Hot-desking revival puts staff on hop

Workspace real estate is going, going, gone.

Henry Budd

It is not just fashion trends from the early 1990s that are making a comeback. The business practice of hot-desking is being revived as well.

The premise of hot-desking is that a company provides less desks than there are staff to minimise space and costs.

Instead of having a dedicated computer and telephone, workers log on at any available workstation and simply type in a code to the phone to transfer their call to the extension on the desk.

Link Recruitment regional NSW general manager Gemma Avon says advancements in technology are behind the latest wave of hot-desking.

"People don’t really need to own a desk," she says. "With laptops and BlackBerries and mobile phones you can do the work wherever you are."

Avon, who travels extensively for her job, has been hot-desking for years.

"I have sent jobs in at Franklins, at Australia’s Wonderland when it existed, and on the side of freeways," she says.

"You don’t have to do your job at the same desk day-in, day-out."

Hot-desking derived from the navy practice of hot-bunking or hot-racking by sailors on different shifts who shared a limited number of bunks. Its revival is also linked to managers focusing more on outcomes and providing flexible work practices.

With high-speed internet and wi-fi becoming more widespread workers are becoming increasingly autonomous.

Technology means sales representative no longer have to return to the office at the end of the day to file sales figures – they can simply upload them while on the road.

"It’s all about outcomes, who cares where the job is done?" she says. "I can’t image any modern manager who isn’t more interested in outcomes than anything else."

Hot-desking is also more practical for some industries than others, Avon says. Businesses with shift workers or a high proportion of part-time employees are most likely to benefit from hot-desking.

"A company will not want to allocate all the costs associated with the full desk such as office space, electricity, phones, PCs and whatever for someone who is only there part of the time," she says.

Implementing hot-desking depends on how cost conscious a business is, she says.

"The economic benefits to a company are huge. If you want a better bang for your rental buck, you want the place jam-packed."

While hot-desking might make good economic sense, it could come at a social cost. Research from the University of Sheffield’s Institute of Work Psychology in the UK, first reported in The Guardian, suggests workers who hot-desk feel less connected to their team and less able and motivated to share knowledge with their colleagues.

"Some people have to feel like they have a desk of their own and feel like they have a home," Avon says.

Managing expectation is important to make sure employees don’t feel they are losing their "home" when they lose their own private space.

"In a customer service centre where people are coming and going, if people know that is how it is going to be they don’t get attached to a little piece of real estate and there is no status attached with what little piece of the world they have," she says.

"Having some personal knick-knacks on your desk isn’t necessarily going to make your job any better," she says.

"If you are enjoying your work it really doesn’t matter where you are doing it."

Don’t take it personally
It’s not just hot-desking employees who have to keep their personal items away from their work stations.

In 2002 Australia Post call centre worker Cori Girondoudas was docked $3000 from her pay each year for two years because she repeatedly refused to remove a photograph from her work station.

The photograph took her tally of personal items on the desk to four — one above the prescribed limit.

At the time the call centre’s management had imposed a three-item limit in order to reduce clutter. However after co-workers began to bring in more personal items in protest, Australia Post reversed its pay penalty.

Related articles you might be interested in reading