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Hot Desking Seems Like a Terrible Idea. Is It?


Hot desking isn’t a new idea, but it may be one picking up steam, especially as big corporations with big footprints try to squeeze the dime out of every dollar of floor space. Imagine this: you show up to work and plop your laptop just anywhere there’s room. From day to day, your spot might be all over the floor or building, depending on available space and maybe even your mood. Is having an unassigned desk really a good thing for those who need to work?

open office 

(Photo Credit: Shannon Clark/Flickr)

No Desk for You

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Last year, Citi got rid of assigned desks for its employees, much to the fascination of job news writers who examined the situation like the latest moldy petri dish found in the lab. In Citi’s Long Island City space, they have 150 unassigned desks for a staff of around 200. They have offices organized loosely around functions, and lockers to store your valuables (like your cheese).

Around the same time, BBC headquarters also got rid of assigned desks, with some gaping disparity of butts to places to sit said butts (3,500 desks for a staff of 5,600). They got so much interest in this absurdity they launched a sitcom on their own office weirdness with Hugh Bonneville (of Downton Abbey fame) in the lead.

Don’t Call it That

Slate recently looked at Deloitte’s use of an “open office” plan at their space in Amsterdam and explored the term “hot desking” in a cheeky poll. Thankfully, their number of employees who recognized the term was very low, which perhaps shows that the concept hasn’t made its way into the American vernacular yet.

Some call these spaces (a more palatable) “free address” system or “non-territorial offices” (which seems like a mouthful). But they’re really just “money savers” for places that have underutilized desk spaces. Think about how many desks you pass by in a normal cube farm that have folks out sick or on vacation or just plain unassigned because of job vacancies. This way every seat has a butt, and so on.

Open Office Despair

What happens to the introvert when all the walls go away? A 2012 Wall Street Journal piece noted that PricewaterhouseCoopers listed “open workspace etiquette” signs which included not “sneaking up” on people in communal spaces (think big table, lots of laptops) and to use “indoor voice,” “never eavesdrop,” and “use headphones.”

I’m sure rules like these are intended to keep people sane while they try to get work done without so much as a sliver of cube wall to buffer sound, but encouraging people to (ear)plug in and shut up isn’t really going to inspire meeting new team members and increasing collaboration, is it? When in doubt, I guess, just take your over-stimulated self somewhere that’s quiet, like the corner coffee shop. Or your couch.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have unassigned seating at work? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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