalisation and “decreased organisational commitment” (which I take to mean “giving a shit about your company”).

All this before I have even touched on the problems of noise pollution, stress (there’s a reason why friendly banter between workmates is called “watercooler”), lack of personal and professional privacy and the inconvenience of having to email team members instead of speaking to them, which means that communication takes so much longer. It puts hot desking in perspective – and it makes that editor’s ire at not having a permanent place to put her orchids a little more understandable.

So, what’s a worker to do? Complain, moan, bitch. Invest in some noise-cancelling headphones. Arrange with fellow colleagues to go on hot-desk strike and sit in the same place every day. Or do as Saga Norén from The Bridge (series 4) did and hoik your own desk into work.

Hot desking is not going away, so the answer is: whatever works for you. In these straightened times, companies are looking for ways to save rents and this is a way of, putting it bluntly, keeping people’s jobs.

There are things employers could do to make hot desking more bearable, though. Don’t cram more than 50 workers into a small open-plan space (scientists have proven that this will stifle feelings of individuality and engagement). Don’t rely on wack-a-day bean bags, pool tables and pizza on a Friday to make things better – at the end of the day, we just want to do our jobs and to the best of our ability. Instead, think about the importance of office ergonomics and prioritise your employees’ mental wellbeing.

There are signs this is now happening, with future-facing companies such as L’Oreal in Paris making their open-plan offices easier places to work in, with breakout areas, meeting rooms, segregated quiet and noisy spaces. They know that they will have a happier workforce, and a happier workforce is a more productive one.

And, if your boss is still not listening, a last resort: treat yourself to some nice stationery to cheer yourself up. Expense it, if you can. Admittedly, this won’t solve much, but I always think a jazzy pen or pencil case makes a Monday go quicker.



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Ohh Deer Gemma Correll Nope Large Pencil Case, ASOS
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