how can I avoid taking a job in an open-plan office?

A reader writes:

I moved away from my favorite city in the time of the Great Recession to a job several hours away. I have mixed feelings about this job, but I’ve learned a lot and the compensation has been great. Unfortunately they are moving to a VERY aggressive form of hoteling or “hot desking,” for everyone, which is a dealbreaker. I don’t travel, attend few meetings, we can’t work remotely. I am not interested in playing musical chairs every morning and after lunch, and keeping my scissors and reference materials and pictures of my furbabies (and laptop. And headset. And notepad. And pen. You get the idea) in a locker. The majority of the limited number of work stations lack monitors. It’s crazy.

The timeline for transition for my group is about six months from now so I’ve been beginning to look at what is available back in Favorite City. Recently a job was posted that sounds ideal — it reads like “here’s a list of everything Arya has been doing for the last X years,” including some pretty unusual software that I’ve been managing for the last year. Thanks to this website, I think my resume and cover letter will get me at least a phone interview. The thing is, this prospective company is similar in industry and size to the one I work at now, and I’m concerned that they may also have been sold on the open office concept. I hate to waste the time driving there and interviewing (assuming it gets that far), and wasting THEIR time, if I wouldn’t take the job due to the officing situation. And I wouldn’t. I can take a pay cut if it comes to that, even benefit reductions — but at a minimum I need a cube, and if they’re moving in the direction of this nonsense better to know at the outset, no? How can I bring this up in a telephone screening without sounding entitled or turning them off?

You can ask about this in a phone interview by saying something like this: “Can you tell me a bit about the physical work environment? Is it offices, cubes, an open floor plan, something else?”

You don’t want to make that your only question, of course, or it’ll sound like you’re prioritizing it strangely. But you can include it along with other things you’re interested in knowing.

That assumes this is a real phone interview, where there’s time for you to ask questions of your own. If it’s more like them saying “I have two quick questions for you before we set up an in-person interview” … well, there’s no real way to ask this in that context without sounding like you’re putting an undue amount of importance on it. To be clear, you’re not — you’re talking about something that has a massive impact on your day-to-day quality of life at work and it’s reasonable to care as much as you do about it. But the reality is that it’s not likely to come across that way. So in that case, I’d put this in the category of all the other things that can be immediate deal-breakers but which you might not find out about until you have a more in-depth in-person interview (like a terrible manager or incompatible culture or so forth). That’s annoying, but it’s just how interviewing goes sometimes.

I suppose that if you you really want to, you could say something like, “Would you mind if I asked you a quick question about the work environment before we confirm an interview time? I’m leaving my current job in part because I’ve found the physical environment doesn’t work well for me — we do hot-desking, meaning there are no assigned desks and you have to find a new workspace every day. I know more companies are moving to that model, and I don’t want to waste your time if that’s something you’re doing — any chance you can tell me if that’s your current set-up?” There’s still a risk that it’s going to seem a little strange to make this your one and only screening question at this stage … but if you’re committed to screening out hot-desking companies, this is an option.

(Also, it sounds from your question like it’s not just the hot-desking you want to avoid, but open offices entirely, including ones with assigned seating. If I’m right about that, then tweak the wording to ask about open offices specifically.)

However … The bigger problem with all of this is that you could take a job at a company that doesn’t have an open office or hot-desking, and they could end up switching to it six months or a year from now. It’s very hard, maybe impossible, to guard against that. You could get a manager who fully agrees with your dislike of those set-ups, and she could leave and be replaced by someone who loves them, or a new CEO could come in who firmly believes no one should have any walls ever again. Of course, that’s true with most of the things that might lead you to take a job — they can change at any point (see for example, the letter-writer yesterday who took a job in part because she could bring her dog to work, and then was told she couldn’t). And they can change not because anyone is being nefarious and deliberately misleading you, but just because sometimes circumstances and needs change over time.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t make this a major factor in what job you take next, though. Just be prepared for the reality that things can change.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 309 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’m putting this up here so that hopefully people see it before adding new comments: There’s already a ton of discussion below about how people hate open offices/hot-desking. I’m asking that comments focus more on how/whether you can suss this stuff out before interviewing or early on in the process — since that is what this question is about!

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I appreciate these reminders, Alison! Too often we have a tendency to focus on the part of the letter most interesting to us (and, very often, that we want to complain about!). Thanks for keeping us on track!

    2. kittymommy*

      I’m not sure to ask this here or in the regular comments, but what is the idea behind “hot desking”? I’ve never had this in an office I’ve worked in (mostly government), so I’m not sure I understand the reasoning. Is it just to induce a more collaborative process?

      1. BritCred*

        Usually its used where you have restricted desk room and a fluid staff in the office (either working out of the office or just shifts) and there really isn’t a reason to invest in more space.

        Or where they want to have a idea of everyone can work with anyone within the department and “free and open” stuff…. but I’ve never been in that sort of company myself.

        1. JessaB*

          The only time I did it was when I worked an overnight shift in a call centre doing quality control. We each had an assigned desk and it had one of those file cabinets with one big file drawer and two smaller drawers, with a lock to put our stuff in. However, during the day that set up was used by the actual call centre reps, making and taking calls. They hot desked, but the only things they had were their headsets and maybe a notebook where they took notes. They had decent sized half lockers where you could hang your coat but nobody cared if you put your coat on your chair, or your purse under the desk. But it would have been silly to have a stack of desks nobody could use during the day.

          But I don’t consider that actual hot desking because we had assigned space, and most reps were sat in teams and it’s not a laptop and a bunch of files and office supplies. It was their headset.

          I just don’t know outside the call centre environment, I’d hate it, and I’m just wondering why it would be weird to at least ask about hot desking in a regular office and decide that’s a deal breaker. Open concept is harder, because that’s a huge thing nowadays, but hot desking? Why not “I’m leaving this job because it’s not really set up to be do-able without an assigned desk, are you doing or do you plan on doing hot desking?”

          Isn’t hot desking in a regular office an ODD thing to do?

      2. Ego Chamber*

        “what is the idea behind ‘hot desking’? … Is it just to induce a more collaborative process?”

        Dear god no. In my experience it’s either because the turnover is so high the company doesn’t want to bother assigning seats, or because they haven’t actually got enough workstations for all employees to have their own.

        The worst case scenario is when the company has multiple shifts, and there are exactly enough workstations for each shift—but the shifts overlap an hour or so at the end/beginning, and then the managers get all pissy in team meetings because half their team physically can’t start their shift on time. I am glad I left that call center btw.

  2. Lil Fidget*

    I feel ya. It’s weird that the prospective employee has to go through so many hoops before you get your chance to ask questions – recall that there’s lots of advice out there that you don’t even get into *salary* discussions until quite late in the game, and that’s something most people care a lot about. Since this is someplace you’re going to spend most of your waking hours it’s always been weird to me how little you’re really able to find out in advance. Most places I haven’t even seen the work area or met any colleagues when I accept or decline.

    Sidenote: it reminds me of dating, there’s a stereotype that the girl is supposed to wait passively to be chosen, and all you get is the final approval/veto.

      1. Earthwalker*

        Haha! Except it’s always felt skewed to the employer’s advantage. “Two girls for every boy,” or something like that.

        1. Bob*

          Traditionally dating is viewed as a girl waits for multiple boys to chase her and then she picks one. Companies have the same perspective where a bunch of candidates fight for the job and then they pick one. I would argue that both are out of touch with reality. Aside from the outliers like Google, the average company is often lucky to even get one truly qualified candidate just like the average girl might have a handful of guys chasing her but would likely only consider one worthy of dating.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            I guess everybody sees dating through their own lens haha. To me, as a girl, I was referring to the stereotype that you have to act perfect and normal and not weird at all so as not to “scare him off” before he decides to commit to you, which is how I feel about interviewing: you’re supposed to be acting totally normal, not throwing up any red flags, in the hope that they’ll “chose you” to commit to, while they’re playing the field with other candidates.

            However, I should clarify that neither of these things is actually how dating between humans should work in the real world! Hopefully it’s really all just people getting to know people.

            1. JessaB*

              I agree with you. It’s gotten so that people go through entire interview processes and some of em are extremely weird or long or take work or travel and then they find out that they would have self-selected out because of x, but nobody let’s them find out x til the end. It costs money to interview someone, why do companies do this? Spend that money when they could completely save it.

              If my salary range is 15k higher than their top offer, even if they make an exception it’s going to tank my future raises until I’m where they think I belong (and unless I’m upper management, that’s objectively true, we see letters about it here all the time.

              If you’re out of office 2 days every week, some people love that and some people won’t or can’t do that.

              There are a zillion reasons why an excellent company would be a bad fit for someone. Why would they want to hire that person.

    1. Koko*

      It’s unfortunate too that people get so accustomed to being kept sort of in the dark about those things, that when an interviewer does thoughtful/helpful stuff like actually show them the office space they’ll be working in or introduces them to prospective colleagues, they read too much into it and think the job is in the bag.

    2. Starbuck*

      Job postings with “salary commensurate with experience” or even worse “competitive non-profit salary” drive me up the wall every time. I think it’s an inexcusable waste of everyone’s time to not even hint at a range. But I’m in a field where competition for jobs is high, so I don’t expect this to go away…

      1. Suzy Q*

        Yes, this drives me up a wall. I had a phone interview last week, and the woman couldn’t even tell me the salary range. Then again, I haven’t yet been called back for an in-person interview, so it may be moot.

    3. Bob*

      I found the opposite to be true, at least since the recession. I typically get asked for my salary requirements before, or at the beginning of, the initial phone interview. I work in IT so maybe it’s based more on my industry.

  3. LDN Layabout*

    I’d do some research on how common it is in your industry as well, if you can find shots of the office etc. online. I know in the industry I’m currently in, I’d find it very difficult to find a non-open office at most of the major companies.

    It might also differ from small/large companies, but unfortunately it’s a trend that continues to spread and spread and spread…

    1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      Seconding that trying to find shots of office online! I’ve been able to find pics of all of my recent roles’ offices online as part of the architect’s/design company’s portfolio. Also found the setup of the space my company recently moved into (we’re leasing a previously built out space for two years as an interim location – so I could find photos of the previous company in the space and could see the cube design/setups.

      Your mileage may vary depending on industry/location, but it’s worth a little deep google image searching.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Don’t over-rely on that though — because if they change offices spaces, it may be a very long time before they update the photos of the space on their website, if ever.

      1. Beatrice*

        And depending on the size of the company, the pics you find online may not reflect the work environment for *everyone* at the company. My husband’s company has lovely, lovely office pictures on their website (think what you see in the television show Suits), but that’s one small office building that only their sales/customer facing peeps work in. They’re not trying to be deceptive to prospective employees for roles outside sales – the site is customer facing and that’s what their customers see. The actual office environment for their operations people is in other buildings, and it’s open plan hodgepodge at best, hotdesking at worst.

        I’m currently hotdesking and have been for over a year. I don’t mind it much – I’ve pared my work stuff down to a laptop, phone, headphones, notebook, pen, and a binder. All of it fits in a work bag, along with chargers and some comfort items, and I carry it around with me.

        1. Aleta*

          Yup, doing the same at my company would also be misleading. Most of it is open cubicles, but the environment is VERY quiet if that’s your issue with cubicles (it is for me). And on top of that, they’ve had a HORRIBLE time filling my receptionist role, because my area is extremely isolated in contrast with the rest of the office, and people have hated that (I love it).

          1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

            I had a similar experience as a receptionist! I loved being up front by myself with peace and quiet most of the day, but apparently it is the main reason the person before me left – she felt too isolated.

            Eventually they were planning to hire a second receptionist to be a backup to me. The plan was to split the front desk (it fit two people but it was pretty tight), and I freaked out! I couldn’t imagine working that closely to someone after so enjoying the peace and quiet.

        2. copy run start*

          Ah, this. Sales, customer service, finance, HR, etc…. they are all in NewBuilding at my company. NewBuilding is very nice.

          Us backend folks are in OldBuilding next door. It’s not terrible by any means (well cleaned, everything works, etc.) but it is definitely not as spacious or well lit or updated as NewBuilding. On the upside though, customers rarely swing by so my desk gets to be a disaster with no consequences, and you don’t have to keep an eye peeled for a VIP if you want to curse your computer for a minute or two.

        3. Been There, Done That*

          I’ve never experienced hoteling, but from the way people describe it, it sounds like a trip back to school. Lockers? Lugging your supplies around in a satchel? (Wonder if Fergus will ask me to the prom…) I’m a cheapskate with my firm’s money and understand wanting to minimize costs, but this sounds like appalling.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              It is. It sucks. The only way it makes sense to me is if you work out of the office at least 50% of the time, have a paperless workplace where everything is on servers/never need physical copies of anything, and normally do all your work on a laptop (or other ultra-portable device). In a few specific industries, I assume it’s a useful idea, but for normal office work it’s incredibly stupid. It also subtly discourages people from being comfortable at their workstation and fewer people bring in personal items, which makes the workplace less pleasant to spend time in, because the space never feels like it’s “yours” because everything about it constantly reminds you it’s temporary.

              If you rely on a desktop setup that you use daily and/or you need physical copies of anything, it is horrifyingly inefficient (ask me about the time I walked around the entire call center for over an hour looking for a free workstation, and asked multiple supervisors to help me find one—and they wanted to not pay me because I wasn’t taking calls, even though I was in the building and “ready to work” but they decided to not have enough workstations for me to be able to do the job they’d scheduled me for).

      2. yasmara*

        My company has a huge variety of office spaces. Some are in cubes, some in completely open plan (but no hot desking) spaces, and some in a traditional office with a door (often shared with 1 other person). You could be hired for the same role within different groups/departments and have a completely different office situation.

    3. Casuan*

      Google, Glassdoor… and…
      Why not call the office line & ask? If the person who answers isn’t familiar with the floor plan of that particular office, they might be willing to advise you who can answer that question.
      Better yet, ask a friend to do so so that it isn’t traced back to you. It isn’t like you’d be asking for company secrets. Just stay on topic & resist asking more than that question (I’m projecting here because I would have to fight that temptation myself).

      1. Samiratou*

        I was going to suggest Glassdoor. It won’t necessarily tell you for sure, as people might just not mention it in reviews, but if reviews from those in similar roles at the company talk about open floorplans or hotdesking (and are recent), you may have your answer. Or at least mean it’s likely.

        I wouldn’t call the office, as the person who answers may not have any clue what the workspace is like for those in LW’s role, but checking out the company may provide some clues.

    4. anonymous office worker no. 51923*

      As for trying to find pictures of the office online: if you’re not finding anything on their website, check out the company’s Facebook/Instagram/Twitter pages. Our company’s FB is full of pics of our workspaces because we hold office holiday parties and other events here. Just a caveat, though, to make sure you know which office you’re looking at if there are multiple offices.

      I agree with the LW that hot-desking would be a deal breaker for me. As it is, the open office concept drives me crazy and sometimes I feel like I spend all my energy trying to tune people out. Headphones help when I’m able to use them but it’s not often due to needing to collaborate with my colleagues pretty frequently.

      1. Samiratou*

        LinkedIn, too, come to think of it. Several colleagues posted pictures of our cube farm to LinkedIn (tied to a special event) so anyone checking LinkedIn for my company would get a pretty good idea of what our workspace looks like.

      2. copy run start*

        I can’t even fathom open offices, but I’d leave too if I had to hot desk. I can tune out fairly well most days (and have headphones for bad days) but I find being publicly viewable from all angles all the time stressful. I had a desk in a busy public area for several years and it was miserable. Sometimes your armpit itches or you need to close your eyes for a minute and think without leaving your desk or looking like a slacker.

  4. Discordia Angel Jones*

    I don’t have anything useful to add, but I completely get it, OP, hot-desking is an idea that’s come out from the depths of a very evil place. I don’t think I’d ever take a job that did it (and it would cause me to seriously rethink if my job ever starts doing it!).

    1. LDN Layabout*

      Like anything, it can be done well or badly. I don’t particularly enjoy it, but it works for my company because:

      1) There are enough desks for the majority of employees and enough people visiting clients/working from home at a time that space isn’t an issue overall (although if every employee came into the office one day, there wouldn’t be enough desks).
      2) Desks are split up into areas, which are loosely assigned to teams and people will congregate to those people they need to work with, managers tend to shift about more.
      3) Headphones aren’t banned and there are quiet working spaces for when you /need/ to get away from your colleagues.
      4) Every desk has a proper phone, docking station, monitor. Those who need specialised equipment (not many) do get their own desk with two monitors etc. so they don’t have to fight for them.

      It also helps that even the CEO doesn’t really have an office (it’s an office/meeting room) so no one resents the higher-ups.

      1. Breda*

        I also assume a lot of this is like high school, where people tend to sit in the same seats every day even when there’s no seating chart. That said: I’m an adult who spends the entire day in one place, not a teenager who’s going to another classroom in an hour.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          It depends from team to team, I sit in the same space, but I travel less than others. Also the person I need to talk to 90% of the time sits across from me. For people who work on a variety of projects, which I don’t do, shifting a few desks across when you want to be near a collaborator is useful.

          I still miss having certain things at my desk though…

        2. Zirco*

          Back when I was a professor, I noticed this too. Students always sat in the same spots. I suspect this would be the same with hoteling.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            My wife used to wait until a few weeks into the quarter, when everyone was pretty well cemented into their preferred spots, and then get to class early and sit somewhere “wrong”. It amused her to watch everyone reacting, like, they knew they couldn’t complain because the seats weren’t assigned, but now they had to bump other people from their seats, and the domino-effect continued.

            1. Tammy*

              Ugh, I guess some people just take pleasure in causing others discomfort. Good luck with your marriage; she sounds like a real treat. :P

            2. Been There, Done That*

              I’d call it evilly hilarious if not outright genius for the opportunity to watch people and dynamics when somebody moved the cheese.

            3. Willow R*

              That would actually really stress me out, and if I thought she was doing it just for amusement – well I can’t say I’d like her very much.

      2. Anony*

        I think one of the biggest factors is whether the majority of people actually need a desk at that location for the majority of the work week. If a job requires significant travel and/or work from home time and you only need a desk one day a week, hot desking works fine. Same if you need to work in different parts of the building often. For a normal 9-5 office job it sucks. I think the key is that the flexibility offered by hot desking needs to be felt by the employees, not just the business being cheap and not getting enough desks.

        1. KellyK*

          Yep. If a bunch of people are out of the office most of the time, it’s a waste of space to have desks for all of them. But companies have to be realistic. It’s easy to think “Employees are out of the office 50% of the time on average” means “We need half as many desks,” but they’re not all going to be out the *same* 50%.

          (One of the buildings I used to visit for meetings had *horrendous* parking because they assumed that only 70% of the building’s capacity would ever be there at once, due to meetings, vacation and sick time, and travel. Never mind that that’s an average, not a minimum. It’s not like Buffy, Xander, and Giles are scheduling their dentist appointments back to back so they can share a parking spot.)

      3. another person*

        I know for instance hot desking seems to work ok at my husband’s office. He dislikes it, but most people are at clients most of the time, so it can sort of make sense (I think he is in the office less than 25% of the time, the rest of the time he is at client sites–funnily enough, he has gotten an actual office at some of the main clients that he works at (at least the weeks he is there)).

  5. EA*

    Why do people like hot desking so much? Why is it appealing? It seems to me like something that is good in theory but absolutely horrible in practice. I’ve worked in open offices. They seem cool at first, and then I want to call my doctor and need to run and hide for some privacy.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I have no idea but this makes me feel so grateful for my permanent assigned desk with all my stuff that nobody else touches.

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        Same here.

        And for the fact that even though I can see them approaching, if I’m busy they still knock on my desk. Or stand on the other side of the cube wall. I’d be a basket case if they ever took my space away.

      2. Amadeo*

        Right? I have a bunch of personal mess at work like a hot water kettle (not British, LOL) and a drawer full of paper tea bags and loose leaf tea, a bowl, a fork and a few other odds and ends that make 9 hours at work 5 days a week a lot more comfortable.

        I could not imagine trying to deal with not having a desk that this stuff just lives on, that I can access easily by just swiveling in my chair to flip a switch, or grab a bag, or whatever. I think I’d lose what’s left of my mind.

        1. DuchessofMuchness*

          Yes, I personally like having dedicated space for my Funko Pops and Hamilton art and tea and lotion and snacks.

      3. AnonEMoose*

        So with you. I would HATE the open office, hot desk thing with the fire of a thousand white dwarf stars. Not to mention that it would destroy my focus at work. I’ll take my cube any day, although I still fondly remember the one job where I had an actual office. It was tiny, but it was mine. With an actual door. That closed. But at least my current cube has a reasonable amount of storage space, and walls of a decent height.

      4. Parenthetically*

        I recently dropped to part-time, so “my” desk isn’t “my” desk anymore, it’s shared with the other people who I work-share with. It’s… weird. I don’t have a backup chapstick anymore! I have to bring a snack with me instead of getting into my granola bar/chili-lime almonds/(real talk) Skittles stash!

        1. PieInTheBlueSky*

          If you’re the executive making this decision, productivity drops can always be blamed on other causes. But you can always cite a “hard” money number, like office rental costs, that you were responsible for.

        2. lyonite*

          You would, but that’s a long-term consequence, which isn’t as important as the short-term savings you get by having less space per person. Penny wise and pound foolish.

        3. Doreen*

          It really depends on the job. Where I work, most of the staff are in field jobs and are in the office two or three days a week. One of those days they are in an office on the first floor interviewing the clients rather than at their own desk, so they spend one or two days a week at their own desk on the second floor. If we had hot-desking, we could rent a space half the size of the one we have now.

      1. Anony*

        There are jobs that hot desking works fine for. They are typically ones where you are rarely actually in the office.

    2. Ulf*

      Curious to know why you think it might be good even in theory. I’m struggling to think of anything positive about it but maybe that’s just because I haven’t thought about it enough!

      1. EA*

        My husband’s dumb tech company does hot desking.

        They sold it as increased collaboration if you are sitting somewhere new. In reality they all decided it was stupid and unspokenly just sit in the same place everyday.

        This is what I was getting at for good in theory.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          See I feel like it would hamper collaboration because you wouldn’t know where to find anyone. And how do phones work in a hot desking situation?

          1. sin nombre*

            My office does not do hot-desking (except for a few people who sit with different teams on different days of the week) but if we did, this would not be an issue because nobody has desk phones. We just don’t need or use them; we’re a tech company, and we communicate with each other through various online channels, and there are phones in designated small work rooms for the occasional work call that needs to be made. Is this unusual? I have always hated having to have a phone, and I’ll be unpleasantly surprised if I have to have one in my next job.

        2. yasmara*

          I was thinking about that too – I mean, regular classrooms are basically the old-school hot desking and human nature means people almost always just sat at their “regular” seat. In the OP’s situation, hot desking seems especially inappropriate since they don’t seem to be cycling in and out of the office, working at home sometimes, etc.

      2. please*

        The one positive thing is that you don’t need as much space/desks since it’s almost never that everyone is in the office at the same time.

      3. Yorick*

        It would be good if people are often away and it would be silly for them to have permanent desks there (maybe some kind of sales?),there are usually several in the office that need a space but who those people are will rotate. But that’s not most jobs.

      4. KellyK*

        If you’ve got a lot of people who travel a lot, or do most of their work at client sites, or rotate between multiple offices, then having separate desks for each of them can be a waste of space, which translates into extra rent and utilities. Likewise, you might have employees who aren’t permanently assigned to your office, but sometimes need to be there, like people who work at other offices but occasionally need to come to meetings or work with people in your location. If spaces aren’t assigned, it’s going to be easy for them to grab a spot and get to work. If those spaces were assigned to people who weren’t using them, it’d take a lot of asking around to find out which desk was actually okay to park at for the afternoon.

        (In a perfect world, you’d pour the money you save from hot-desking into higher salaries or other employee perks, but I doubt that’s common.)

    3. Delyssia*

      Employers like it because it allows them to have (and thus pay for) a smaller amount of space per person, particularly if you have a substantial number of staff who aren’t in the office every day. They then sell it as an advantage to employees, because you can sit next to whoever you need to work with on a given day.

    4. PB*

      I don’t understand it, either. In general, I try to advocate for as much privacy for my team as possible. I’d love to get them all their own offices, but since admin isn’t supportive of that, then I want them to be in decent cubicles. Open offices work in some industries, but not all. Hot desking? I really don’t understand. I like, at minimum, to have a place to keep my reference materials, which are not all online, despite assumptions to the contrary. I like to also have a place to keep personal mementos. Nothing crazy, just things like my mug, a few flavors of tea, and some small trinkets. Basic things to make my space feel a little more inviting and less corporate.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It can make more sense in jobs where people are out of the office much of the time — like if you have 40 consultants who are all at client sites 90% of the time and only need desks 10% of the time or whatever. (Although even then, you’d want to give permanent desks to support staff or others who are mostly in the office.)

      1. Us, Too*

        One of my first jobs out of college was at a consultancy and this was the exact setup. It worked fine, actually, because most of us were almost never in the office (traveling for client work) and the few people who were there frequently or all the time (e.g. support staff) were given assigned work spaces. It was fine. Honestly! Even when I worked in the office for a few weeks at a time between travel gigs, it was no big deal. Since I was used to working out of a backpack anyway, I didn’t even bother visiting my “assigned” file cabinet drawer most mornings. I just went straight to a desk and went to work. Just like I did at the client site.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          If you work out of a backpack at a new space 90% of the time, doing that on the rare times you’re physically in the office isn’t that different. It’s like the distinction between what you need or want in lodging for a 2-day versus 2-month stay.

          Asking people who are there every day to play Hunger Games for the external monitors twice a day is just poor planning.

          1. owhy*

            Yes! Thank you. Hotdesking is an idea clearly thought up by someone in a for-real office, with walls to the ceiling and a door.

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              To me, it sounds like something that was thought up by extroverts who think it’s a great idea and don’t know and/or care that it’s torture for at least some of us introverts. Iow, just one more way for workplaces to unintentionally punish people for having brains that are wired differently.

              Bitter? Who, me? ;-p

              1. Been There, Done That*

                I got your back. And it’s not just because of the introvert/extrovert thing. In our small, badly organized, overcrowded office (bitter? who, me? we lost a rep because of this.), the extroverted sales staff will get so loud in their walkway confabs that they’re practically shouting, in total disregard for we who are on the phone with clients most of the time. It truly does get so loud you can’t hear the other person talking.

      2. Snark*

        That is the only circumstance where it actually makes any sense. Anywhere employees come to the same office daily, it’s a fancy justification for being really cheap.

      3. Breda*

        I am also pretty sure my mom’s real estate agency does this, but she pretty much only goes into the office to turn in paperwork or because it’s a closer printer than home. She does most of her work from the car anyway.

      4. ThursdaysGeek*

        And that’s why my workplace has a few empty cubes, offices, and smaller conference rooms. When someone travels here, there is a place for them to set up. When I travel elsewhere, there is a cube area that I can set up. That can be achieved without hot-desking and annoying your employees who don’t travel and causing all sorts of ergonomic issues with chairs and desks and monitors that either don’t fit or have to be adjusted every day.

      5. Triumphant Fox*

        It can also make sense at jobs where a lot of people on any given team are in different states/countries. There might be a central office in Big City, but for the most part people work remotely and locals don’t want to have to come into the office every day. For days they do come in – meetings/special projects/just need to get out of their house – hot desking makes sense.

    6. Xarcady*

      I can see the appeal for the small number of employees who are out of the office most of the time. If they are only in the office 1-5 days a month, dedicating an office or cubicle for their use, that will remain empty most of the time, is a waste of money and space. Having a limited number of hot desks for their use allows them to come in and work without having to traipse around the office, looking for a place to plug their laptop in.

      But making the average employee who works in the office every day and who probably has some office supplies or files they’d like to keep around, to, you know, make their work day more efficient, hot desking daily makes no sense. And I suspect that many employees in such situations start staking out “their” desk and working there everyday–defeating whatever the purpose was in the first place.

    7. Snark*

      It’s appealing to business owners because they don’t have to part with quite as much money to furnish an office. Naturally, they get their own office with a door, but God forbid they have to buy cube walls and a desk for everyone! So they love that shit. And they sort of retcon a biz-speak justification like “it’s great for, like, adaptively collaborating to leverage our org’s universe of core competencies to think outside the box and redefine the paradigm” or some crap like that, totally ignoring the fact that people generally do their work solo and collaborate when there’s actually something to discuss.

      Employees generally hate it, of course.

      1. Julia the Survivor*

        Yes… been watching stupid stuff like this since the 90’s… remember Dilbert’s list of the day? :D

    8. workplace architect*

      money money money. Hot desk/hoteling typically provides desks for 80% of the total staff; assigned seating provides desks for 100% of the staff. Less desks = less space to rent = less cost to the company.

      1. Snark*

        That’s a cost of business they should be prepared to pay, though. Friends of mine whose employers have switched to it have noticed higher rates of complaints about noise and distraction and higher turnover (which is immensely costly). Best to just suck it up and buy some cubes – it’s a bad long-term strategy even if it seems like it lowers costs in the short term.

    9. Espeon*

      My fave SIL has to hotdesk and loves it… but she loves other weird stuff too, like running when she’s not even being chased by an axe-wielding murderer so idek.

      I’m with OP – I’d be job hunting if my assigned desk was taken away too. We’re open plan, but I’ll be damned if I’m expected to fight for a decent spot every day and work in an utterly bland, unpersonalised space. Way too stressful.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Okay, making it hard for the axe murderers to figure out where you’ll be Tuesday at 3:20 is a benefit of hot-desking I hadn’t thought of.

        1. Espeon*

          And yet, I’d still take my chances…

          At least I’d know where the stabby things are for self defence! Spill a box of biros on the floor to slow them down, ready, aim, fire stapler!

        2. Been There, Done That*

          but the axe-wielder could be the person you beat out for the window seat with the best monitor…they’ll find you…

      2. Bow Ties Are Cool*

        This. In my office, you can choose to work only remote or split your time between remote and office, but then you don’t have an assigned desk, or you can choose to average at least 3 days/week in the office, and you have your own desk. I have my own desk, because when I’m home things like my cats and the fact that my desk is in the same room as my yarn are a bit distracting, and also I don’t want to turn into someone who only leaves the house once a week to shop for groceries. But if we went from our current open-plan-but-you-can-have-your-own-space thing to hotdesk only? Pfft. Sign me up for the life of a hermit. At least I can have my own coffee mug at home.

      3. Just Employed Here*

        I, too, like running when I’m not even being chased by an axe-wielding murderer. I even vastly prefer it to running *while* being chased by an axe-wielding murderer.

        1. Bea*

          I can only draw the reasonable conclusion that you are actually the axe murderer chasing victims through the woods!

    10. TCO*

      Both my current org’s CEO and my past org’s CEO are in the process of managing office moves, and they’ve both talked about being attracted to the “creativity” and “collaboration” of open and flexible work spaces. In my former org I know that employees will insist on having cubicles in the new space at a minimum (they all currently have private offices and really value that). I’m not sure how “flexible” my current organization’s new office will be but you can be sure I’ll be lobbying for a dedicated cubicle.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Hauling out the Not So Big House books: People like walls. One problem addressed was a massive totally open house, in which the new owners (only 2 people in 5000+ square feet) discovered they had a lot more fights. The renovation architect put in some doors. (For example, on all the bathrooms.)

        Creative and collaborative are driven in houses by having multifunctional common spaces that allow different furniture configurations (expand the table for the big meal, e.g.). Those draw people in, with quieter, door-having spaces around the outside so people can have privacy too. (The best airbnbs we’ve rented were like this, and I would have leapt at the chance to live in each for a year if work suggested it.) Similarly, a big, undifferentiated open space is going to be non-ideal for most businesses, unless designing an art installation is the whole point.

        1. KellyK*

          No doors….on the bathrooms? They had to renovate to put *doors* on the *bathrooms*? I think I’m going to need the rest of the afternoon to process this.

          I’d be really curious about the reasons behind fighting more in a larger space, though.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            They couldn’t get away from each other. Not in the same way a closing door allows.

            And yes, not a single bathroom door, because ‘open plan.’

    11. Koko*

      It’s very useful in very particular ways/contexts, but companies adopt them absent the context they’re meant to work in.

      If you have a lot of staff who are coming into the office 3 days a week or less because there’s a lot of working from home and there’s a lot of traveling and there are remote staff who just come up for a few days every month, etc., hot-desking makes sense because you don’t need to have 40 desks and 40 monitors for 40 staff if only 20 of them are ever in the office on any given day. And because people spend so little time in the office they don’t care very much about not having a dedicated space available – they’re used to working from hotels and coffee shops and stuff all the time anyway.

      I can’t fathom why a company would force staff who are in the office 5 days a week to give up having their own desk – I can’t even see how it would save them money since they would still need a desk for every employee. Seems like maybe they’re just obsessed with buzz words?

      There’s also activity-based forms of hot-desking where there are a bunch of spaces –
      cubes, conference rooms of varying sizes, private phone booths, private laptop rooms, other stations that might offer specialized equipment that people occasionally need, a lounge-y space with comfortable couches. These setups work best for companies where the employees each do many types of work (group brainstorming + intense coding that needs concentration + hosting guests etc), so having different environments to choose from for each activity is a plus. When those setups are done well, everyone often still has an assigned location in the open plan area – they just ALSO have the freedom to make use of the other types of space if they need. In this kind of setup the square footage per employee is actually higher than a traditional office because there are more spaces than employees to make sure everyone can always access the type of space they need.

      A lot of companies have perverted the activity-based floor plan as a way to use *less* square footage per employee than a traditional office by just creating the open plan area, and not providing the phone booths, small private rooms, etc., that are key to making an open plan meet people’s actual needs.

      1. Anon.*

        They may have 40 employees in the building 24/7 with overlapping schedules/shifts that vary throughout the week, and figuring out who is in on what days and when a desk can be shared would be a scheduling nightmare. But they know that they only need 40 desks even with 150 (or whatever) employees.

    12. Can't Sit Still*

      Hot desking is appropriate when the employees travel all the time. I once supported a team of 30 that had 5 cubes assigned to them. I saw one or two team members a month, usually only for a few hours, although once I actually had someone there for two whole weeks. The only time all 5 cubes were full was when another department was using them as overflow.

      I can’t really think of any other time it’s workable, because what actually happens is people assign themselves cubes and leave all of their stuff there. Everyone knows that this is Wakeen’s cube, that one by the window is Jane’s, and Fergus has pictures of his kids all over that corner. Or you have the early morning battle for the One True Cube, and people start coming in earlier and earlier to get the Best Cube, and before you know it, people are in the office at 5 am, even if office hours are 9 – 5. The only way to prevent that is to hire someone whose sole job is to clean out the hotdesking cubes and shove people’s stuff in lockers.

    13. Observer*

      Hit desking and pen offices are not the same thing. We don’t do open offices for the most part, but we do do a certain amount of hot desking.

      There are good reasons to do these things, and bad reasons. And there are good ways to it, and really bad ways. What the OP is describing sounds like a REALLY bad way. It also sounds like someone took the hot desk buzzword and used it as an excuse to totally cheap out on necessary equipment.

    14. Troutwaxer*

      I think hot-desking is generated by a disconnect between how high management works and how ordinary people work. High management does meetings, networks, socializes, etc., and in the course of doing so the decisions get made and implemented. They do considerably less desk-work than the ordinary workers do. But if Hakim (and others) meet with a a C-level manager, the C-level manager leaves the meeting and goes to another meeting, while Hakim sits down in front of a monitor and grinds out 10,000 lines of code.

      So the C-level manager imagines that a situation where you can sit next to whoever you need to collaborate with that day is useful. Hakim wants an office (or at least a cubicle) where he can close the door for a couple weeks and concentrate on writing his code! (Or drawing up the art for the project, or creating a complex spreadsheet, or making some phone calls in a non-noisy environment – whatever needs to be done to keep the C-level happy.)

      I’m sure there are other factors involved too, including the expense issue, but I think the big thing here is the disconnect in work styles.

    15. SallytooShort*

      My sister does it and loves it.

      1) It’s a great way to not have things clutter up her desk or work space.
      2) They get to move around the office and there are comfortable seating spaces that are more secluded when she needs to concentrate. So she isn’t tethered to one spot all day. And she can be more communal at her normal spot and more isolated if she needs to be.
      3) It’s great for her when she works with different teams. They can sit together and collaborate when needed.

      It wouldn’t work for me but there are reasons people like it.

    16. Anon for Team's Privacy*

      Our sales people love it. We got more people offices and they complained about not being able to bounce things off each other so much. That said, our sales people are only in the office maybe a quarter of the time, and most prefer to do their focused work at home, so when they’re in the office, they want to collaborate.

      So we laid out the bullpen how they liked and set up offices for the operations side people. I don’t get it myself, I HATED not having my own space.

    17. NaoNao*

      My theory is that they like it because they can get away with much fewer desks, especially if a large amount of the workforce is on call, contractors, sales people, traveling, or often WFH.

    18. Bethany*

      We do hot-desking at my large engineering firm, and I’ve had no issues with it. We’ve been doing it for about a year.

      I like that I have the ability to work in different teams for a day, to sit next to different people and learn new things. My team has an allocated section of hot desks that we use, so we’re never too far away.

      I think they’ve done it really well here because:
      – We all have huge lockers with enough room for everything
      – We went paper-free and there’s no clutter
      – There’s more than enough desks, so you never have to look for a space
      – We switched to sit/stand desks, so you can be more comfortable
      – Nobody has their own office, not even the CEO
      – There are plenty of meeting rooms, quiet spaces and focus rooms where you can sit and work quietly if you want
      – Every desk has two huge monitors so you never feel that you’re compromising on desk quality
      – We don’t have physical phones, we use an electronic service on our laptops
      – We have a lot of flexibility to work in project offices, offices from other cities or from home

      I am in my late 20s and I love it, but some of the older generations can’t get used to it and sit in the same spot every day.

  6. RVA Cat*

    Is it just me being cynical, or could one of the reasons for hot-desking be so that people don’t even have to pack up their desks when they get laid off? Plus the delusion that no one will notice they’re gone…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s really not that. Employers are not making major decisions about office space based on avoiding awkwardness for one hour on some future hypothetical day.

      1. Mike C.*

        No, they’re making decisions to avoid awkwardness for a single hour four times a year at the end of the quarter.

          1. CMart*

            I laughed, FWIW. My colleagues in Big 4 public accounting routinely joke about the quarterly overstaffing/layoffs of the new hires.

            1. Been There, Done That*

              That sounds awful. Pardon my naivete, but is it really like that in your industry?

    2. Browser*

      When I worked for a company that did hotdesking, the justification was that we’d be more in “work mode” if we sat in a different place each day, because we wouldn’t be distracted by a desk of personal items.

  7. Spreadsheets and Books*

    I literally cannot fathom why anyone in any kind of vaguely traditional white collar role would ever think hot desking is a good idea. It is my workplace nightmare and I’ve never met a single person who was enthusiastic about the concept. Just give my own space, holy crap.

  8. Allison*

    “e bigger problem with all of this is that you could take a job at a company that doesn’t have an open office or hot-desking, and they could end up switching to it six months or a year from now.”

    When I started my current job, I was over the moon to have a cubicle! A real one, with high walls! Privacy! A nice big workspace that’s all my own! Sometimes my coworkers would be like “I want an open office! I wanna seeeeee everyone!” and I’m the one cranky cave dweller who wants to be concealed and left alone as she does her thing at work. Well we’re moving to a new building in October (yes this is far off, our city is weird, it’s not my decision) and it’s all open-plan! Goody for everyone who wanted it, boooo for me. I just hope there are some kind of divider wall between the desks.

    1. SpiderLadyCEO*

      Why on earth do they need to see everyone? What are they doing where they are constantly craning their necks to see everyone else’s work?

      I’m with you. We should all work in caves. You can go tap on someone’s door or get coffee or lunch if you need company!

      1. Aleta*

        My predecessor was a major extrovert that wanted to see evveerrrryoooonnne, let’s talk, ALL THE TIME! She left because the reception desk is extremely isolated, and she Could Not Deal. It took two weeks of people checking in with me to see if I was lonely before they figured out “oh thank god, an introvert, we don’t need to worry about this anymore.”

    2. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      That happened to me, too. Five years ago, started with a cubicle so high we had overhead bins! It was GREAT! Then after 18 months they moved us to a “reconfigured space” with lower walls, but still legitimate cubicles. Then after 6 months they moved us to a space with the same kind of cubicle, but no windows on that entire half of the floor. We called it The Cave. Many of us had happy lights. A weird glow emanated from our team’s section all winter. We were there for a year.

      Then they moved us to a totally new building with lots and lots of windows (yay!) and desks with walls that come up to about shoulder height on 3 sides, and nothing on the 4th (boo!). And the desks can be moved up to standing height, so if the person next to you wants to stand they are seriously looming over all your business. It’s so weird, and so noisy because sound travels without those walls, and we are all on teams that are scattered across the country, so EVERY meeting is by phone.

    3. Jady*

      This has happened TWICE to me. Interviewed and worked at a place with high-wall cubes. Offices moved, surprise all open office!

      Around here and in my industry it seems really hard to find offices that aren’t open nowadays. I hate it.

  9. Judy (since 2010)*

    I try to use LinkedIn to answer questions like this. If your network is fairly well developed, you may be able to find someone who works there, or knows someone who works there. You can then try to arrange a call with them to ask about the work environment.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I wonder if this is something you can see on glassdoor. I don’t recall that they have an “ask a question” feature, but – at least note your old work place’s setup on the site, for future job hunters.

  10. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Oof. Packing up at lunch too? That just seems to be an unnecessary expense of time.

    If it’s a proper phone interview, I see nothing wrong with including it in the normal list of questions you’d ask. It’s better for both parties to get this out of the way upfront.

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        I can’t even have the same spot for the entire time I’m at work? I’d go nuts. I can grasp the concept of why offices do it for the day. But having to finagle a desk after lunch? Oh, no. Nope, nope, nope. Here’s my resignation.

        1. JustaTech*

          And if you have to pack up to eat lunch, do they make you pack up every single time you leave your computer? Got a meeting? Spend 5 minutes packing everything up. Got to pee? Spend 5 minutes packing everything up.
          And then however long to find a new desk, unpack and start again.

          This is colossally inefficient and I don’t blame the OP for not wanting it at all.

          (Heck, some university libraries will assign you a study carol in the stacks for years, so why a person can’t have a desk in an office makes no sense to me.)

          1. A. Schuyler*

            The guidance in our office is that you should vacate the space and make it available for someone else if you’ll be gone for more than two hours. You can leave your things while you go to a meeting or to lunch – I wouldn’t because I like to have my laptop with me, but it’s an option.

      2. Just Employed Here*

        Yeah, that sounds so weird. Is everyone having lunch at the same time, every single day, or what?

    1. Crystalline*

      Heh, I just had to chime in here because I worked at a call center where we did have great cubes with high walls…and then management vastly over-hired for the space :) You were required to move at lunch, AND for both of your 15 minute breaks. Oh, and the time it took to get your things and go back and forth? Counted against you. Time is tracked down to the minute over there for how long you’re off the phone. If it takes you an extra ten minutes a day, then you have to cut that 10 minutes out of your breaks.

      Oh, and the best part is…you get to stand in a line and wait for a cube to open up when you get back from break or lunch, and that counts against you, too! Yay!

      Needless to say, I hated that place.

  11. Cordoba*

    It sounds like applying for Potential New Job might be a great opportunity to negotiate a work-from-home arrangement if that works LW and is at all feasible with the type of work that is being done.

    I’d definitely apply and check out the office setup during the on-site interview. If it is acceptable then great. If it is not then I’d make working from home a must-have in the negotiation phase.

    Worst case it doesn’t work out but LW gets some interviewing practice, sees what the market and conditions are like elsewhere in the industry, and gets an overnight trip to Favorite City on somebody else’s dime.

  12. TCO*

    OP, if you end up having to explain why you’re asking about office setup, you could try focusing on the positives: “I’ve found that having an assigned cubicle or office makes me more efficient and productive.”

    I assume that if you’re interested in staying with your company (and it sounds like you might be ready to move on for other reasons beyond just the layout), you’ve considered whether your boss would be willing and able to advocate for you to get a permanent cubicle. Some companies would make no exceptions to a new workspace policy, but some might if it means retaining a valuable employee.

  13. Snarkus Aurelius*

    The only advocates for open offices I’ve ever met are those with private offices. The more the enthusiasm, the bigger the private office. :)

    The fact that you “need a cube” at the minimum is a gift to an employer.

    P.S. I’ve worked in two offices that had people and cubes so close together that the arrangement violated fire code. I would back my chair up into the person behind me several times a day on accident.

    1. please*

      My whole organization moved to an open plan space for everyone, with identical desks for every single staff person, including the CEO. This was after a consultative process involving staff at all levels of the organization.

        1. Justin*

          Yeah my place has this same deal, and we work in a government office where event he highest ranking city officials have the same space us regular folks do.

      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

        Yeah – I’d strongly prefer a cube, but can handle an open floor plan (absolutely could not handle hot desking). I interviewed one place with an open floor plan and I wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but then they mentioned the CEO uses the same desk setup as everyone else (she just got a sweet corner location). That made me SO much more open to the open floor plan concept.

        Didn’t end up getting that job, but seeing the CEO with the same desk space as everyone else really stuck in my mind.

        1. Ridiculous*

          I must disagree with all this. Whether the CEO also participates in the open office is irrelevant.

          Open offices harm productivity because workers begin to get in each other’s way. Here, the CEO contributes to this irritation. That makes the problem worse, not better.

          1. Lissa*

            Disagree. CEO does it too=preference that you don’t share. You feel it harms productivity but perhaps they like it for some other reasons. CEO has their own private office and tries to talk up open plan=hypocritical, doing it for reasons that aren’t supposed to benefit staff.

            At least that is how I’d see it!

          2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

            I guess in in literal practice the CEO participating in the open office plan doesn’t make having an open office plan any better (I mean literally the act of the CEO sitting in the open vs. sitting in an office).

            However – it does lead me to believe that the *decision* to use an open office plan has been more thoughtfully considered (because it will directly effect every person in the org – rather than someone making a decision about something won’t effect their day-to-day experience) and that it is more likely that the space is set up to do the best it can to meet the needs of the employees (ie: including enough conference rooms/private spaces)

      2. Willow R*

        My last place lost the majority of their upper management when the CEO decided to turf everyone out of their nice offices and into the main floorspace. When you’ve worked your way up, and enjoy having an office with peace and quiet and a few plants, you might not be too keen on being back on the ‘shop floor’ with all the noise and lack of privacy that comes with it. Well, they definitely weren’t as they quit to work at companies where people at their level actually got offices.

    2. Arielle*

      Every single person at my company has an open desk, including the CEO. I don’t love it (I get sick so much!) but at least the philosophy is consistent throughout the organization. Also, it’s open plan, not hot-desking – that would be awful. Everyone has their own assigned space with monitors and laptop dock.

    3. Eye of Sauron*

      Heh, you could probably be describing me, with the caveat that I travel a lot so while I have an office, I can usually be found in some other city trying to find a cubby that I’m able to work out of for a couple of hours.

      I do advocate for an open-ish office plan and moved my team from a high walled cube area to a more open space with low walled cubes (Think top of head height when sitting – so maybe 4 ft walls?). The difference is night and day. The area where they came from is dark and tomb-like quiet and the new area is bright, there’s a low level audible murmur of activity. People can be seen asking questions of their teammates, relevant opinions are spontaneously offered to others having a conversation. It’s amazing. The team that remained in the dark side of the floor is still a depressing team with little interaction. (the window situation is the same, it’s the cubes that block any light from reaching any but the cubes directly facing the window)

      In fact the only complaint that has come out of it is from a person from another team who claimed that she had a loud talker sitting next to her. I gave her complaint zero credibility, because for 6 months she had no problem with the offender, it was only when he got a stand up desk and could see over the wall at her web surfing that she complained.

      So yes, I do have an office and I do like more open office plans for teams. (Hot desking would not be appropriate for the type of work that my team does so I would not advocate for that kind of setup)

      1. Wem*

        Walls 4-5ft tall are perfect. I worked in that type of setup for over 20 years, and it gives enough privacy, while encouraging communication when necessary. I got laid off, and heard not long afterwards they went to a hotdesking situation. I can’t even imagine it

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        Yeah, we have low-walled cubes and while there are some things I’d change about our setup I like the ability to easily collaborate. For a while most of the team had cubes and I actually had an “office” (which I put in quotes because the room is literally an unheated closet and has now gone back to being a storeroom) because that was what was available when I was hired, and I found that I was out of the loop a lot since I couldn’t quite as gracefully participate in the ambient cube-chatter.

      3. Moonlight Elantra*

        We have the same roughly 4-foot wall setup, and the loud talker thing is absolutely legit. There are 2 or 3 people in our large cubicle area with standup desks and I can hear every word they say at all times, though their desks are nowhere near me. I think the noise just travels farther since there’s nothing to muffle the sound when they’re standing above the cubicle level.

      4. WellRed*

        TBH, I’d hate to have a coworker looming over me with a standing desk. if you have an issue with her web surfing address that, don’t just dismiss it out of hand. That’s really crappy.

        1. Eye of Sauron*

          Oh I addressed it. I just have no illusions that it was his voice that prompted the complaint.

      5. Anonymity2*

        Our walls are a little taller than that, but just as a counter-example from someone who would probably be in that ‘depressing team with little interaction’:

        That low level audible murmur of activity you like is very distracting to me.

        People would ask me questions if I had an office or was working from home, too. Being in a nearby cubicle means I’m frequently interrupted from doing MY work to help other people do theirs as they wander over to physically stand there until I respond. Frequently, if I’m on a call or absorbed in a project and can’t answer them immediately, they’ve figured it out by the time I can get back to them – which means they’re interrupting me to do their thinking for them rather than for any actual ‘collaboration’ or business need.

        It sounds like you enjoy the idea of collaboration and it warms your heart to see people people doing that. In my world, it may look like collaboration to an executive passing by, but it’s really Fergus interrupting Gilbert for twenty minutes to talk at Gilbert about non-work issues and Sarah offering her spontaneous opinion about the newest beauty treatment fad she discovered to everyone in hearing range for half an hour.

        Then again, I’m not in a creative field, and I’m not an extrovert. I would rather be in that depressing team with little interaction because the bright florescent lights make my head hurt and I simply want to be left alone to do my job.

      6. Lora*

        I would be in the silent-as-a-tomb team. If you want to hear a noise out of me while I’m working, you have a choice of iPod karaoke, cursing at a data acquisition system or mechanical keyboard clicking. If I make any other audible sounds, it’s specifically because I’m not working. If I heard my team chit-chatting all day, I would be keeping a closer eye on their output, not feeling great about it.

        It’s not that people don’t have conversations, it’s that they are nearly 100% via IM. And if someone looks over my shoulder to offer commentary on my work or web surfing, they get a resentful glare and an ice cold “can I help you?” through gritted teeth. I spend a good chunk of my work life defending my work from sexism, and defending my employees’ work from racism and ageism as well, so I REALLY do not need anyone from other departments and whatnot trying to critique a rough draft over my shoulder unasked, just because they can see it. In certain workplaces, I’ve had to defend ideas from being stolen by other groups or someone else taking credit for the work done by me or my staff, and then I definitely don’t want just any fool looking over my shoulder!

        When people argue that interactions foster innovation, I always point out that Bell Labs gave everyone their own space with a door, won 8 Nobels and invented radio astronomy, transistors, lasers, CCD, information theory, C++ and Unix. HHMI fellows all have their own office/labs, and have won 17 Nobels. Seems like having a quiet space to contemplate and fine tune ideas privately works a lot better.

      7. Ridiculous*

        “I do advocate for an open-ish office plan and moved my team from a high walled cube area to a more open space with low walled cubes (Think top of head height when sitting – so maybe 4 ft walls?). ”

        Eye of Sauron, you are aptly named.

        “The difference is night and day. The area where they came from is dark and tomb-like quiet and the new area is bright, there’s a low level audible murmur of activity.”

        And what happens when you get people who now take three times longer to do detail work? Or when they need to do a deep think about strategic questions facing the business, and they can’t get the interminable racket out of their heads?

      8. Jady*

        What you are interpreting from sight is not reality.

        People asking questions is called interruptions. This affects productivity negatively. Most often these questions are not urgent or even not work-related. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen my neighbor stand up at 10:00-11am and asks “What are you doing for lunch?” to someone clearly in the middle of something.

        People spontaneously offering opinions means 2 things: A) The talking interrupted them from their own work. B) Their opinions aren’t always valuable. This happens to me weekly, where the chatty neighbor jumps into a work conversation without having real understanding of the problem, what has already been tried, the customer situation, etc. Or even derails the conversation completely.

        It also completely fails to take into account people with various mental illnesses. My husband has ADHD and open offices are a nightmare. As someone with diagnosed depression myself – having everyone walking by able to look at my space, the noise, the brightness all affect me negatively. If I’m upset at work, I’m pretty much frozen in place because I don’t want an onslaught of “what’s wrong?”.

        I also have medical issues with my eyes, and the office brightness actually causes me a lot of discomfort. A lot of that would be blocked off with higher walls, and I’d be able to rig something up to block out some as well. I don’t have these options in open space.

        It doesn’t matter that it looks pretty or things look busier. That’s just being selfish and short-sighted. Multiple studies have been done that state open spaces are entirely negative for many reasons.

        Stop thinking about appearances and start thinking about the comfort and productivity of the employees.

  14. Justin*

    My job has a semi-open plan, in that we have cubicles with walls, but the walls allow us to kiiiind of see others, but we would have to stand to actually see other desks. So it does give us mostly privacy, and it’s also just a really nice building.

    Two jobs ago we had hot-desking, and it was the absolute worst thing.

    Alison’s scripts are great, though sadly you really can’t know that they won’t do it years from now.

  15. Rose*

    Oh goodness, I’m with you 100%. I remember when my previous company instituted a hot-desking policy for an entire category of employees, and there was practically a revolt; my current office abuts a large open office that seems absolutely miserable. If I was interviewing a job candidate who asked about the logistics of desks/offices, I wouldn’t think anything of it. If anything, I would be impressed, because (1) they know themselves well enough to know what kind of environment they’d thrive in, and (2) they’d sound like they’re in high enough demand that they can make decisions based on office layout.

    I mean, yeah, sure, ask other questions too, but I wouldn’t be too worried.

    1. Eye of Sauron*

      As an interviewer I always ask the open ended question “What’s your ideal work environment” Honestly I learn a lot about people that way, some take the question as a literal physical environment while some answer in a more work style type of way.

      I’m fine with either answer and it helps me understand what’s important to a candidate. So if I were interviewing the OP and she answered with something like “A dedicated work space that is quiet to allow me to concentrate, I would know that they wouldn’t be a great fit for my hypothetical open plan, you can only sit at a desk for 5 consecutive minutes office.

  16. k.k*

    You can try looking online for pictures of the office. Check their website if there’s an “About Us” or “Meet the team” type page, or their Facebook page. Doesn’t work for really large companies, but for mid-sized to small places you’ll often find photos taken in the office where you can get a peek at the desks. I do this when I’m trying to get a feel for the dress code and company culture.

  17. Falling Diphthong*


    Unless you have a group of people who are almost never in the office, and can be given the “field engineer desks” or similar the one or two days a month they’re physically there. People who are there every day, though, don’t feel fleet and light and energized by having nowhere to put their stuff. They feel like they’re back in middle school, lugging their huge backpack everywhere.

    Bummer that this week’s theme is becoming “When the perk that make you take the job goes away.”

    1. Observer*

      That’s not necessarily true. Of course, it depends on who is doing hot desking and how it’s implemented. Anyone who is at their desk close to full time in the same office should NOT be doing hot desking. But if you cycle between sites, hot desking can make your life easier. Assigned seating and hot desking are not mutually exclusive.

      For instance we have staff that regularly move between sites. Most of them have assigned seats at the sites the are most of the time. These desks ARE shared, but the expectation is that people are going to be reasonable about respecting the other person’s stuff, and about not putting too much personalization in place for the physical space. (You computer desktop is another story because that’s tied to your log in, so customize and personalize away.) But it means that everyone has one log in and one phone extension and all they need to do to get at everything they need is to log into the computer and phone.

      The hot desk stations and the regular stations are pretty much identical. I mean, you need to get your work done regardless of whether you are in this office 5 days a week or not.

      Having somewhat assigned seats allows us to deal with specific needs like if someone needs software that is out of the “usual” set of apps we install, or needs physical accommodations. It’s much easier to say “We’re going to put that chair into the office that Sansa uses” rather than getting a special chair for every station she MIGHT use.

  18. Goya de la Mancha*

    I don’t “get” hot desking….You’re not saving any money, unless you’re buying fewer desk set-ups then you have people. You’re creating the same amount of animosity as to who gets the “good office” 2+ times/day. So what’s the point? If you want to give people a chance to change up their scenery – just have a workroom or nice lounge area.

    1. baseballfan*

      That’s exactly what saves money. Many hoteling offices may have, say, 1 desk to every 1.5 people, or whatever ratio they choose depending on the % of time the average person is in the office.
      It’s not to allow a change of scenery, it’s to rent less space.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I think people get focused on the office furniture when it’s really lease costs that drive the decision in most areas.

      2. Goya de la Mancha*

        So then when your 15 employees and 7 guests who are there for meetings all need a desk and you only have 12?
        How does that all work? Not to mention if you have physical files. I have never appreciated my small little “L” desk more…that is all just baffling to me!

  19. Not Today Satan*

    Won’t the open office trend die already. Study after study shows it reduces productivity and increases stress. But I guess saving money on cubicle walls is worth any sacrifice.

    1. Justin*

      It really can work, but it really depends on other factors. At ours we have plenty of space we can use for private meetings and/or conferences, and our walls are high enough that we can focus, even if not all the way up.

      Since we’re definitely not all getting offices, if the alternative is a cubicle, I’m not sure my team would do as well there. But again, it depends.

      You can link the studies if you want. But even in those reports, it tends to say that, if planned for well, the negatives can be counterbalanced.

      1. Mike C.*

        But you can’t drag all of your monitors into those meeting rooms, and it doesn’t stop people from being loud or otherwise distracting.

        1. Justin*

          Our meeting rooms have monitors (giant ones), and we can log into them and our data comes up, or we can bring a flash drive. Works very well. But most situations don’t have that, so it wouldn’t quite qork.

          I suppose people could be loud, but thankfully our culture has not encouraged that sort of thing. I’m a pretty loud guy socially but I keep quiet here. Sometimes my coworker talks to me about baseball, I guess, but if people want to have a longer chat they pop into a lounge area.

    2. TC*

      Maybe I’m the one weirdo, but I love my open plan office. We have places where we can get away if we need to, plus we can wear headphones, but otherwise, we work together and ask questions and make great things. I’ve worked in cubicles and I just felt like I was in a cell.

      1. Augusta Sugarbean*

        Do you mind saying what your field is? I do hear some people saying they like open offices because they do need to work closely with others. I’m curious what industries this works for.

        1. TL -*

          I worked in a lab and they’ve always been mostly open-plan or shared office (though working from home or hiding in a conference room was completely acceptable, especially if you needed to write.)

          I really liked it because you do need to talk about science a lot and collaborate a lot. That being said, one lab banned headphones and that was a huge problem, because I couldn’t block out noise when I needed to concentrate.

  20. bopper*

    We have open space, and some people have permanent desks and some people have hot-desks. It was determined based on how much you came in to the office. Working at home is also allowed.
    We also have “telephone booth” rooms for calls, mini-meeting rooms for small ad hoc meetings and larger conference rooms.
    So make sure to ask the specifics.

  21. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster*

    My office seating has gone exactly in the reverse of what one would imagine. Early in my career, I always had a private office. With a window, even! I took time off to have kids, and came back to a work world of low walled cubicles, and then entirely open offices. Now I don’t even have my own desk, or a phone.

    Thankfully, as my privacy went down, my opportunities for working remotely increased. I only go to the open office once a week these days. The rest of the time I’m in my own wonderful home office, where nobody bugs me except for the cats.

    1. Hera Syndulla*

      “where nobody bugs me except for the cats.”

      And I’m pretty sure they are a welcome distraction most of the times? (Mine are ;-) )

    2. Manders*

      Yes! I haven’t been in the workforce that long, but phrases like “getting the corner office” are already starting to sound dated. I like the work I do, but the likelihood that I’ll ever have a private office with walls and a door is low.

      I’m not sure why working remotely hasn’t caught on more–if you’ve already got the setup to hotdesk, and saving money is important to you, why spend so much cash renting space your employees aren’t productive and happy in?

  22. Julianne*

    I appreciate this advice as I think about starting a job search. My issues are parking and access to an adequately sized workspace (right now I’m forced to do some work in hallways and other common areas due to insufficient space in my dedicated workspace). I would not take a new position that didn’t offer both, but I also realize that the optics of asking about those things at first contact would be odd.

  23. Murphy*

    Random hot desking question: How does it work with phone calls (since even if the desk has a phone, the number would change if you moved desks)?

    We’re mostly email at my job, but I still get some phone calls.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      My guess would be that most companies with this policy have switched to company cell phones. That’s the only way I could see it working, unless everyone answered the same number (like a single number for IT or customer service or legal). My last job was open office, cell phone only. (Hated both of those things for different reasons. Twice I wanted to call in for meetings and my phone decided to update on me before I could do so. That was enough to make me detest it.)

    2. baseballfan*

      We have hoteling and when you check into your reserved space, your phone number follows you and the phone at that desk rings with your number.

      1. Murphy*

        Ah, I wasn’tt familiar with hoteling, but I just looked it up. I didn’t realize there’s a version of this where you can reserve a space.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Ah, see, that is much more technologically advanced than what I envisioned! I’m also picturing myself putting a reminder on my calendar to check in.

        1. baseballfan*

          Actually it’s pretty high tech; when sign into the office network, your computer checks you in automatically.

          They also have a phone app that checks you in once you are in the building.

          Failing that, there is a kiosk by the elevators.

    3. Beehoppy*

      I don’t hot desk per se, but at my office we can log on and off our physical phones with our phone number and password. So the phone at your desk is always your line. We use the phone system Mitel for this.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      Either cell phones or phone numbers through your computer – my company allowed people to keep either a desk phone or a cell phone but not both. And they are slowly moving to the computer-based phone system as the sole phone option.

    5. Not Today Satan*

      At my employer you log into your physical phone and then it rings to whatever phone you’re logged into.

    6. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      My company doesn’t do hot desking. Most people have a dedicated cube, but then we have two offices in the same city and sometimes people need to move between the two, so we always have some open spaces for those people.

      Anyway – everyone has an assigned number, but then you can “login” into any phone and have it be your number.

    7. jk*

      Dialpad. It’s a phone system that allows you to make and receive calls from anywhere (desktop, tablet, mobile). I have a headset for my laptop and a dedicated number.

    8. EddieSherbert*

      My company does not do hot-desking but we have soft phones on our computer + a headset (because we can work from home part of the time).

      Cisco IP Communicator is the system name.

    9. Observer*

      It depends on the phone system. But most higher end phone systems actually have the ability to allow you to log in and out of a phone, so you can have the same extension wherever you are.

      In fact, I first heard the term “hot desking” from the technician who was setting up our phone system a few years ago. Since then I’ve moved to assigning EVERYONE a hot desk extension rather than one that ties to a specific phone, even if they have one assigned desk. Because it means that if we have a problem or if a position changes, it doesn’t affect the user. “Oh, your phone isn’t working? Here’s another one. just plug it in, and log in and you’re good to go.” It also means that if someone starts working from home part of the time, they still have the same extension, and people don’t need to think about that person’s schedule.

  24. miyeritari*

    I’m not sure if this wasn’t clear in the answer or the OP isn’t clear on the difference, or I can’t read, but “open office” and “hot desking” mean two different things. An open office just doesn’t have cubes and everyone sits in a big space without any walls. My job has an open office, but I very clearly have my own desk …. as does everyone else. i would never think of sitting at someone else’s desk, or picking up all of my junk (… and i have a lot of it) and relocating it entirely to somewhere else. Sometimes I take my laptop and sit on the couch, but my desk is still my desk, and even when I’m not sitting there, it’s assumed you don’t sit there.

    “Hot desking” is when no one has assigned desks, so everyone sits wherever they want all the time.

    If the OP is cool with an open office but not hot desking, they should make sure they use correct language to ask about the thing they’re actually trying to avoid.

    FWIW, hot desking sounds horrible if most people are generally in the office. Open offices have pros and cons.

    1. Murphy*

      I was confused about that on my first read either and almost made the same comment about being clear but OP says “at a minimum I need a cube”, so I think they want to avoid both.

    2. miyeritari*

      As an actual response to the OP, depending on what kind of industry you’re in (if industry is important to you!), you might be SOL when it comes to at least the open office part of the culture. I’ve found that in some industries, the chance you’ll get your own cube is slim to none, and if that’s your dealbreaker, it’s going to be pretty difficult for you to move on.

  25. baseballfan*

    I feel compelled to point out that hoteling or “hot desking”, and open office concept, are not remotely the same. Many offices have one or the other but not both.

    Hoteling means you reserve a workspace for each day that you are in the office. This could be a cube or an office.
    Open office means there are no (or few) walls, cube separators or offices.

    We have hoteling, and today I am sitting in an office that has a door. Yesterday I was in a different office with a door. Some days I end up with a cube, depending on available space.

    Hoteling is not my favorite thing ever but I am frequently out of the office or traveling so I am used to working pretty much anywhere. Just give me an internet connection and I’m golden. I don’t care if I am in one office today and another tomorrow. My main complaint about hoteling is people who do not clean up after themselves and leave the trash from their lunch, or mess with the connectors so my monitors don’t work right.

    1. Cordoba*

      I have done every possible permutation of of hoteling, assigned seats, and hot desking, in open offices, cubicles, and closed-door full offices.

      One of the things I learned by doing this is that I don’t actually care much about my working environment. I realize it doesn’t work for everybody but I’d actually prefer that the place was just an open room full of beanbag chairs and power strips.

  26. John*

    “Hot desking” sounds like an idea someone had who would never have to actually engage in it. No thanks and I feel sorry for anyone who is forced to do it.

  27. RachelR*

    Hotdesking is such a stupid concept. WHO CAME UP WITH THIS AND WHY DO MANGERS THINK IT’S A GOOD IDEA???

    1. fposte*

      Because it can allow a business to save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by renting a much smaller office space.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*


        We partner with a community organization that has hotdesking. With flexible scheduling, work from home, and the amount of time spent in the field, there’s only like 25% of their employees at the workplace at any given time. In a case like that, it kinda makes sense. Why have a workplace that’s 4x as big and mostly vacant? Hot desking solves that issue for them.

    2. Triple Anon*

      As with anything, it does have some advantages. If you have a flexible seating arrangement, you can sit with people you’re currently working on a project with, or people whose work you find interesting and would like to learn more about. If your schedule allows you to arrive on the earlier side, you can definitely use it to your advantage. However, it only works if it doesn’t penalize people who can’t come in early enough to claim a good seat. There should be enough comfortable seats to go around, enough window seats, and accommodations for people who need them (like a reserved seat when you have to arrive late for some reason). And the obvious advantage is that the cost savings can mean everyone gets a higher salary.

      I’m not advocating for it. Just filling out the picture. A lot of people have mentioned the disadvantages, but I think it’s not all bad.

  28. Bookworm*

    Aaagh, OP. This is my nightmare (the open office is bad enough but what you describe would cause me to flee ASAP). I even wrote that a move to the open office style would be a dealbreaker in a previous AAM post (yesterday?)

    I did experience a variation of this rather recently. I found out that the Potential Work Place (PWP) does not have a permanent office (yet) and works out of a co-working space. At the time it came up I didn’t think to ask but we had a follow-up conversation and I asked about the setup since I have only worked out of a co-working space before once and have only visited one a few times for an interview a few years ago. It was a legitimate, perfectly fine question because PWP’s setup is less traditional than other similar organizations. I think you can get to it via a roundabout way, ie asking about the work environment in general and find a way to drop in for more details regarding the setup.

    Good luck!

  29. SL #2*

    My old company did hot-desking from the very start, but we were also set up in a way that made hot-desking possible and easy. We all had company laptops and we were mostly paperless, no landline phones (we had Google numbers and were reimbursed for our phone bills), and there were some private conference spaces for when you needed to take a private call. Half the office was usually out in the field anyway. Our IT team also had a dedicated space with extra monitors that they didn’t need to share with anyone. I actually really liked the set-up and I found myself moving from a “morning” seat to an “afternoon” seat pretty often.

    OP, there just really isn’t any way for you to screen for this stuff outside of a phone interview, or maybe having a contact at the company that you could ask about. I know physical space is important to you, or else you wouldn’t be considering leaving your current job, but it’s going to come off very, very weirdly to interviewers if that’s all you emphasize as a concern.

  30. Ask a Manager* Post author

    As with yesterday’s post about dogs in the office (where there were a ton of comments about how people feel about dogs in the office and far fewer about the actual question), I’m going to ask here that people focus comments less on how you hate open offices/hot-desking and more on how/whether you can suss this stuff out before interviewing or early on in the process — since that is what this question is about!

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      It’s totally reasonable to talk about or even want to see the working space while you’re at your in person interview. It seems a little more awkward to me to ask about it during the first phone interview though. Without directly asking, I’m not sure it would come up and most companies won’t post that info in the ad.

  31. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I have to say, I’m impressed that the Letter Writer recognizes her own dealbreakers and is willing to sacrifice a potential opportunity for them. It sounds so simple, but I look back at my own choices (in career and even in life) and think of all the times I said, “Well, I kind of don’t like this, but I can get used to it.” And then, of course, I never get used to it and spend so much time being stressed about some of the very things I signed up for (including an open office at one job! Minimal vacation time at another). I very much believe in taking responsibility for the choices we make– as long as we’re given adequate information upfront– and I wish I could put that into practice a whooooole lot more.

    1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      I just conducted a recent job search and it was sort of a breakthrough to me – I had a targeted role type and a targeted firm type then I had a few must-haves and a few must not haves. I realized that I can not compromise on the must haves/must not haves. Neither list was huge and I finally have a pretty good enough sense of the industry/myself/the working world in general to feel confident that all of my must haves/must not haves were reasonable and crucial to my success.

      It finally sunk in that it is ok to turn something down – even if objectively it’s a good option – just because it will not work for me personally.

    2. Manders*

      Yes! I’m at the tail end of the group that graduated from college into the recession, and something I’ve been working on with my friends is getting comfortable with making career choices because I want them instead of because I feel pressured to take them. The first time I turned down a job that made me an offer but wasn’t the right fit for me was agonizing. The funny thing is that when I got more discriminating and started digging into whether a workplace was the right fit for me during interviews, I started looking like a more experienced and desirable candidate.

  32. KR*

    Hi OP, I completely get it. I wish I had more privacy at work just for focus’s sake. I have my own desk and my own corner and sliver of window visible and that works for me. At my old job, towards the end I had *my desk* but it also doubled as a work table for PC setups (IT office), sometimes a dumping ground for equipment people didn’t put away, and home for servers and PCs that weren’t ready to go into service. It made me so frustrated and just ruined my entire day when I had to pick up and work somewhere else for the day. Right now my desk is *my* space. I have my own file cabinet and drawers and a monopoly over the printer and I’m in heaven. You know what you want and you have a job to pay the bills now, so go forth and find your dream cubicle.

    1. KR*

      Whoops – just saw Alison’s comment. So OP, Alison’s scripts are awesome. I would also frame it like, “This is the work environment I work best in to focus and I want to do my best work for you.” Rather than a personal preference.

  33. AG*

    Really glad to see advice on how to ask about the environment, because this is one of the reasons I’m avoiding moving on. I have a cubicle with normal-height walls now, and it’s still difficult to concentrate. I don’t know how I’d get anything done in an office where I constantly have to worry about my facial expression (the corners of my mouth naturally turn down, it’s a flaw that runs in my family), try not to shift/fidget too much even though sitting in the same position for too long hurts, and not be able to stretch my upper back and chest (I’m female and past experiences have taught me that a backbend-y stretch signals sexual availability). Unfortunately I’m in an industry where open offices are popular, and the ADHD meds only help so much when I’m in a chaotic environment.

  34. Not Today Satan*

    How common/accepted are office tours after getting a job offer (but before accepting it)? I would definitely like to do that next time I’m offered a job.

    1. Cordoba*

      Absent a compelling security/confidentiality/safety type reason I can’t imagine a reasonable potential employer declining a request along the lines of “I’d like to walk through the area where this team is currently located.”

      Don’t wait for the offer, just ask for it during the on-site interview. Also don’t call it a “tour”, just say you want to see the space.

      If they aren’t willing to do this and don’t have a good reason why then that’s a red flag that is worth keeping in mind come offer time.

      1. Murphy*

        Yeah, I can’t see someone saying no. I feel like that’s often done at the on-site interview anyway. I haven’t had it at every interview, but I’ve had it at some.

    2. JeanB in NC*

      I’ve ALWAYS asked for a tour of where I would be working (after a couple of times I ended up hating the workspace). Even then, a couple of times I’ve been shown a place I’d be working, but by my start date someone had already taken that space and I ended up in an open office which I hate. It’s frustrating.

    3. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      Hmmm – I’ve never been given an official tour after getting an offer (or prior to an offer), however I think every single role I’ve had I knew, at the very least generally, what my space was going to look like just from comments within the interviews referencing the space that can be seen from the conference room/office or walking through the office.

      Eg: I just interviewed and received a job offer – I was interviewing with two soon-to-be coworkers in a glass conference room and they referenced an area I could see from the conference room space mentioned that our dept space was the same just one floor above. So I knew what the area and the worker-bee desk set ups looked like generally, I could see enough personalization to know that it wasn’t a hot desking set up and the spaces weren’t incredibly squished together. I didn’t know where exactly my specific seat would be, but it was enough info to know that the work space wouldn’t be a deal breaker

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I think it might look a little odd, but may well be worth taking the slight hit if it’s as important to OP as it seems to be here. Every interview I’ve had they’re always so task-focused that’s it’s hard for me to even shift the discussion to quality of life without feeling like I’m being totally weird, never mind focusing on so-called “trivial” things (not that I think this is trivial, but hiring managers may). It’s worth a try.

        1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

          Oh totally agree! Hot desking or really, really tight work quarters would be a deal breaker for me, but anything short of that I know I’m ok with, so having a general idea is good enough for me. It does sound like this is a bit more high-priority for the OP, so it would probably be taking the “hit”.

          I just meant to add this as my experience – of never being given a formal tour, but always at least being aware of what my setup would be. Job interviewers seem to be aware enough that work setup is important enough to be sure that the candidate has some sort of idea of the setup even if they don’t give a formal tour. Of course, I’m sure this is dependent on industry or type of work.

    4. Triple Anon*

      I think it’s normal, but you should be respectful of the interviewers’ time when you request it. They might not have time to give you a tour, but someone else probably does. I’d ask, “I’m interested in seeing the work space. Is there someone who could give me a walk through? If not now, I could come back at a better time for it.”

  35. Regina Napolitano*

    An office’s physical environment plays a part in general work satisfaction. I think a good interviewer should mention the work environment during phone interviews and (if security rules allow it) give a general tour of the office space. We have a completely open office with assigned desks (a norm in my industry) and I know it isn’t a good fit for everyone. Better to know early that it might not work for a candidate.

  36. Murphy*

    At my current job (mostly open office, with assigned spaces) they actually asked me how I felt about working in an open area. It was an an in-person interview, so I’d seen the space, but it sounded like they wanted to make it clear that I wouldn’t be getting an office.

  37. Manders*

    When I was doing my last round of job hunting, I went through several interviews with a company before finding out that they were about to move from a really convenient location with a traditional office environment on the edge of town to a difficult to commute to, all-hotdesking environment in a trendy and expensive area. I would have noped out of the process much earlier if I’d known that (it wasn’t the only red flag, but it was a big one).

    While I don’t think you can flat-out say “I hate hotdesking, are you ever planning to do that?” in your initial interview, I think it’s ok to ask some questions about the office environment early in the process. Also, if your work environment is physically uncomfortable for you, I really recommend pushing back and asking for the equipment you need and a dedicated space for it even if it’s bulky and can’t go in a locker every day. I have some nasty wrist, shoulder, and neck problems from years of putting up with a terrible ergonomic setup and I wish I’d spoken up earlier.

  38. Anon Accountant*

    At an in person interview you may be able to get a “tour” of the workplace and see where you would be sitting.

  39. Boredatwork*

    I like the idea of calling and asking reception (assuming they have one) to describe the floor plan. If you’re nervous it’ll get traced back to you have a friend call. I have never interviewed for a job where a “tour” was not the last thing on the agenda, but I would also not take a job with “hot desking”. I had a job that switched from cubes to long desks, with minimal separation and whoa boy was sitting that close to another person draining.

    1. Temperance*

      Maybe it’s because I work in a major city, but this phone call would raise so many red flags with my office. If you’re in a small town it may not, but this would seriously get flagged as a potential threat.

  40. Lora*

    1. Ask on the phone screen if this is a thing. Try to get your dealbreakers up front. This is harder with money stuff, but not impossible. You can flat out say, “For this type of role/to leave my current position, I’d be looking for [whatever], does your organization offer that?” to weed out people who are just playing. Or say, “I’m back on the market because my employer started a new puppy-kicking program which is kind of trendy, so I want to ask right away, does this role involve kicking puppies?”

    2. Work from home is more of a thing now, so for environmental and commute type of stuff, ask about working from home if that’s possible. For a LOT of things it is very possible. I have had good luck with companies who were previously of the butts-in-seats face time management style located in a remote-ish area when I said “listen, the job sounds interesting, but you guys are REALLY far away, and I can’t hack that commute. How much of this could be done working from home?” It’s also a good gauge of how interested they really are and how well they understand the jobs and its deliverables: is this a solid job that has clearly defined goals and objectives, where the management has a clear idea of what success looks like, or is this some nebulous thing that a manager isn’t sure what they need exactly, and you’re going to get dinged come review time for not being psychic or whatever?

    It’s also been a useful segue into whether they offer subsidized commuter transit passes, have organized carpools or whether they can offer some kind of bonus or something to make up for the crappy commute, if the job cannot be done from home.

    3. The vanishing thing Alison mentioned is unfortunate but also unavoidable sometimes. Weirdly, I’ve seen a lot more managers double down on crap decisions when HR presents them with a pile of nearly identical exit interview complaints, rather than change their minds about their crummy idea. But generally companies do listen better when the bottom line is affected.

    Dear managers who are thinking of switching to open offices or hoteling: just let people work from home. If they don’t need offices, they don’t need to come IN to the office either. Just keep a lab space / manufacturing floor, a warehouse, a shipping dock and an office for the shipping/receiving person to process the shipping manifests and run SAP, and like, a conference room to receive guests and have job interviews. Maybe offer a subsidy for co-working space, if someone needs that because their home isn’t set up as office space. If you are going to do this, DO IT. This hot-desking thing is a half-a**ed measure.

  41. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

    One thought – it’s specific to this situation, but I’m wondering if this would be appropriate.

    When asked why you’re leaving your current job – is it appropriate to mention that this is the reason you’re leaving your job (along the lines of we’re switching to hot desking and unfortunately that won’t work for me)? I’m huge on being very clear and explicit in communication and generally don’t like to rely on the idea that other people “should” just know to provide certain info…

    But I just can’t imagine an interviewer from a company that does hot desking not saying something at this point. It doesn’t avoid the trip to the interview and this really only seems useful if there’s one major sticking point that you absolutely need to know (that seems a little odd to focus on early on in the interview process), but could be an idea to keep in the back pocket.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Came to say something like this. It worked for me when I was looking to get away from the 24/7 on-call support. In the first 5-10 minutes of an interview, I’d be asked why I was looking to leave, and say “I’m looking because I am on call 24/7 and I do not want to be”. One interviewer said “well then you came to the wrong place, we have on-call support too”, we talked shop for another five minutes (“how many sites? client PCs? people on rotation etc do you guys have? We have X, and what about you? We have Y” etc) and then ended the interview. I admit I don’t know how much of a faux pas in OP’s industry it is to admit that she is looking to get away from hotdesking; but then, she is, and it really is a deal-breaker for her.

  42. Detective Amy Santiago*

    LW, I think Alison’s scripts are great.

    Personally, I wouldn’t worry if they think you’re odd for asking. If this is your chosen hill to die on, so to speak, then it makes sense to ask up front and be honest about it. As an interviewer, I would prefer not to waste my time and yours if there is something this significant that would make you not interested in accepting the position.

    However, be aware that things can and often do change, so there is no guarantee they won’t move to that type of environment in the future and you need to be prepared for how you will deal with that if it happens.

  43. Lauren*

    Just a thought, but if it comes down to a job offer, why not use “I need a cube” as leverage? If they want you enough, maybe they will give you what you need.

    1. NW Mossy*

      It’s pretty unlikely that would work, though, because a lot of physical configurations won’t give enough flexibility to make this exception. In many cases, it could cost thousands and cause a political firestorm among existing staff if New Employee gets a space configuration not otherwise available. Understandably, most companies aren’t willing to bite that off for any candidate, even an exceptional one. The best you could hope for is some kind of compensating perk or salary increase to offset the undesirable space, but that may not truly make up for it.

  44. Product person*

    Alison, I have to slightly disagree with your answer, just because I have personal experience with something similar.

    Years ago I decided to leave a job because the large project I was hired to help ended. Since I wasn’t being let go, I had the opportunity to screen my new job very well and take my time before leaving.

    At the phone screening stage, I’d always explain to the interviewer that I was looking for a job that didn’t have an open floor, and to avoid wasting everybody’s time, wanted to know if that was the case with that employer. I feel that it was even a case of “reverse psychology” because after I said that, the recruiter or hiring manager doing the phone screening would go into lengths to explain they didn’t have an open floor, or if they did, they offered the opportunity for people like me to have their own cubicles, and “could you please come and interview with us?”. (I believe that the interviewers respected me more for being upfront about my personal deal breaker, because they always seemed more interested in convincing me to go for an interview after my question.)

    Of course, things change and nobody can predict whether in the future you’ll have to work in an open space, but I find it entirely valid to ask how things are today. There’s no reason to waste time going to an interview when the situation is already as such that we’re not interested in taking the job. If things changed after I took the job, then it’s a new set of circumstances to deal with, but if the situation is already present, then there is no benefit for either part to proceed with the hiring process when it’s going to end up failing anyway.

    1. Triple Anon*

      That response makes sense to me. Preferring a private office implies that you’re serious about productivity and you don’t want to get distracted by socializing. I think it conveys maturity and a good work ethic.

      1. NW Mossy*

        I don’t know that I agree with that entirely. It’s rare these days to see companies where everyone has an office, so in spaces where offices exist, they’re typically allocated to the C-level first. How far down the ladder offices go from there depends a lot on the specific company culture and industry.

        As a result, you have to consider the hard-work signaling against the counter-signalling that if you’re aiming for an office when applying for a role that’s normally assigned a cube/bull-pen spot, you can come off as having an inflated sense of importance. A good rule of thumb: if the person you’d report to doesn’t have an office, you’re probably not going to get one.

  45. blatantlybianca*

    Hi OP! I totally get your sentiments about open offices/hotdesking. I’ve changed my previously negative views to a positive one having worked in these spaces for 3 years. It feels freeing to me not to have to worry about a desk and since I’ve moved to remote working 3x/wk it truly doesn’t bother me. Does your office allow remote working? That might help to dilute some of the pains of this setup. I also like it bc I’m free to move around the office when I’m there, and can choose spots depending on the focus I need for that day. For example, moving to a “focus room” when I need to knock out some writing, or sitting in a space where more employees are bc I need human interaction that day. It also helps me to get to know my coworkers better, especially ones I wouldn’t normally get to interact with.

    I do want to caution you against ruling out roles based on their office setup. In the future of work (artificial intelligence, automation, machine learning, etc.) one of the key skills we’ll all need is adaptability. The workforce of the future is mobile, independent and flexible. Deloitte has a great report on this and you can see the global impacts of flexible workspaces. I work in the San Francisco Bay Area and under-utilization of office space is a significant concern for many employers. Premises/Facilities are the 2nd largest cost after personnel, and managing the utilization of space is a top priority. For an open office/hot desk type environment, I think the design is key and it must take into factor the overall employee experience. Also, how these changes are communicated can be a dealbreaker in terms of adoption by employees. I said all of that to say, I don’t think this new work environment is going away and I’d hate to see you miss out on enriching opportunities. Best of luck in your search!

    1. Xarcady*

      I see two things in your post that make hot desking work. One, your company provides “focus rooms” that let people work in a quiet environment if they need it. Two, remote working is encouraged.

      The problem with a lot of hot desking I hear about is that it’s just an open office plan, with no place to go if you need quiet or to make a phone call. And frequently, remote working isn’t offered, either.

      This tells me that some companies are going to hot desking without all the necessary parts that make it work. They see an opportunity to save money and they take it, but don’t do alter their work style in ways that allow hot desking to be a success.

      1. blatantlybianca*

        Yes! Like with any major change, the way to get buy in is via seeking input from the ones who will be most impacted. When my office switched, the design phase included key stakeholders (i.e. facilities who had a gauge on how often spaces are being used), as well as those in charge of overall employee experience to understand and map out how spaces could be used for different working styles. Our co. had sessions with us to get our input and while I was initially averse, now it’s just not a big deal like I thought it would be. Sure there are annoyances like ongoing conversations while I’m on a call, but I can balance it out by moving to another spot.

    2. Observer*

      I’m nit against hot desking in all situations. But telling someone to accept a problematic set up because we need to be adaptable is not really useful. The reality is that there are some hard limits on how adaptable we can be, and all the good will and good faith efforts in the world won’t change that. There is a ton of evidence that for certain types of work open office does NOT work, and the evidence is pretty clear that the problem is NOT people’s lack of adaptability.

      Beyond that, people need to know their own deal breakers. Sure, they also need to understand the limitations that those deal breakers may impose on them. But, the OP seems to be cognizant of that issue.

      1. blatantlybianca*

        I’m going to respectfully disagree, an open office space/hotdesking isn’t a hill to die on and ruling companies out solely because of this will limit OP’s career possibilities. A better approach is to suss out how they’ve made accommodations for workers who prefer to work quietly and then evaluating against that. Also, an unintended consequence of this could be that hiring managers will be wary of a candidate taking a firm stance on an issue where flexibility is the norm. Unless OP plans to seek roles where it’s 100% remote work, this is a reality they’ll have to face. With the rise of the gig economy, the cost savings of automating how space is utilized is too substantial for employers not to consider.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          It’s not your hill to die on. It IS the OP’s. She knows herself, and whether we agree with that choice, she is (presumably) and adult who can make these decisions while accepting that yes, there may be great roles she’ll have to turn down.

          Being flexible is a very good thing. However, no one has to be flexible about absolutely everything. I absolutely agree with everything Observer said; the OP seems to be well aware of the limits her preferences will place on her career, and for her, that’s OK.

        2. zora*

          Some people might be okay with limiting their career possibilities for the right reason. That’s literally what “hill to die on” is referring to. People can have different things that are hills for them, that might not be for someone else.

          And for someone with anxiety or ADHD, maybe too loud of an office space is a big enough deal for it to be a dealbreaker for them. This is what we talk about on this site all the time, each of us should figure out our own dealbreakers for ourselves and use those to screen jobs so as to make our careers as successful as possible.

  46. Tuxedo Cat*

    My last job, I was able to talk to a current employee after the initial interview. A prospective employee also talked to me when I was working there. Maybe that could work? The current employee mentioned the office situation without me prompting her.

    I like Alison’s scripts myself. The prospective employee only asked me about our office layout and was really insistent she got a window (with me, who had no control over those matters); it felt really weird.

    Do you suspect this hoteling desk trend will be widespread in your field? If you see this is trending (maybe ask a senior mentor you trust to be confidential?), it might be worthwhile thinking about other fields where this setup might not be the norm.

  47. Cols*

    Oof. That just seems like a horrible, horrible working setup.

    I would phrase it as, “Experience has taught me that I function approximately 70% more efficiently [or some other reasonable number that isn’t 100, so it doesn’t seem exaggerated] when I have a dedicated, at-least-semi-private work space. Like a lot of people, my attention can wander when too many people are in and out of my eye-line, and I find it a dreadful waste of time to continually pack and unpack my belongings, not to mention jockeying for space.”

    1. designbot*

      That’s far too detailed. You mention your attention wandering, and I wonder why you’re admitting you’re such a flake. You describe the dreadful waste of time, and I’m thinking about how negative you are. Just say you’ve found you work much better when you get a bit of audio privacy (or find some other aspect of it that’s accurate to you), and be done with it.

      1. Cols*

        I don’t think it’s flaky or negative. It’s HUMAN. I’m not a robot and neither are you, your handle notwithstanding. When people are all around and you have no privacy, it’s hard to not get distracted by the guy who does weird stretches, or the coworker who’s always showing a little butt crack when he bends over, or even just to get sucked into non-productive conversations just because you caught someone’s eye. People wear headphones to block out noise pollution, but they can’t wear blinders. And it IS a dreadful waste of time to have to pack up and unpack everything at least twice a day. It’s an incandescently stupid way to force people to work if it doesn’t come naturally to them.

        1. designbot*

          no, I get that, it is definitely normal for that to be difficult! But while everybody has things they prefer and difficulties with different environments, but most job candidates do not dwell on them, and doing so takes the interview conversation to negativetown unecessarily. It’s all in how you present it.

  48. Triple Anon*

    I would proactively look for a company that believes in private work spaces. There must be some in every industry.

    The bigger picture here is that open floor plans allow companies to offer higher salaries and more perks because they’re saving money on space. As more companies transition to this model, there’s pressure for others to do so as well so that they can offer the same things and attract the same applicants. But lots of people would rather have a private office. So there must be some companies who are sticking to that, or who offer it to people who request it. I would do some digging – ask around and also see what you can find online.

  49. Lynn Whitehat*

    Between Glassdoor, Google searches, and other social media like Facebook, you *might* be able to see or read about what the space is like. Or not. I just looked up my employer on Glassdoor, and none of the photos were of our office.

  50. Meißner Porcelain Teapot*

    I come from a job where open floor plans are the norm (and hot-desking to a certain extent), because our workflow depends on projects from external clients and people on the same project need to be seated in the same area, so if you are on project A for two weeks, you move your stuff over there. If project A ends and you are assigned to project B on the other side of the floor (all projects require specific hardware setups), you pack up all your stuff and move over there. If you go on vacation, you put your company-provided personal stuff (such as keyboard and notepad) into a designated locker and take all personal items home with you. For me, this is absolutely normal and unless you have to do the switch every single day (which our company is actively trying to avoid) it’s not that hard. So, I don’t really see what the commotion is, but whatever.

    In any case, I’d advocate doing the same thing I always recommend whenever there’s a make-or-break kind of element to a job: wait until you get the call where they invite you for the interview, thank them for inviting you, and then, when they ask if you have any questions, say something like:

    “I know this might be a strange question to ask before the actual interview, but in my last job hot-desking/d0gs in the office/daily team bonding exercises had a really negative impact on my quality of life and work and I would like to avoid this happening again in the future. Is hot-desking a part of your company’s office culture?”

    If they say yes, you can thank them for being so upfront and honest and politely turn down the interview. If not, go for the interview, but keep in mind that offices (and their culture) can change all the time.

  51. mcr-red*

    We hot desked for a while when I first started, and I just carried all of my stuff in a bag with me daily. When we finally got our “own” desks, half of the room got desks with drawers, and I was one of the few that did not. So I still carry a lot of stuff daily, and otherwise all of my stuff is on my desktop – don’t like it, get me a desk with drawers! We still have an open-office plan, no cubicles, nothing, just a big room with a lot of desks. I’ve gotten pretty good at tuning people out, but on the occasion I listen to music or something on my headphones to drown it out, that’s the moment my coworkers desperately need to ask me something.

    All of this to say- if you’re at an interview and are interested in the job, I would ask to see the area in which you’d be working.

  52. Strawmeatloaf*

    I swear it’s spreading to schools too.

    We moved into a new building specifically for my graduate school and the classrooms were definitely built around the idea of “collaboration” and such, which means that instead of rows of desks, we now have half-oval desks where we sit elbow to elbow with the classmate next to us.

    It’s also hard to see the teacher for about a 1/4th of the students because instead of being able to write notes on the table, they have to turn around to even see powerpoints and the teacher talking and the notes they write and stuff.

    Oh, did I forget to mention it’s also amazingly easy to cheat now too? Because it is. You are so close together now with your fellow student, that it’s hard to hide the paper (they’re still using mostly paper tests) that they can easily copy off of you. I accidentally saw the classmate’s paper that was next to me last semester for a final (it’s so easy to do, you just flick your eyes up and can see it) and they had clearly copied from me. I went and warned the teacher about it. One of my other teachers had to split the class in half so that we could be seated far away from each other so we couldn’t copy (and I will be suggesting that to my teachers this semester also).

    It’s an absolutely horrible set up, and I’m sure they had something in mind like “students will now be able to collaborate together more easily!” and blah blah, but that’s just not what happens.

    1. Strawmeatloaf*

      Sorry, I should say I guess it could work, but clearly it depends on the office environment like other people have said. We’ve heard too many stories of people stealing things from regular cubicles for workers who are there most of the time, I doubt it would be any better with hot-desking (and then people should be advised only to use company-spent items!)

      I’m not sure at what point to say that you would like no-hot desking, but if it does come up somehow/ they say “do you have any other questions” then you can ask and if they say they do, I would enquire about being able to work at home/what they do with the hot desking at work.

    2. SallytooShort*

      This isn’t new. All of my classrooms were like this in law school. And I graduated over ten years ago. Many of my classes in college were like this.

      If you are in grad school they work off the honor system. And it is not that hard to cheat if you want to with regular desks.

  53. Annonymouse*

    Honestly as a talent acquisition manager who interviews people for a living I don’t think that I would red flag someone asking me this in an ititial interview as long as they explained the reasoning why..but that’s just me

    1. Evergreen*

      I would worry more about the reason why possibly indicating a lack of flexibility or reluctance to innovate: if the company values those things it may be a red flag even in a cube/office environment

      1. PSB*

        That seems a bit judgmental. Open offices and hot desking aren’t innovative. They’ve been around for a long time. They’re just trendy right now. I would be very, very careful about using that as a proxy for gauging a potential employee’s attitude toward innovation.

        1. Evergreen*

          I couldn’t agree more! But I speak from experience of working at a company that was ‘Innovative!’ and moved to activity based working (like hot desking but with a wider variety of work settings) and at that place anyone who didn’t think they’d like abw was perceived to be out of step with the company’s innovative agenda. I would therefore just caution the op to explain her reasoning in a way that’s not ‘I don’t think i’ll like this even though i’ve never tried it’ if the company prioritieses innovation.

          But, needless to say, I no longer work at that company :)

  54. Biff*

    I just finished a job search that hinged entirely on office environment. I chose to simply not care how awkward it seemed that I was adamantly opposed to an open-concept office, and said the following: I do my best work when I have privacy and a minimum of visual noise. I feel that if I came aboard with you, you’d deserve my best. Is your office conducive that?

    Generally, I got one of two answers: someone told me that they agreed and explained a bit about their space, or they told me all about how WONDERFUL the open office was, and then proceeded to tell me they were working in an office/conference room/otherwise private area. I’d ask a few prickly questions and then get gone.

    I’d truly advise going the route of describing your best environment for success and letting them field it. It worked well for me.

    1. Manders*

      This is a great way of doing it! I think that’s the key here: the LW has to be up front about what they’re looking for, and that does mean they’ll lose out on some almost perfect but not quite there jobs.

  55. Xarcady*

    So I went and Googled the benefits of hot desking.

    One of the most mentioned was that employees would have neater, clutter-free desks because they couldn’t keep photos, calendars, desk toys, snacks, etc., at their desks. This would in turn make all employees be better organized and more efficient. That’s a huge assumption.

    Another benefit is that you can sit where you want. If you want a quiet area, you can sit there! If you want to talk, you can sit in a noisy area! I am struggling to see how you can have a quiet area and a noisy area in the same room, no matter how large it is. Sound carries. And huge open rooms allow sound to carry further. Yes, there are noise reduction techniques. They are expensive, and don’t always work. And what do you do if you have a day when you need to proofread a manual and the only empty desk is smack in the middle of the noise area?

    And you can talk to people you don’t know and learn more about what your company does! I mean, I guess you could? But surely there are better ways to do this that don’t involve clearing off your desk and packing everything up every night?

    I’ll admit, many of the lists of benefits seemed to assume that all hot deskers were able to work from home/coffee shops/the beach at will, and only come in to the office when necessary. In such a situation, I think hot desking would work for most people. However, the stories I’ve read here and other places are from people who are expected in the office pretty much every day. And hot desking just seems like a lot of bother for them.

    1. SallytooShort*

      “I am struggling to see how you can have a quiet area and a noisy area in the same room, no matter how large it is.”

      Most of these spaces aren’t just one room. Places do it differently. Some have conference rooms or offices for seclusion. Some have just separate areas where silence is expected (like a library.) My sister does this and this is the thing she loves most about it. She can take her laptop and work in one of the secluded areas when she needs to concentrate but is open to collaborate whens he needs to do that. At her place there is another floor for more secluded working.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Oh, oh, and, when a company fires a hot-desker, they don’t need the 15 minutes to pack their things. They are already pretty much packed! Think of the time savings! /s I am with you, the only way I can see this working is if everyone’s working remotely most of their time, and only come into the office on a rare occasion.

    3. Anon For This*

      An organization that I work with does hot desking on a limited basis. Their rule is if you work from home more than 1 day a week you aren’t eligible for a private office. if you work from home more than 3 days a week you aren’t eligible for a dedicated desk. So you have to choose. You can either choose the perk of being able to work from home or the perk of having a private or dedicated desk.

      So perhaps in addition to asking about the physical space that the OP might be working in, it might also be worth asking about work-from-home policies. Because while I treasure my office and I never want to work in an open floor plan, it might be something that I would consider if I was working from home 4 days a week!

      1. Ridiculous*

        This is not remotely a close decision for me. I could not care less about the “perk” of working from home, where you’re out of sight, out of mind, and not in the thick of things. I will be in the office 5 days a week (more likely 7) and will take the private office. YMMV.

  56. designbot*

    A little late, but I really hope OP sees this: there are websites dedicated to showing off office spaces! Check officesnapshots and officelovin to see if the space is posted there–if it’s a big company, or if it’s recently redone its offices, it’s quite likely.
    Even if it’s not on there, there’s other ways to scope things out digitally. Instagram is your friend! Find their office as a location on instagram (not a hashtag #, or a posted account @, but the tagged location), and you’ll be able to see what employees and visitors have posted from that location, which could give you a very good idea of what the work environment is like.
    Additionally there’s likely to be mention of this issue on glassdoor reviews, since as we’ve seen it annoys so many people so thoroughly. Best of luck to you!

  57. Anon For This*

    Late to the party as always…but I always ask about the physical work space during an interview (if I can get a tour that’s even better). Because having a private office is extremely important to me. And what I’ve found is that most organizations that will provide a private office want to sell that as a perk, and those organizations that are completely into hot desking or open plans are pretty open about that.

  58. Observer*

    You’ve gotten some good scripts. I agree that when you talk about it, you go from the positive aspect rather the negative, even though they are just different ways of talking about the same issue.

    One thing that’s worth thinking about is what you actually need.

    Keep in mind that open office and hot desking are NOT necessarily the same thing. And that there are MANY ways to implement hot desking.

    Is your problem with hot desking that you need to move multiple times a day? That the stations are not adequately set up? Would you be ok with a desk share arrangement and part time WFH? Would you be OK if you knew that you could get a cubicle and stay in it all day (no moving for lunch) and confident that you’re not in a competition to get a desk at all?

    I ask because what you are describing is a recipe for disaster. And I totally understand why you don’t want to go near a repeat of that. But, the question is what do you actually need – not all hot desking arrangements are that bad. There is no “right” answer here, just the one that works for you. You just need to think it through and decide where you fall.

  59. Lia*

    Physical space can change, often in a heartbeat.

    When I started at one employer, a change of plans meant I had a shared office instead of a private one. Then later on, I did get a private office — and a new hire wound up with the windowed office. THEN we all got a new space, where everyone had their own offices: with clear glass walls. It felt like working in a fishbowl.

    Long story short, although today it might be offices, in six months it might not be. Or your team might wind up in cubes.

  60. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    I’ve been thinking about this recently, because we just had a fabulous new person start and she’s really struggling with our office setup. She was used to working in a more isolated area of her last organization, where she only had a couple of cube neighbors, and she’s struggling with the amount of background noise inherent to a cube farm. (It’s a pretty standard setup — offices for senior folks, well-sized cubes with walls high enough that you can’t see the folks across from you, etc.)

    I don’t know if she was offered a walk-through of the offices before she accepted the job. I hope so! She’s great and I hope she can find her way to being comfortable here; there’s no meaningful adjustment that can be made.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        She uses headphones, and that’s fine but doesn’t address her overall discomfort being in the middle of all the activity.

      2. Ridiculous*

        Headphones muffle noise a bit. They don’t cancel it, the name notwithstanding. They work on planes because ambient engine noise is constant. You’ll note they don’t block out in-flight announcements.

  61. Quinalla*

    I know several suggested looking on their website, etc. I’d also look on google maps and drop the person on the map and see if you can see into the office. It won’t be perfect either, but might give you some idea. Can someone you still know in the city drive by the office and peek in?

    If you have a true phone interview, I think you can ask this with another couple questions, but I agree it will seem a little odd if it is the only question you ask. And it shouldn’t because it is so important, but it probably will.

  62. Publicista*

    Hey OP! This was actually one of my top concerns as well when I took my current job. In the olden days (aka 5 years ago), my job title would have had an office. Now, everyone below SVP level is in an open-office floor plan. I thought I would HATE it.

    Turns out…it really isn’t that bad. I am lucky that I am at the “end of the line,” so to speak, and so don’t face anyone, but I was concerned it would be loud and difficult to focus. It isn’t. However, there is a certain lack of privacy of course, and there’s no hot-desking here to deal with.

    But I just want to say I totally understand your dread for this, and even though as Alison said it sounds “weird” to employers to prioritize that when speaking about a job opportunity, it actually IS a big deal. If you can’t work in an environment that’s conducive to your workstyle, what’s the point? But my experience has been much better than I thought it would be.

  63. K, Esq.*

    I know this isn’t your question, but can you push back on the requirement to hotdesk? It doesn’t seem like there’s any benefit for your employer when they have to have a desk available every day for you anyway.

  64. PMcat*

    It’s probably specific to the industry I’m in but I’ve never worked at/interviewed/visited at a non open office so not sure how plausible this is. I did interview once where the manager warned me (she was not thrilled by the idea either) to a hotdesk set up so if you work in an environment where people are typically set up one way, it probably won’t be super out there to ask the question.

  65. MissDissplaced*

    I, in part left my previous job due to open office (sucks), expensive parking, and work at home options being rescinded.
    When I was interviewing, I would try to ask about this on the 2nd call, or during the interview. No one really seemed to be taken aback by it, but you know, it’s all in the tone and phrasing of how you ask. If you do go onsite, also try to ask for a quick tour or walk through of where you’ll be located.
    Of course, it’s not to say things won’t change a year down the road!

  66. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Yeah the “open concept” is being promoted as a millennial thing = “collaboration, open space, comraderie, spirit” —


    Let’s tell it like it is. Companies are latching on to that – because it’s cheaper.

    Less space, more noise. No offices with doors or cubicles. Just open floor space, just like pre-1970.

    And – somewhere managers read an article “this is the way to GO!” Productivity can be reduced, costing a lot more than cubicle walls.

  67. Elizabeth West*

    Ergh. I would hate this too. There was a little hot-desking at Exjob but mostly it was employees who traveled or worked remotely a lot of the time. Those who were stationed at one office had their own cubes and the itinerant ones used empties. But they were CUBES. Not open, so you had a teeny bit of privacy at least.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know of any other way to find out except to ask, or wait until the interview and ask if you can see the workspace, if it’s feasible. I had an interview Tuesday where I only saw the lobby and the HR department. I’ve no idea where the hiring department even is. If I get a second interview (haha I mostly likely won’t, says jerkbrain), I think I may ask the hiring manager unless the meeting is in that department and I can see it for myself.

  68. Tech Comm Geek*

    I’ve run into this a couple of times, and it is coming in my current workplace. If you can tolerate a relatively open plan but it is important that you have your own space, I’ve been successful in getting that. I have multiple ergonomic needs – I need a specific keyboard and mouse, my chair usually needs multiple adjustments, and having multiple monitors directly impacts my work speed. When the hot desking announcement came out, I requested a disability accommodation to have an assigned space. I cited my ergonomic needs and the amount of time it would take me to make those adjustments each time I moved. I actually went to one of our “hoteling” spaces and timed how long it took me to get set up. It took me 45 minutes. I got my own assigned space in a half wall cube.

  69. Joel Davis*

    I’ve worked at a bunch of places with open plans & hotdesking and I don’t hate it. I’ve also worked at places where I had my own office.
    For open plans, the things I’ve found to be helpful are having plenty of non assigned space to work. One place was an office of 75 that had 12 hotel offices, 5 breakout spaces and a very large kitchen/multipurpose space. A pretty generous remote work policy is also crucial, but the thing I think that helped the most was that nobody had an office assigned.
    The place I work at now is a hot desk/open plan hybrid. Some people have desks, while others move around. We also have a decent bit of space to move around to.

  70. Nicole*

    I raaaarely comment and I hope OP sees this!

    Make a Reddit account and find Favorite City’s subreddit. Make a post asking if anyone currently works there and just ask what the floor plan is like and about the environment. Be anonymous of course. I’ve done this with multiple jobs and it’s worked great everytime. If your city is too small to have a subreddit or you don’t get any replies; even put an ad on Craigslist. It sounds stupid but it really does work.

  71. Commercial interior desiger*

    I work at an interior design firm that specializes in commercial offices. Oftentimes, these open office situations are put into play because it is a cost savings for the company (more people in less space, often saving money on a new office or major renovation to accommodate company growth). Also, almost every approval for this is being made by someone high up enough that they wont be affected by it. They overlook the value of employees’ happiness, not realizing that the distraction and lack of privacy can be detrimental to employees’ job satisfaction. Ultimately, in their goal to save building/space cost, they increase turnover and rarely do they realize the connection.

  72. Steve*

    Personally, I would just flat out ask to see how the office is laid out during an in-person interview or ask how the office is structured/laid out during a phone interview. Anyone refusing to answer probably has something to hide.

    I think “hot-desking” is a horrible idea and I don’t understand the reasoning for it unless you have a very limited amount of space and have to “reuse” the space when someone else is on shift or when you have a largely volunteer staff (which is our issue).

    By the way, just FYI, I give bonus points during interviews to folks who mention their fur- or feather-kids. It would be really annoying to have to shuffle the pictures of mine around like this in the office.

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