does an employer have to act on a doctor’s note? … and taking away people’s assigned desks

A reader writes:

I work for a company that has traditionally provided cubicle-style seating and equipped each work station with a laptop, docking station, and monitor. We just won a new client, and our team is moving a new space on a different floor. They are renovating the space to be workbench-style seating with no separation between desks. They are also trying a new style of seating, called “hot desking.” That means no one will have assigned seating; they will be first come, first serve. We will each have a locker for a few personal items and to lock up our laptops each night. We’ve also been told the company is going paperless, and we won’t have space in drawers or filing cabinets for papers.

None of this sounds great to me, but it is happening whether I like it or not. I’m hardly the only person upset, but management is chalking it up employees not leaning into change and insisting that we give it a try.

My single biggest concern is that we will no longer have monitors to use at our workstations and will be forced to work exclusively from our laptops. In addition to being inconvenient and less productive due to the number of spreadsheets we work with on regular basis, I am concerned about hurting my eyes and poor posture caused by hunching over my workstation and looking at the smaller screen all day. I had LASIK eye surgery a few years ago, and truly have eye sensitivities. If I needed a doctor’s note to support this, I could probably get one.

Does my employer have an obligation to provide a second screen if I present a doctor’s note? Or are they allowed to equip each person with hardware as they see fit? Any advice you have is greatly appreciated.

Doctors’ notes don’t actually obligate employers to act, even though people often think they do.

The only time a doctor’s note  triggers any legal obligation on the part of the employer is when it’s related to accommodation required by law — such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, etc.

Otherwise, it’s entirely up to the employer whether they act on a doctor’s note. Some do, and some don’t.

So the questions here are (a) whether you have a condition that’s covered under the ADA or another applicable law and (b) whether you have an employer who’s responsive to reasonable requests and willing to work with you once they hear there’s a problem.

Generally, it’s good to start out assuming that you have (b), until/unless you learn that you don’t. So that means that you should simply talk to your manager or whoever else is in a position to change your work station arrangement. Explain your concerns, offer to bring in a doctor’s note if that would help, and ask if it would be possible to accommodate you so that you can work without pain.

Note that this doesn’t start out with a doctor’s note — because there often isn’t any need for one at all. If you work for a reasonable employer that treats you like an adult, and if your request is one that they can accommodate without much hardship, then you probably won’t even need a note. You simply need to speak up.

But of course, not all employers fall in that category, which is why you can mention that you’d be glad to get a doctor’s note if it’s needed. And again, that note won’t have any force in law (unless there’s a legally covered condition in play), but sometimes offering or supplying one can nudge a company into deciding to accommodate you anyway.

On a side note, this new seating arrangement sounds like a load of crap. It reeks of the company grabbing on to a trend and implementing it without real thought or care about how it will impact people. Boo to them.

{ 136 comments… read them below }

  1. Esra*

    Do you also get to work from home? Because that’s the only time I’ve seen hotdesking make sense. If you have to be in the office every day, then I’m not sure what the perceived benefit is.

    1. fposte*

      Seriously. It would eradicate any sense of employee investment or belonging. There might be arguments for benches, etc. (and I work on a laptop because it’s ergonomically better for me than most desktop setups now), but the notion that there’s no place to call your own in a workplace seems to me completely counterproductive.

      1. Josh S*

        I do not know how a laptop can be ergonomically better than a desktop. It is almost never the case, even with a standing desk, unless you have a separate monitor.

        To be ergonomic, the monitor/screen should be slightly above eye level. This allows your neck to maintain its curve and rest above the shoulders, rather than leaning forward and down and being in front of your shoulders.

        To be ergonomic, a keyboard should be at or slightly below the level of your elbows when your arms are straight down from the shoulders. This allows your forearms to be horizontal or sloped slightly down, keeping your wrists in the proper position for typing and minimizing potential for carpal tunnel or other repetitive movement injuries.

        When the screen is attached to and immediately next to the keyboard, either your arms are too high or your neck is forced to look down. Neither of which is proper posture, and either of which can lead to injury over time.

        1. fposte*

          Because the ergonomics you describe are homogeneous, and individuals are not homogeneous.

          1. Josh S*

            OK–I understand what you mean when you say that “individuals are not homogeneous” — everyone is different.

            But as different as people can be, those basic ergonomic principles are the same for everyone that I can think of. Can you explain to me how it is possible to have a keyboard attached to a monitor without having a neck lean forward or elevating your arms to the point where your wrists are bent while you type? (I’m legitimately curious, because I’ve never seen it.)

            1. A teacher*

              No, they aren’t. Having worked in work comp for years before going into teaching–performing ergonomic testing and doing functional capacity assessments, there are common standards. However, even return to work notes for work comp type of injuries are tailored to the individual and not just based on industry standards (i.e. normal chair height per industry is 30″ but that doesn’t mean that is what is ergonomically correct for an individual)

              1. A teacher*

                Sorry–18″ for chair, 30″ for desk/table…had to look it up in the FCA book we had…

                1. Elizabeth*

                  Now I’m giggling, picturing an office full of employees sitting on 30″ chairs, legs dangling like little kids in grown-up furniture…

              2. Josh S*

                Right–the individual heights/distances must be different, but that’s because they need to be a certain height so that the person is in a certain posture, so that different body parts are in proper position relative to each other, and so that equipment is in the proper position relative to anatomy.

                I’m NOT saying “All monitors must be at a height of 145cm for people who are seated”. I’m saying that if a monitor is significantly below the level of your eyes (whether seated or standing), your body’s tendency is to crane the neck forward. Even if it doesn’t “hunch” downward, if it is positioned to the anterior of your shoulders, it increases the amount of ‘work’ done by the muscles rather than the skeleton.

                I’m NOT saying “all keyboards must be placed at a height of 30 inches from the ground.” But I am saying that they should be at the level of the elbows when they hang straight down from the shoulders.

                The head, shoulders, and hips should all be in a line. Elbows should be at 90* angle.

                This is really REALLY difficult to accomplish with a laptop. When the laptop keyboard is at the level of the elbows, the screen is MUCH too low and the neck pulls forward (and probably down). When the laptop screen is at the level of the eyes, the keyboard is MUCH too high. When the laptop is so far in front of you that the angle of both is tolerable, the arms are MUCH too far extended.

                If someone can explain how to position a laptop such that those 3 things are managed at the same time, please do. I’d love to know how to use my own laptop more ergonomically.

                1. Rana*

                  As someone who works on a laptop regularly, I’ll just say that you’re making an assumption about the neck craning. Because I wear glasses with the focal point towards the top of the lens, I tend to tilt my head down as a normal course of things, so when I’m viewing the laptop screen, I’m generally sitting with my chin tucked in, not craning forward.

                  I also find that the distance of the screen when I’m typing is just about perfect for me – again, my focal range issues may have something to do with it, but it also has to do with the size of the screen and the contrast, and how large you set the default text to be.

                  And my arms are currently relaxed, with my elbows at my sides and bent at a 90 degree angle.

                  Honestly, I have worse ergonomics at most desk set-ups, because the screens are usually farther away and I have to lean forward to see them properly, and because the keyboards are raised and tilted in a way that laptops’ are not. I’ve been writing and editing for years now, and the only time I ever had carpal tunnel was when I was working at a desktop, and I rarely have neck or back pain from working at the laptop.

                2. Josh S*

                  If you’re tucking your chin, your neck is not at the proper curvature. It’s not possible to ‘tuck’ your chin without moving the back of your skull forward, which moves the Atlas (C1) vertebra in front of vertebra prominens (C7) which means your head is being held in an anterior position. Which, in turn, places stress on your cervical muscles.

                  It might feel comfortable/fine, but it’s not ergonomically proper.

                  Regarding the desk setup–I agree with you. There are plenty of BAD desk setups: distance to screen too far away, keyboard too high, etc. At many of my workplaces, I’d take the keyboard off the desk and set it in my lap so I could type properly.

                  Here’s what GOOD ergonomic setup looks like for a desktop computer:

                  And for a laptop setup:
                  (Please note that most of these have a dock for a bigger/higher screen or a separate keyboard. One setup shows a potential alternative, but it’s something I’ve never seen in a workplace setup.)

                3. Rana*

                  Eh, I’m more interested in what works for me, personally, with my own body, than what’s “ergonomically proper.”

                  But then, I’m not responsible for setting up workstations for hundreds of people who are not built like me.

            2. KellyK*

              I can’t speak for fposte, but I tend to find laptops slightly better because I can sit on my ball chair, which is lower, and still have the screen at a comfortable height.

              Also, I’m working on a laptop now, and although I am looking down at it, I don’t find I have to crane my neck to do so. Screen resolution might affect how much wiggle room you have in monitor placement.

              1. Chinook*

                Do you have a straight laptop or do you use a docking station? The accounting firm I worked at used laptops with docking stations and hot desking for the audit team because so many people were out at clients. It had the advantage of being able to set up your computer the way you like it (i.e. desktop icons, hello kitty wallpaper) without tying up a desk while you are gone for the week.

                The docking stations were great because we could be hooked up and ready to go in the amount of time it took to turn ont he computer and it allowed us to have ergonomically configured desks.

            3. Rana*

              Keep in mind, too, that laptop screens are angled, not straight. That makes a lot of difference.

        2. Vicki*

          According to the ergo class I took at my last company, a laptop is NOT ergonomically better. Forget the ADA and start talking to OSHA.

          A “hotdesk” situation doesn’t meet any ergonomic needs you, the employee, might have (e.g. I need a 27″ desktop. Most office desks are set at 29″)

          When a former manager let me know that the company was thinking of “hoteling” cubes (like OPs but with cubicle walls) for anyone who worked from home 3 days a week or more, I called our Ergo department. They were _not_ happy and immediately contacted Facilities. They insisted that any required “hot desk” setup had to have a 24″ monitor, a separate mouse & keyboard, docking station, adjustable chair and adjustable work surface.

          The “hoteling: cubes never happened.

    2. Sourire*

      It also makes sense in call centers/dispatch type environments. For a regular office though, it seems pretty impractical to me as well.

  2. De Minimis*

    I have worked in offices that had similar layouts, but only in cases where a large group of people worked off-site…auditors who only were in “the office’ on occasion to where it made no sense to give them a permanent office. It sounds a little nuts to do it for a traditional workplace where people are there every day.

    1. Lexy*

      Exactly, I’m an auditor and our whole firm (big 4) has implemented “hotdesking” (we call it something else) because we spend 90% of our time out of the office, it’s inefficient to have an assigned workstation for everyone. But tax people who are in the office 95% of the time, and admins and stuff, all have assigned workstations.

      Also, workbench style seating isn’t that bad… I prefer at least a half height cube so you aren’t staring at other people all day, but wev.

      I just can’t even with having people who work in the office everyday having to “hotdesk” why? What is the purpose?

      1. Natalie*

        We are going to have one desk like this (we are calling it the “hotel” station) in my new office, but it’s for a couple of roaming employees who don’t have or need a permanent work station. I can’t imagine coming into an office every day and having to set up my pens and stuff. And how are phone calls going to work?

      2. Lora*

        A company I used to work with implemented hotdesking, AKA “hoteling” after I left. They did this because they were laying off so many people that they had to frequently re-arrange seating…

      3. Jessa*

        I don’t know, I mean I get “shared stations,” IE you have an adjustable chair and each person has a set of drawers – IE day shift and night shift, share desks. That could work. Or people on split schedules or odd/even weeks or something each share a space (I know a nurse who is on 7 off 7 and shares space with the other nurse. because it makes sense to have one desk for them. But they each have personal areas and space in the desk/office.)

        1. Lindsay J*

          This is how my old job was. From 7PM – 8AM it was my desk, for all intents and purposes. Then from 8:30AM – 6:30AM is was the day shift supervisor’s desk. There was no overlap on our shifts, and there were enough drawers, etc to keep us both happy, so it worked out really well.

          I can’t imagine coming in and sitting at a different desk each day though. It would just throw off my sense of routine and belonging a little bit – I liked going in and knowing where I was going to sit, where all my paperclips and rubberbands, etc, were, and feeling that there was a little part of my workspace that was mine.

    2. Elizabeth*

      My fiance’s office does something like this, but he works at a software start-up with only seven people. Virtually all their work is on computers, mostly coding, and everyone is working on closely related tasks all the time since the company just has one main product so far. They feel that switching desks routinely helps them collaborate because they wind up sitting next to different people instead of always the same person. They have real desks, though, and each one is set up with a monitor and separate keyboard to hook into the laptops.

  3. Chriama*

    Haha, every company wants to be young and fresh. Non-traditional is the new black :) I can see an environment where this would work out (e.g. when you have lots of people who travel and it isn’t worth it to provide space for all of them), but there are generally a few caveats (such as having areas for quiet work or meeting rooms for private conversations).

    I think I remember reading in the comments here about someone who works in a space like that, actually, but if I were put with everyone in the bullpen like that would totally ruin my productivity. I’m a social person and I know it, so when I want to work I go where there are no people around ;)

  4. Judy*

    We’re transitioning to new seating style that doesn’t have any walls over 30″ or so above the ground so they won’t block window view access. It’s something to do with a LEED building.

    Going to make my head explode when we get that.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      As someone with an windowless interior office and not even a window view when I come out of my office because other offices line all the walls, I think I would love what they’re proposing for you.

      1. 22dncr*

        I’ll bet you wouldn’t! Nothing like people staring at you all day to up your productivity. Plus, when I worked in this (only 3 months TG!), it encouraged eaves(sp?) dropping and back stabbing. GA! I hate even remembering it!

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I worked for 5 years with 4-ft cube walls with little glass windows in them so you could see your neighbor. The row dividers were tall, so you couldn’t see the people on the other side. I actually liked it a lot more than my current set-up, even with a private office, but I also had a desk with no cube or divider for a few months and I hated it. It might not have been so bad if I was not the only one, though. Everyone else had a real cube and I was basically at a countertop in an open shared workspace area.

          1. Aimee*

            My last desk had row dividers that were tall enough that you couldn’t see your neighbors when you were sitting, but if you were standing you could (which was nice for being able to collaborate at times), but the dividers between each cubicle in your row were on wheels and could be moved if you needed to work together. That was a really nice set up. I was not happy when they had to move me to a different floor (where we have cubicles, but mulitple people sharing each – kind of a hybrid cubicle/workbench-style seating arrangement).

      2. Lindsay J*

        <3 windows. That's one thing I don't miss about working in cash offices – they all felt like dingy, windowless dungeons. I love my big old building now with all kinds of natural light.

    2. Anonymous*

      It’s a technique to increase daylighting in the space (as well as views), which has been shown to improve employee productivity and well-being. You might like it! I don’t think I could ever work without significant daylighting again.

      1. Laufey*

        Agree with Anonymous.

        We have similar windows and things at my office and a lab I used to work in. It can actually be really nice, once you get over what we call the “fishbowl effect” – feeling like everyone’s looking at you all the time. Rainy days can be a little depressing, though it can be fun to watch the storms roll in if you’re high enough up.

      2. Judy*

        I write software. Others in my function in the floors that have been converted have invested in noise cancelling headphones. I’m expecting cardboard walls and ceilings any day.

        1. Windchime*

          I’m a programmer and I agree. I also use noise-cancelling headphones with a white-noise generator because one person’s “collaborative environment” is another person’s “stop talking so I can *think*”.

        2. Anonymous*

          I write words all day and use headphones. I’d still rather have a window any day of the week!

      3. Parfait*

        What’s the difference between “daylighting” and “daylight”? Why does daylight have to be verbed?

        1. Natalie*

          So we can wordify it!

          (I didn’t expect to reference this comic twice in one week.)

        2. Anonymous*

          Sorry, I suppose “daylight” would have been more suitable in this instance. “Daylighting” is the term used in the green building industry to describe the strategy / techniques employed to increase the amount of daylight in a space and we tend to use the two interchangeably, whether or not it’s “correct” to do so. So sue me!

          1. OP 6*

            Yep- daylighting is the term used in the building design industry when you’re referring to replacing unnatural light (from light bulbs) with natural light. It’s not always as easy as just having expansive windows so that daylight can get into a space; creating a way to get daylight even to people that are in interior spaces of a building is a design challenge. Accomplishing this is called daylighting a space.

    3. Chinook*

      I recognize the “right to light” set up with lower cube walls. It really does make a difference (says the woman who was the only staff member in the office who’s right to light was ignored because the reception desk was in a dark hole lit by artifical lights).

  5. AnotherAlison*

    I also find working from a laptop to be an ergonomic nightmare and am not very productive when doing so. They already have the monitors and docking stations that you all were using before, so why can’t the equip the bench seats for everyone with that? Our entire company has dual monitors, which happened when they wanted to go to paperless shop drawing reviews. Seems like going paperless and monitorless together is a bad combination. Maybe a productivity case study would be better than a doctor’s note?

    1. Chinook*

      Oooohhh…yes, I second the dual monitors in a paperless environment. I just switched back to one monitor and it is a real pain to compare two windows on the same screen and, as a result, I am printing more than I ever did before.

  6. Margaret H*

    An old company I worked for did the same type of office design. It was a complete disaster! People were way too loud in the open space. They would yell at each other from across the room. No one cleaned up after themselves. The lockers were not large enought to hold everyone’s stuff. People who work in Excel & SAP needed 2 monitors & no one wanted to move a monitor twice a day. Managers started to just permanently claim spots as there own & would not leave.
    Your company will soon find out that they wasted a ton of money just trying to be hip.

    1. PPK*

      The cleaning is an excellent point — coffee spills and food crumbs. At least when I spill on my desk, I know it’s my mess. Hopefully they have a cleaning crew who will wipe off all of the generic desks. I know they stopped cleaning our offices a long time again and if you want a clean desk, you clean it yourself.

    2. Steve G*

      Yes this policy sounds totally dumb to me too. I totally don’t appreciate someone telling me to go paperless BTW. I reference 3 manuals that are 200 pages each and take 5 minutes to open daily, so I printed them. I wouldn’t want to work somewhere where that was scene as faux-pas. Also, I don’t know what kind of laptops are otu there, but I have thousands fo documents and many hard drives (some redundant), 2 computers, a mega-computer due to the needs of my job…..I can’t just have a flimsy little laptop and no space to work – I need to lay out a bunch of documents, have access to a bunch of spreadsheets, always calling people….not everyone’s job is so simple that all they need is a laptop and a random seat. Not unless they are doing the same repetitive task all day.

  7. Mary*

    Unfortunately what the OP is describing is the wave of the future. The company I contracted at (in Silicon Valley) had offices for each employee. They then decided that they wanted to go to low walled cubes which meant no privacy and back to the headphones for conference calls. Another company I was at also went to the bank of seats and you just plop your laptop where ever. I also work on spreadsheets and love two screens. It makes it easier to transfer information.

    1. Joey*

      Not sure its the wave of the future unless you just mean its the wave of the next year or two until people realize its not a good idea for most jobs.

      Remember those weird looking ergonomic chairs that look more like a cat scratching post?

      1. Mary*

        Yup Joey – remember those and I hope you are right about this fad going out soon. I thought cubicles were bad; but this is ridiculous. I remember having to share a normal sized cube; not fun. I felt like I was driving my car as I had to to look to my left before I backed out of my chair. But these workbench situations take the cake; way worse.

    2. Grumpy*

      It’s the wave of “we can cram more employees into less space and the people making the decision to do this still have private offices” . I work in an “agile” “collaborative” environment like this. unfortunately I’ve gotten used to it, but it SUCKS! you used to be able to work up to having your own office some day but now you get to work up to havng your own cube.

      just more dehumanization of the employees…..

  8. Anonymous*

    I’ve never had a cubicle or an office ever. At the internship I worked at whatever computer was open when I got there. At my first “real” job it was an open office, but I at least had a desk even though it was out in the open (and next to my manager for four months). Now I’m at a startup that has me use my own laptop and sit wherever there’s room. Sometimes it’s a conference room, sometimes it’s someone’s old office, and sometimes it’s at a table in the common space. But at least they’d let me work from home. It’s nice, but it’d also be great to have a permanent workstation I could personalize.

    1. Joey*

      I just don’t get how companies can hire people without providing basic things like a computer and a designated workspace. Even when its just a temporary solution it makes you feel unnessesarily expendable.

  9. Sourire*

    Re the doctor’s note thing: Unfortunately for those who have true problems, it would be really impractical (and ridiculous) if employers had to abide by anything in a doctor’s note due to the potential for abuse. Can you just imagine the things some people would come up with (I fully endorse a fun list of most ridiculous “accommodations” in replies to this)…

    1. Josh S*

      Heck, in some states (*ahem* California *ahem*) you can get a prescription for marijuana. If an employer had to accommodate doctors’ notes, you’d end up with legally protected drug use on premises. And that ain’t good for anyone.

      1. anon o*

        If I had to sit at a picnic bench all day I think pot is the only thing that would be good for me.

        1. Esra*

          Right? One of the belongings I would be trucking from desk-to-desk is a giant bottle of tylenol to deal with the back pain.

      2. Jamie*

        Even if employers had to take doctors notes into account that doesn’t mean a workplace would have to accommodate drug use. I can legally get prescribed all kinds of drugs a whole lot more mind altering than marijuana – doesn’t mean it would be a good idea to work under the influence to legality of any particular substance isn’t the issue.

  10. mark*

    Sounds like a cheap company that doesnt want to spend money on the proper office equipment.

  11. Thomas*

    My floor full of cubicles has never sounded so good…

    Though I admit, I actually rather like my cubicle setup anyway. This setup sounds horrendous if you’re supposed to be there everyday.

  12. EnnVeeEl*

    I’m giggling at the completely paperless office.

    You can do your best (and personally I think everyone should avoid unnecessary printing, holding onto excessive files from 100 years ago, etc.), but that’s very hard to do.

    I don’t think this is going to end well.

    1. 22dncr*

      It’s doable. I’ve helped implement it at at 2 companies in Silicon Valley and 1 here in Texas but it takes total commitment and buy-in from all the employees. You have to be willing to fire if people are fighting it. Same with any dractic change. The one in Texas bombed because they wouldn’t just fire the people that wouldn’t change. Company ended up going under after 50 years.

      1. Laufey*

        No offense, but if a company has been doing well for 50 years and suddenly goes under, there is most likely something at play other than simply a failed paperless attempt.

        And frankly, I wouldn’t want to work for a company that will fire me simply for printing out a document so I can cross reference, or stop straining my eyes, or whatever.

        1. fposte*

          The paperless office is also going to run into the problem of archives, which is a huge issue in libraries and preservation. As long as the physical object is intact, paper remains readable, but digital material requires either retaining contemporary hardware and software and maintaining it long after it’s lost commercial availability or practicing constant conversion and file repair. It’s a real challenge.

          1. Rana*

            Yes – between the hardware/software issue, and the fragility of most digital media, a lot of archivists are really concerned about what’s going to happen with all the data we’ve been generating. You can’t just chuck it in a vault and let it sit; you have to budget for maintenance and upgrades and all of that sort of thing. Documents from several centuries ago can be read and accessed without needing special equipment; the same can’t be said of an email.

        2. Cat*

          Right? I am all for environmental conservation, but I’m also for simple tasks not taking twice as long because I can’t print out a document when I need one.

          1. dejavu2*

            I’m not sure if this remains true, but about ten years ago my employer decided not to go paperless because some study they commissioned actually showed that there wasn’t any positive environmental impact from going paperless when you factor in the production, storage, maintenance, and eventual disposal of alternative things like DVDs, CDs, etc.

      2. Alexi*

        Couldn’t you just implement recycling instead and have a strict policy about it, then recycle as backup? You could educate employees about why and how to go paperless so it decreases, but firing someone over that seems like a bad way to run your company. You hire people because of their ability to do their job well, not because they need something on paper to do their job well.

        1. tcookson*

          I worked at a company (a natural foods warehouse that went out of business once natural foods became widely available) where recycling was very strictly enforced. We all had to have white paper and mixed paper containers under our desks, and then in the recycling room there were six or seven different boxes for different kinds of paper.

          At my new job, the first thing I did when I got there was put mixed and white recycling boxes next to each copy machine in the building and next to the faculty mailboxes. They used to just throw all that paper in the trash. It’s been six years since I set up the recycling boxes, and everyone habitually uses them now; they’re part of our office culture. I still keep the boxes under my desk, too.

  13. COT*

    Think of the lost productivity when people spend several minutes at the beginning of the day searching for a workstation, hauling their locker contents to said station, and setting up… and then putting it all away again at the end. What an impractical system for people who spend all day, every day working in the office.

    1. Tina Career Counselor*

      That’s exactly what I was imagining! I was thinking “do they have enough stations for each in-office employee, or do you have to compete to even get a desk?” In which case, does that mean they get to go work from home if you don’t get a spot? :)

  14. Brett*

    I also don’t get why they don’t take the existing docks and monitors and set them up permanently at the workbenches.
    Another hidden problem with this system is the wear and tear on equipment from moving it around. Setting up and stowing the laptops every day (especially with the batteries in them) is going to shorten their life considerably compared to leaving them at set positions most of the time. Better make sure the warranties are in line for all of them.

  15. LMW*

    But think of how this collaborative environment will help you all innovate and create synergies!

  16. Anonymous*

    This is one I’d like to hear the outcome of. I don’t think OP will be able to get a monitor with a simple request. The company doesn’t want to give people monitors anymore and they will very likely be resistant to any exceptions to this new policy because they are afraid if they let one person have one, everyone will want one (as well they should!).

    I’ve worked in a workbench-style set up where we had about 2 feet of space btw up and the next person and also had people over the ‘wall’ – the wall being a divided that rose about 8 inches from the shelf. It was horrible. I think someone above said a windowless interior office is worse than the set-up the OP described. I’ve had both and for me, the windowless office – which gives me both quiet and privacy is approx. 1,000,000% better.

  17. Leigh*

    I cannot think of a more miserable work environment than not having a space of my own and not knowing where I’m going to sit until I get there. Sitting someplace unfamiliar every single day would make me so anxious, I don’t think I could function very well.

    1. Jamie*

      This. This alone would be dealbreaker enough to polish up my resume and see what’s out there.

      The upside is it sounds like such a bad idea I doubt very much it will last long…they’ll try it, find it untenable, and go back to normal. At least I hope so, for the OP’s sake.

      1. Layla*

        We are hot desking currently & will be moving back to traditional within 2 weeks.
        Not sure what made TPTB change their minds. They are certainly not the ones who have to get into turf wars and wipe down their cubicle / phone with wet wipes daily

    2. SB*

      What would you do about those slobbish coworkers. Like the ones that spill food or clip their nails. There is nothing I could think of that would be worse than sitting down to a work station and finding fingernail clippings all over it or unknown stick substances. (Not many offices are actually wiped down by cleaning staff daily)

    3. Chinook*

      All I could think of is turning into Sheldon and looking at someone and saying “You’re in my spot.”

    4. Kara*

      Agreed. This arrangement is my nightmare, honestly. Our sales force works remotely and there are a couple of hotdesks they use when they’re in the office; it’s also used by people who work in other branches and are in ours for whatever reason (a meeting and they decide to stay the rest of the day, etc.) and vice-versa. But never having somewhere to sit? Ever? Even at my old survival job at a call center, while we sat at different desks every day, there were enough desks/cubes for everyone and we were assigned a cube for our shift – it wasn’t catch as catch can.

  18. Lexy*

    On a practical note, OP, if the company won’t buy you a monitor, you can buy a nice sized portable one for about $100. A lot of us (auditors) use them in the field. The firm doesn’t provide them but it makes our lives so much easier that it’s worth it for most of us to pony up ourselves.

    I know a lot of people find paying for things that their employer “should” provide to be unconscionable… but on a practical level, if it helps you that much to have the second monitor (and believe me, I know how it helps, you haven’t seen spreadsheets until you’ve seen some of my workpapers) and you really can’t talk them into it… I would do it.

  19. Catbertismyhero*

    When we designed our workstations, we set the walls between stations at 56 inches high, and the divider walls between clusters at 72 inches high. This was in response to many of the concerns expressed above about noise and privacy when the old walls were set at 36 inches. It has worked well in general.

  20. Rayner*

    This sounds like hell on earth.

    IDGAF what people are telling me about ergonomics, and social co-ordination. Sometimes, I need a break from people, and not being able escape would be terrible.

    Also, IDK about the OP, but what to do about conference calls? Or people like me who type like it’s 1955 and we’re on typewriters that need hammering? What about people who pace while thinking? Or who need dual monitors to co-ordinate large documents or spreadsheets?


    I suspect the OP’s management are going to be getting short shrift from their workers once this is implemented.

    1. Mike C.*

      This doesn’t really have anything to do with ergonomic though. And repetitive strain injuries really suck.

      1. Rayner*

        Several of my friends have had this happen to their office, and it’s been cited as more ‘ergonomic’ because they could bring in laptop docking stations that were raised to meet eye height as part of the refit, and because they wanted to throw out the old chairs to bring in a combined desk and chair system that were compatible, and listed as ergonomic to ‘protect’ workers from things like RSI and stuff.

        I get that, but rather than adapting the existing workspace, they wanted to do on the cheap, ditch the old equipment and start again with something more hip. Several local businesses offered cut price stuff if they told people who did their refit etc, but they didn’t have a clue and niether did the bosses.

        Six months in, they’re planning on changing it back. Go figure.

    2. Lexy*

      We have “privacy enclaves” throughout the office that people take calls on. If you’re just listening in on a call you usually just plug head phones in. And we have a ton of conference rooms so if you need to put the call on speaker with a couple people you use one of those. It’s actually really convenient from that perspective.

      Again, the only weird thing is that it seems like they’re having employees who come in EVERY day hotel. SO WEIRD.

      I will note that in all likelihood everyone will develop “their spot” anyway. I come into the office like once a month (sometimes less) and there’s only about 3 spots I even sit in. They’re “mine”. Everyone has theirs here.

      1. Jamie*

        I had to laugh at everyone picking a spot anyway – absolutely true. This happens all the time with parking and meeting seats…not assigned and not enforceable but people pick their spots and get into habits and some real pettiness can ensue when you show up for work and another car is in your spot.

  21. PPK*

    Is the OP sure that they will no longer have monitors and docking stations? Do the employees have a mix of laptops so docking stations are not necessarily compatible (at my job, people get new laptops at new times so one type of dock does not fit all). The company could at least leave a monitor/keyboard/mouse at each station so users can plug-in. Unless people are at really different technologies where you might need a PS/2 and USB, analog and digital cable.

    I would bring up the idea that they should still provide the desks with some general equipment.

    My impression is if people are there every day, spots are going to be “claimed.” Like when people have a “spot” in the parking lot, conference room, lunchroom, etc. It happens. When I go to the conference room, I have to remind myself to sit somewhere new or I’d sit in the same place every time. Good luck, OP!

  22. Anonymous*

    I know the “hotdesking” thing is a trend (my company was going to do it for our new space but it got shut down really quickly) but you’d think that they could at least provide a monitor setup with each docking station. That’s what we have in our flex spaces (like conference rooms… and the treadmill desk, LOL). I’m used to the open office and low to no walls now…but I like having my own space!

    1. Jamie*

      This is what I don’t get, monitors aren’t that expensive and are pretty basic equipment.

      I’m a big fan of multiple monitors, and at least dual monitors being he default because there is a huge increase in productivity.

      I just have the strongest urge right now to have a chat with the OPs IT team and show them how to fight for sanity.

  23. VictoriaHR*

    Alison had a letter not too long ago from a woman who had an altercation with someone whose seat she took at lunchtime in the conference room. Imagine the chaos when the old biddies started claiming their workstations as “the one I ALWAYS use!” Ugh.

    1. SW*

      Seriously. I had a coworker who threw a fit once when the tables in the cafeteria were moved around for a renovation. “They moved MY table!!!”

      Some people need to grow up.

  24. Jubilance*

    I know at least 1 large company in my city who has moved to this model, and another company is moving to it & is in the design phase now. My friends at both companies are HOT about the new arrangements and extremely unhappy. There’s no privacy, there’s a million distractions because people are 2 feet from you on calls, typing, whatever.

    I really wish companies would stop trying to jump on whatever hot new thing some startup comes up with. Taking down the cubicle wall between myself and my coworker is not going to foster collaboration because we don’t work on the same projects anyway. It will however drive away high performers who can’t work in this new environment.

    1. EnnVeeEl*

      This! If it’s not broken, why try to “fix” it? God forbid they use the money spent on these initiatives and give it to their employees in the form of bonuses or pay raises.

      1. Layla*

        My company didn’t have to spend money on implementing hot desking .
        They basically just said : you don’t have a fixed place to sit now.
        And number of allocated desks is less than number of employees.

        ( some of us go out to meet clients but its not that regular. I’d say I’m 75% of the time in )

  25. SB*

    Our office is paperless, and I still have a drawer full of paper. Not because I dislike paperless (actually, I love being paperless. It makes finding what I need so much easier than sifting through loads of folders) but because the rest of the world isn’t paperless and there will be papers. 90% of my papers are travel-related and I have to keep for a certain period of time for accounting purposes (travel receipts, copies of applications for visas, etc).

    I would hate playing musical chairs. I have never been in an office that didn’t eventually run out of space. I work in a new facility that opened up just last year. Despite them making the cube farm area bigger than necessary, it filled up. Now all of our interns have to double up on cubes or have made office “crashpads” in the smaller conference rooms. In our headquarters (newly remodeled two years ago), room is so tight that the interns have to work in the lunch rooms. In my previous job, they opened a new office space just as I was coming on and within a year the staff had grown to the point that they needed to re-do the offices to make them all smaller to squeeze in new offices. Not having designated spaces will end up feeling like Thanksgiving dinner at Aunties, where everyone is elbowing each other.

    1. Chinook*

      The first paperless office I was in was truly paperless because we were a scanner company and the boss figured that we needed to live with the technology in order to make it better. I then made my boss prove to me that I could shred “back-up” and he pointed me to the Revenue Canada website that said scanned copies were suitable and even preferred as they can be transmitted easily. Since, then, I have happily shredded all types of documents AFTER ensuring it has been scanned, appropriately named and then stored in a manner that is regularly backed up. It has honestly been life changing as electronic, when done properly, is much easier to search.

      1. SB*

        Sadly, I’m not in Canada. And the keeping back up receipts isn’t my rule, it’s the boss’. I already scan and have digital copies of the receipts (since our expenses are approved digitally). However, since there are massive amounts of international travel in our organization and people from several nations working in and out of the US, original receipts are king.

  26. Anonymous*

    I’ve worked in this type of situation. It was a short-term, part-time contract position on company location. The nature of the work required us to use materials that were kept in a conference room/library, so we just took what we needed and spread out around the conference room. We did have laptops, but we didn’t need any complex software, not even an Internet connection.

    It did foster collaboration, but in this case, that was part of the assignment. And the only people around the conference table were those working on the project, not random employees from accounting or HR that had nothing to contribute.

    I think the set-up worked, but only because this was a highly specific project-oriented task. I don’t think it would work for day-to-day company operations.

  27. rlm*

    I get so frustrated by leaders who play the “you just don’t know how to embrace change” card when employees bring up concerns about new policies like this. This sounds absolutely awful. I have lower back problems and can’t imagine sitting at a workbench all day. I would be miserable and much less productive. Not to mention all the other issues such as time setting up/closing down, eye strain, distractions, etc.

    1. Judy*

      Oh, yes, then there is the new Director that showed us the floorplan of the area. “Everyone will be out in the open look at this! It will be so much more productive!” Then he pointed to the spot that would be his office. :(

      1. Windchime*

        Yeah, if it’s so wonderful to have an open workspace, why does he still have an office? My previous office was this weird layout with a big, curving counter that kind of snaked around the entire office, with workstations situated every few feet. At least we all had our own assigned workstation, but it was still really difficult to work with absolutely no divider between people. It was yak, yak, yak all day long. So noisy, in fact, that managers often had to close their doors.

    2. Leslie Yep*

      I think things like this — that are either really poorly conceived or really poorly communicated or both — are what set the stage for employees to complain about substantive and helpful changes, too. If your experience is that your workplace typically institutes new programs/protocols/policies without hearing and incorporating employee feedback, every time you see something new come down the chute, of course your first thought is, “Here we go again.”

      Definitely there are people who just grouse, but how can you expect people to be on board if you didn’t do the work to get them on board?

  28. Kerr*

    This sounds horrible. I would hate to use a laptop every day at the office for ergonomic/eyestrain reasons. And that’s ignoring all of the other issues with “hotdesking”. (Sounds like musical chairs!)

  29. Natalie*

    Aside from how much I would hate this, it also seems utterly pointless. I can see the advantage to this set-up for some fairly specific circumstances, but what on earth do they think the advantage is for the bog-standard office employee?

    This sounds like something Veridian Dynamics would have thought up.

    1. Layla*

      The advantage is for the company to save on rental.
      And possible advantage for employee :
      – u could hide somewhere to skive
      – you are no longer tethered to your desk
      “You didn’t give me one so how can u expect me to be here ”
      – you can move away from annoying co-workers to a certain degree

  30. Jen in RO*

    I’m starting to be worried that I work on a sort of workbench style office and I don’t mind it anymore… (not an actual bench, but 3 Ikea desks next to each other and 3 more right in front of them). It does help collaboration, but sometimes we tend to collaborate *too* much and we just waste time. (Having to play musical chairs would make me brush up my resume asap, it sounds horrible!)

  31. SW*

    I would hate a set-up like that. Talking with customers on the phone makes me anxious enough without having coworkers listen in.

  32. JR*

    Can I just say, I really hate this move to workplace 2.0 (shared spaces, laptop only, etc.). I get that it works for some workplaces, but wow, I can’t imagine how depressing that set-up would be!

  33. Rana*

    I would have mixed feelings about this arrangement, too. In some ways, I do work in this way – as a laptop-based freelancers, there are times when I prefer to work in a coffeeshop or a library, and in those settings I’m used to not having “ownership” of my space, and of having a certain amount of noise and bustle around me. But then there are the other times when I’m grateful to have my own office, where I can pile up my projects and resources and tools, and can work in perfect silence and isolation.

    I think it’s less the workspace arrangement per se, and more the one-size-must-fit-all attitude of management, that’s the issue here.

  34. Kou*

    Oh my god the open office space trend is maddening. Almost no one actually likes it, it absolutely decreases productivity (surprise! most people don’t like the feeling that everyone around them can see everything they do at any given moment) but it’s exceptionally cheap. I’d imagine it’s even cheaper to have big benched hotdesks with lockers and no drawers and no monitors. “Embrace change” my behind.

  35. SarahMarie*

    A friend of mine was just telling me that her employer just did away with name plates on their offices and cubicles. From here on our they will be known by their employee number. So instead of my name tag saying “Sarah Marie” it would now say “Employee 5842145B”. I thought that was really strange!

  36. LCL*

    I went to a high school that was open concept, back in the dark ages. I loved it, it taught me great concentration skills, but my opinion was in the minority. Of my close circle of friends from sophomore year, all dropped out or transferred to a traditional high school by graduation. And the school has since been remodeled into a traditional classroom setup with walls.

    So the idea is interesting, but if a person hasn’t learned the skills required to work in this environment before they are grown, it is too late. And requiring this of adults, who have serious ergonomic issues, is just sadistic. (High school kids have ergo issues too, but their issues are ignored because they are young and not hurting yet. Ask the lefty or too tall to fit in the desk student.)

  37. Joanne*

    I do home based therapy, so we all work in a giant bullpen with desks (like countertops, as someone said above) lining the walls. Sometimes it’s quiet, because everyone is out seeing clients, and sometimes all 10 of us are in here staffing clients and not getting anything done. I bring my ipod to work every day! At least we have designated spots that are ours, though, because I primarily work with children and have a bookcase filled with games and toys.

  38. Naomi*

    This has zero to do with leaning into change and everything to do with this being an incredibly cheap way to allocate space for a large group of people servicing this new client. So long as everyone vocalizes their displeasure with the new layout, management will make a change rather than continue to piss off the people working on their brand spanking new client’s business.

  39. Poe*

    My coworkers would hate me in this kind of set-up. I talk to myself while I work and I get up and pace around at least 3 times per day. I would probably like the open factor (I have a hole-in-the-wall, former storage room for an office that is dark and hot and smells because they park a vehicle that idles a lot next to the air intake), but everyone else would want to kill (or fire) me.

  40. Alexi*

    My guess is your company isn’t going to work too hard to accommodate you. If they were concerned about their employees’ comfort and convenience, they wouldn’t be doing this utterly stupid seating arrangement. This sounds like a great way to share germs and create conflict amongst coworkers over normally minor annoyances. If my company did this, I’d be looking for a new job asap.

  41. Laura*

    Oh, this sounds horrible. And remember the post from a few days ago about “core competencies” that sparked a discussion about annoying jargon? I hereby nominate “hot-desking” for addition to the list. Ugh.

    Just the word irks me, and I’m not even being subjected to it. It’s right up there with “right-sourcing,” the new PC expression for “outsourcing.”

  42. Jessa*

    I would probably get the doctor’s note anyway. Even if the boss does it without a problem. I was hired to a job in a new company by a woman who was made head of HR there. She used to be my manager at a temp company. She knew about my disabilities and so did my direct superior. Things were lovely for two years, then she left the company and someone complained to my boss about my not lifting boxes – a small but required part of the job but not a BIG deal except that this particular employee had been tasked by the boss to put my box out by my desk for the day, and put up my completed work box at the end and was complaining that I was lazy to the NEW HR person.

    I could have had the note in the file for years, however I then had to scramble for NEW paperwork from new doctors because the evaluation I had was 2 years old.

    Once the boss says “you’re good,” if you are, I’d get a CYA note for “their files.” anyway.

    Yes I had an odd situation but if you already have or are easily ABLE to get the CYA note, I’d have it made part of your personnel file just because. Even if they ARE being accommodating, things can change quickly with a management change or a corporate audit that wonders why you don’t do x.

  43. Jennifer*

    OP, your office needs to read this article about how “hot desking” does not work:

    You have my sympathies.

    My office is on this total craze about how other offices of our ilk are becoming a “one stop shop” and other crap like that. Some people went to a conference and found out about some office that has no office whatsoever- people are just given laptops and told to ROAM THE CAMPUS so they can just meet with people wherever, whenever. Sounds like a fucking disaster to me.

  44. Elle-em-en-oh-pee*

    I am feeling reasonable today, and because SO many others above have made my point (better than I could), with no further adieu I concur with this:

    (Insert word of your choice/choice word) … the “Open Plan Office” (and all variations thereof) and the so-called efficiency experts that shil them.

    Love all these companies that tell you to kiss it and call it Ice Cream!

    Dark days ahead when a once decent company suddenly decide worker satisfaction, comfort, and well-being are obsolete, and proceeds to steamroll over anyone who’d dare say boo.

  45. Manager Keith*

    If all the desks are similar and outfitted the same, “hot desking” can be used to remove individual “territories” within a work environment. Some staff will carve out their territory and protect it as a part of office politics. When I have seen this done, it’s been for busting up cliques and de-throning workplace royalty. Don’t think I’ve never seen it really done for efficiency except in the case of shifting, where there are less workspaces than workers, but’s that a bit different case.

Comments are closed.