can we make hot-desking work in our office?

Before we get into this letter, a definition. Hot desking = an office design that eliminates assigned desks, instead having people find a new work space each day. It’s sometimes used in offices where people are frequently out (on the road, working from home, or at another site), rather than having lots of desks sitting vacant.

A reader writes:

I have a query for you regarding hot desking, and if there is a way to make it actually work that is suitable for everyone.

I work in a large department of a large civil service. We have a department of 130 employees and occupy one of the most densely occupied buildings in our branch. It is open plan and we are crammed in like battery hens. We have no funding for more office space and nowhere else to expand into, and any office move would be at least two years in the future (if at all).

We currently have the issue that we only have 110 desks but 130 staff, which will likely rise to 150 in the next few months. We had a survey of desk usage done, and on any given day we have about 35% of our available desks empty (due to annual leave, sickness, training, etc.). Currently a handful of people hot desk already, but there has been a suggestion that if the majority of teams began to hot desk it would solve our space issues. A few teams would still need to have assigned seats due to their roles (which is likely to cause tension and resentment from those who have to hot desk). If the plan did go ahead, we’d be standardizing the equipment with docking units/dual monitors.

I can see a couple of big road blocks, first with equipment. We have several employees who need special chairs and keyboards. We could potential replace all the “standard” chairs with the “special chairs,” but one user of a specific chair said it’s taken them 30 minutes a day to adjust their chair correctly. It becomes trickier with users of special keyboards or “handshake” mice – is it reasonable to ask these users to carry them in their bag and swap them out for the standard one?

Secondly, I can see this being a big hit to morale and I know some people feel very strongly about hot desking being terrible. It’ll limit users on how much they can personalize desks, and they might not be able to sit next to who they would like. We have staggered start times, so those starting later would get a limited pick of desks. I also think we’re likely to have issues with people coming in early to snag up the “best” desks, who won’t do work till their start time (our culture is you work you paid for hours and nothing more). I say
“best,” as none of them are great.

At the end of the day, we have too many people and not enough desks, and we have lots of empty desks on a daily basis. I’m very pragmatic and while hot desking wouldn’t be my first choice, I’d understand. However, I know a lot of my coworkers would feel differently. Any advice on how to carry out this change with minimal disruption and as much sensitivity as possible would be massively appreciated!

I am no fan of hot desking in most cases, and particularly when it’s done just to save money, because it means you can’t store things at your desk or personalize your workspace in any meaningful way, and it can feel like you don’t have a real “home” at your office.

But in some cases it does make sense, and certainly your situation — with a third of your staff out on any given day, limited space, and no hope in the near future for changing that — sounds like one of them.

I think there are a few things you can do to ease the burden on people:

* Hot desking offices usually have lockers or rolling storage cabinets so that people have somewhere to store their materials overnight. People who have special keyboards or mice could store their equipment in there.

* Consider letting people whose jobs rarely take them out of the office have permanent space. Hot desking is usually an easier sell for staff who know they’re out of the office much of the time anyway. (That may not be doable with the math you’re working with, but it’s worth looking at your numbers. And it might become more doable if you decide the trade-off for someone having permanent space is that they’ve got to be okay with someone else sitting there when they’re out.)

* Consider whether it makes sense to limit people from coming in early to snag the best desks, unless they’re going to start working then. (I am somewhat skeptical that this will turn out to be a huge problem, unless we are talking about truly magnificent desks … or the other desks being truly terrible … but who knows.)

* You’ve stumped me on your chair issue, but I bet that if you ask your group for input, you’ll get ideas specific to your particular space. For example, maybe there are only three special chair users and it would be easiest to just give them permanent desks (although you’d have to watch out for the number of special chair users suddenly increasing once people realize that gets you a permanent desk).

* Most importantly, make sure you communicate really well about the reason for the change. You’re likely to have less discontent if people understand the facts of the situation, and the other options you’ve considered and why you rejected them — and if they have the opportunity to give input about exactly how the change will be implemented. And ultimately you do have a pretty logical case here for doing it, which I suspect people will recognize, even if only begrudgingly.

{ 414 comments… read them below }

  1. hot potato*

    My office does hot desking and some people have special chairs – those chairs go in a storage room at the end of the night and people grab them in the morning to take wherever they’re sitting.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      That is exactly what I came here to write – store the specialized equipment in an area where they can grab it in the morning. Maybe label it with their name so they don’t have to readjust each day but can easily be removed/replaced if they leave.

    2. Gen*

      I used a special chair/footrest when I was working in a call centre without secure storage space and it was hell. Specialist chairs are almost always more comfortable than the cheap chairs many companies use. The night shift or the early birds would take my chair and refuse to give it back I arrived, I received verbal abuse about whether I ‘deserved’ it because they had seniority, and people went to great lengths to get my name off it. The footrest vanished after a week because everyone knew I couldn’t bend enough to see it. Every morning was fraught until I ultimately quit without another job lined up. The main problem was that management didn’t want to get involved in ‘petty’ behaviour which just meant that people got away with being petty and I was left unable to work without pain.

      OP I’d recommend having a policy around specialist equipment use and storage that’s actually enforced. I’m not sure taking mice/keyboards home as there’s more chance of them being lost but maybe a dedicated filing cabinet would work? Also standard labelling on everything.

      1. Banana Pancakes*

        Ugh you’re giving me flashbacks to my college studio days. I had a special chair that was part of my disability accommodations and people would not stop dragging it all over our four story building. Professors weren’t any help, either, and largely acted like it was my fault for daring to have a disability in public.

        I know this has no actionable advice for OP, I just really wanted to emphasize how hard situations like this can be for people who require specialized equipment.

      2. Tallulah in the Sky*

        This is horrible. If management doesn’t make sure all employees are respected in this change, it can go very wrong. It’s also sad that you had such coworkers to begin with.

        And they really should provide lockers for everybody. I agree having to carry around mice/keyboard/computer/… to you home every day is not feasible and will just annoy everyone.

    3. OP*

      We do have some meeting rooms we could potentially store items in. Which is something we haven’t thought of! I’d hope everyone would be adult enough to not take them if they’d be labelled.

      As I think if we gave those with special chairs a perm seat we’d end up in a big rise in the need for them.

      At the moment we have about 15 or so users with special chairs.

      1. INeedANap*

        “I’d hope everyone would be adult enough to not take them if they’d be labelled.”

        I don’t think you can assume this, unfortunately. One part of breaking the news to employees might include proactive plans to address common issues with hotdesking, including how you’ll handle disputes over items.

        1. OP*

          This is a good idea, with a robust policy for disputes it might help. Ie if you keep taking a chair which isn’t for you then you’ll get repercussions

          1. Former call centre worker*

            Just to reassure you as some people have posted about people taking others’ chairs, I worked in a call centre for several years that had hot desking. Lots of people had special chairs/equipment which they’d label with their name and they’d just leave them at an empty desk or in a corner when they weren’t at work. I only remember one incident of something going missing, and I even went on secondment for 9 months and came back to find my chair still there, and still recognised as being my chair, even though the name label had come off

            1. aebhel*

              Yeah, I think a lot of this is down to fostering an office culture that doesn’t tolerate that kind of behavior.

        2. Shoes on My Cat*

          I had a horrible chair -think armrest that fell off randomly and the seat listed to the right by 2 inches- went to the trouble of making a case for a new chair with grandboss , timing it when budget planning time had just begun. finally got the new chair. Used a colored paint pen to label it on the bottom & dot on the back, plus a regular sticker label on the back. Very next morning someone had swapped her crap chair for my new one AND HAD REMOVED THE STICKER LABEL. I went to her and she claimed she knew nothing about my chair and had gotten her own replacement chair that morning. This in front of others in our open office. So I bent over and said “hmmm, I can see my name on the underside”. She stands up and says BS, prove it. So I picked the chair up and flipped it upside down (I’m 5’5″ but strong ;-) ). There’s my name! Then she tried to keep the chair anyway because of seniority. Nope, doesn’t fly. Then she tried to get in my face and intimidate me cause she thought I was some sweet young thang. Nope, I’m none of those. **MY CHAIR** Go get your own!

          Moral of the story, PAINT ON NAMES and don’t assume adults will act like adults. (This woman was in her late 40’s).

          1. Chatterby*

            Painting-on numbers instead of names may work well, since then someone can keep a record that Susan is chair 1, Bob chair 2, etc. and it’d be easy to reassign the chair to a new person if anyone ever leaves.
            The paint-on numbers could also go on the little rolling filing cabinets that lock.
            Of course, this only works if someone keeps the chair record up to date.

      2. fposte*

        I can’t speak to your specific workplace, but in general a move like this raises the feeling of a scarcity mentality, so people are likelier to scrounge stuff hoard stuff than they would have been previously.

          1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            Bit your tongue and don’t give anyone any ideas. I could see that being the next hot thing for worspaces

            1. Ego Chamber*

              We had a version of this back when I worked in Call Center Hell in the early 2000s! The company used hotdesking because it was more efficient than trying to assign seats with the kind of turnover they had—that was the official reason, that they actually told people proactively, so the know the real reason had to be a lot worse.

              The real reason is that they were scheduling more people than they had seats for. Every day. As a normal thing. So you’d come in at the start of your shift, walk around the calling floor with your headset looking for an open computer (that wasn’t broken—there were a lot of broken computers), and if you didn’t find one … you’d just have to keep walking, knowing you’d be getting written up later for not starting on time, even though it was physically impossible to take calls until you found an open desk.

              I walked for 2 hours once, up and down all the aisles of the entire building, checking in with my supervisor repeatedly until he suggested I just go home for the day because I was on the last shift so there weren’t going to be any open desks unless someone got ill. (Obviously they adjusted those 2 hours off my timecard since I hadn’t been working, even though that was their fault not mine.)

              Employers: Don’t try to save money by doing Hotdesk Hunger Games. It doesn’t end well. (And also you’re an asshole if you’re even slightly considering it).

      3. TooTiredToThink*

        If there are 15 people with special chairs – what about instead of giving the person a permanent space – give 10 (or whatever makes sense) spaces to those special chairs and only those 15 people are allowed to work in those 10 spots. Then only store 5 chairs. That way they aren’t getting a permanent desk (I mean, it might end up that way unofficially); but you also don’t have 10% of the staff moving chairs back and forth every day (which I would imagine would get distracting to everyone else). You have to have an accommodation on file to sit at one of those 10 desks. That way; theoretically, by limiting it to less than the number of users you take away the incentive to become one of those special chair users.

        1. JSPA*

          depends if all the special chairs are special in the same way. If it’s a range (kneeling chair, bariatric chairs, boost-assist, ball-chairs) the problem isn’t open to reduction this way.

          1. TooTiredToThink*

            That’s true. I hadn’t thought about them all being different. I just know that if people who obviously have health issues have to move their chairs back and forth every day that could potentially aggravate their issues. Plus; like I said – that’s 10% of the staff; that’s a lot of moving chairs (which makes noise); which may or may not be an issue depending on the environment.

            1. JessaB*

              Not to mention having to readjust chairs every damned day is an annoyance and depending on the reason for needing the chair may not be feasible as the person may not be able to bend and reach to adjust things, OR it could have been adjusted by an ergonomics or therapeutic professional and the person does not know *how* to adjust it themselves.

              People don’t just borrow adaptable chairs, they mess with them. A lot. As someone who always needs one, trust me on this.

          2. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production*

            Ideally, the extra 5 would be stored nearby (is there possibly a wall that they could just be pushed up against? Or a storage room right next to the desks), and then when you arrived, you’d just need to scan these 10 seats and the 5 chairs nearby, find yours, and either sit down or swap it with one that’s at a desk. I do think there’s value in “clumping” them all together, though, just for ease and quickness. (though, if that ended up being ‘the ADA corner’ I could see that running into some discrimination issues?)

        2. TootsNYC*

          that seems like a lot of work.

          It might be easier to have some place they can stash their chairs (or maybe only the people who are worried will stash them there), and then a HUGE office mentality that you don’t mess with someone’s chair. You’d still have to have managers doing the work of enforcing the “get out of Susie’s chair, and let’s have a little conversation about why I’m so mad at you about this” concept, but it’s less work than dealing with who’s allowed to have what chair where.

      4. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Could you designate a hallway or wall (where safety or access isn’t a concern) and get cables with locks? I’d be inclined to not even go down the road of having to settle chair wars.

        I’d also figure out way to have secured carts or something to store things like headsets, keyboards, and mice. Again make sure they are lockable and would secure on a wall someplace with a cable lock so people don’t have to worry about their stuff going on a walkabout. Don’t even bother trying to have a standard desk set. It will work for about a day then either nobody will use them because of germs and preferences or they start disappearing because people inadvertently wander off with them.

        Again, maybe offer cart or locker to people as some might have a preference.

        Another idea that may encourage some movement or desk relinquishing, perhaps get some mobile standing desks. You may be able lure people away from a physical desk if they would prefer to stand.

      5. Psyche*

        Would it cause a problem if the meeting room is full of chairs when you have to use it? If people are often out then these chairs would often be left in the meeting room.

        1. not quite a hot desk*

          And then if you start at 10, and there’s a meeting going on in the room, you couldn’t go in to get your chair without it being Awkward.

      6. Rainy*

        Speaking from experience (my department was moved into a space with literally half the number of offices and leadership optimistically announced we’d do shared hotdesking plus dedicated bookable rooms for 6 months and then see “how things shook out”, which lasted 2 months because everyone hated it so much and we were not even remotely productive because we were all so effing miserable), if your office is big enough, wherever your rolling file cabinets or storage lockers are stored will be where they stay, because physically rolling them from place to place is annoying, so people just stop doing it and let them live wherever. Ditto chairs–if someone got in my yesterday’s office and sat on my chair, they often would be unwilling to give it back, and I am too polite to change someone else’s chair settings, so I ended up with a lot more back and neck problems over that two months. Consider also that some people who need special chairs aren’t going to be capable of painlessly fetching them from down the hall and pushing them all the way to the desk du jour.

        Also, people’s stuff WILL disappear, and much of it probably won’t return. The rate of other people taking coffee cups, water bottles, office supplies, coveted computer accessories, etc, will increase with the increase in plausible deniability.

        1. Garland not Andrews*

          The problem of disappearing stuff (small stuff) is reduced by having a locking locker for each person.

          1. TootsNYC*

            but that takes space as well.

            I wonder about a locking briefcase or file tote. The ideal would be one you could put your stapler, etc., in, and then lay it on your desk to open it into a tray.

            1. Green great dragon*

              Lockers or locking drawers or something is essential, and 150 small lockers against a wall don’t take all that much space. Phone headsets, mugs, notebooks, spare cardigan for when the a/c gets overenthusiastic…

      7. Gyre*

        It is not just the special chairs though (unless all the normal ones have no adjustments whatsoever): my boss and I sit on the exact same type of chair, but the height is set different, armrests are set different as he is a lot taller than I am etc. To reset that every single day is a pain (literally) and hugely time-consuming too.

    4. Green great dragon*

      Make sure the special chairs are extra chairs. Or the day the special chair user is out, someone else will have to use their chair, change all the settings, and possibly find it really uncomfortable… and then when the special chair user turns up in the afternoon everyone’s irritated.

  2. Hannah*

    I would add one more perk to sweeten the pot–make your flex-time and WFM policy more flexible and/or let people know that they are encouraged to start WFM as their jobs allow. Not everyone will like this or take you up on it, but I bet a significant number would consider WFM more if the message from the top was “You are very welcome to WFM and we will support what you need to do that.” Of course, not every job is conducive but I bet some are.

    Also, for the chair thing, is there a conference room where chairs can be stored at the end of the day, to be retrieved by their owners in the morning? That may be a little tricky with staggered times/early and late meetings in the conference room, but maybe there can be some use of that idea.

    1. caryatis*

      This is a great point! If 20/130 people went to full-time telework, your problem would be solved. Many people would do that voluntarily (espeically if the alternative is no real office space at work).

    2. Stephanie*

      Yeah, we have a pretty flexible telecommute policy. I also think that keeps people from storming the cube farm with pitch forks.

        1. Natalie*

          Oh, ha, my brain just autofilled the H in. Contextually I think it’s probably some variation on that, though.

      1. CatCat*

        Oh shoot, I thought it said WFH and was thinking work from home. Maybe I have the wrong idea here. I don’t know what WFM is either.

        1. irritable vowel*

          I make this mistake all. the. time. WFM = Whole Foods Market, which is the only thing I can think of as what could be causing this mistake in my head.

      2. Marthooh*

        Whine For Moneym as in : “Either we start hot-desking, or we whine for money to rent more office space.”

    3. CatCat*

      Yes, this is my first thought too. OP’s office doesn’t have enough space. Hotdesking is typically pretty unpopular and OP has already discovered a number of issues. Telework is typically pretty popular, in my experience. I’d suggest ramping up telework rather than hotdesking route, if possible. If you can’t offer 100% telework, but people could do partial telework, you might be able to also get teleworkers to share a space. Like pair people up according to their schedule. So if someone is Mon. Wed. Fri. telework and someone else is Tues. Thurs. telework, they may be able to split space.

      At any rate, if the hotdesking proves very unpopular to the point of being a dealbreaker for working there, the space problem will fix itself because people will seek work elsewhere. But that does create a whole new problem.

      1. CrabbyBeth*

        My company started using an “office share” system and it has worked out really well! A lot of us travel frequently for work so we already have people working remotely much of the time. Pairing up a frequent traveler to share an office with someone who likes to work from home has been great for the people who opted into that arrangement. You just have to coordinate with your office buddy to make your schedule each week. We also have a few dedicated “floater” offices for situations when two people who share an office both have to come in on the same day – they’re also used when somebody from the west coast office is visiting the east coast and needs a work space, or when consultants or other guests are visiting and need a private space.

      2. No1CatParent*

        I work from home 90% of the time and when I have to be in the office I just take a desk from whoever isn’t there that day. It works well for me. If the percentage was lower than that, like 75% work from home, I think I wouldn’t like it. I also think if I wasn’t clean and generally well-liked, people might balk at me using their desks. Once for half the day I had to share part of a desk with my supervisor, which was uncomfortable. I’m very pro work from home, half my department is work from home and the other half works in an open office heckscape. I get a lot more done on my work from home days and that seems to be the case for the rest of the team too.

      3. aebhel*

        I like this idea–that way you’d have 2-3 people sharing a desk instead of a free-for-all. If telework is at all feasible for your office, OP, that might be the way to go.

    4. nnn*

      Yes, that’s what I came to suggest. Start with telework, then once there are significantly fewer people in the office, look at hot-desking as a natural consequence of time in the office being far more ephemeral.

      You may get enough people out of the office to make hot-desking irrelevant, or you may be able to let everyone who has to be in the office on the regular get an assigned desk with a smaller pool of hot desks for people who are normally out of the office but have to come in on that particular day.

      In any case, you’d be leading with making things more convenient to employees.

    5. CRM*

      100% this, if you can swing it OP. I love having my own office, but I’d choose hot-desking with a flexible WFH policy over a private office any day of the week!

    6. RecoveringSWO*

      Even if telework isn’t possible in a significant percentage of roles, non-standard work hours are surprisingly popular. Everyone wants to skip rush hour! So if you can eliminate or minimize any core hours, you can really spread out employees by early birds and late arrivals and institute desk sharing (discussed in some posts below). If I’m an early bird and can desk share with a compatible late arrival, I’d be happy to work in one of the unassigned desks for a short period of time during core hours (which are when I’m likely to be in meetings anyways).

      1. TardyTardis*

        We do hotdesking at our tax office, but there is one desk I like the best (since I don’t get blinded by the afternoon light there and it’s closer to the printer/scanner)–the person who uses it in the morning is normally gone by the time I go in there for afternoons/evenings. There is some overlap, and I pout in the corner till she’s gone for the day, but there you are.

    7. OP*

      This is a good idea! Some roles would be better suited than others for WFH, as some roles have a lot of on site meetings.

      I can see a lot of staff preferring this as an option. However, I am not sure upper management will approve, as we’d be the only department to allow it if we did do this. Although we are the most densely packed department so could argue it!

      1. Psyche*

        I don’t think it is an unreasonable ask when you literally have more people than seats and they want to add even more people without expanding the number of desks. Allowing work from home would mean that some people don’t need desks. Depending on how many people choose the work from home option, you may even be able to let most people keep there desks and only have a few desks for hot desking that are reserved for the wfh group when they are in the office.

      2. Observer*

        You’d also be the only department hot-desking, so that’s your argument. Even with the infrastructure needed to support effective WFH, the combination of WFH and hot-desking is less costly and far more practical than getting another office, if that’s even possible.

      3. RecoveringSWO*

        If your civil service department is in the US Federal Gov’t, there’s also legislation that Congress passed encouraging federal employers to implement teleworking. You could use that + the arguments within the legislation to help bolster your case.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          Or, if you are not in the US, there may be similar programs since WFH is more environmentally conscious and helps relieve traffic congestion

      4. JSPA*

        Subsidized coffee card for those willing to WFCS (CS=coffee shop)?
        Seriously, if there’s an official (co-working) or unofficial (coffee shop) site nearby, you might be able to do a de-facto (though unofficial) expansion (depending on the sensitivity of the work in question, of course). If people are working nearby, they can drop in for important meetings (or your meetings can decamp to the local coffee shop). In some areas, this would be completely shocking. In others, it might be quite all right.

        1. Natalie*

          Probably not possible if this is civil service in the US. Government at every level is quite stingy about things that look like they might be waste/graft on the surface, even if they make perfect sense in context (like Kleenex and bottled water).

        2. Nanc*

          No no no no no no. Coffee shops are businesses. If you have people parked there all day working or holding long meetings it discourages customers from coming in.
          Better to check out local co-working spaces in the area. Might be worth paying for a long-term lease until a new space can be built.

        3. Cats On A Bench*

          I think the company would balk at this merely because WIFI at a coffee shop is not secure.

          1. Emily*

            Probably not much of a concern, actually. Any company that cares about security and whose staff travel or work remotely on a regular basis will have implemented a VPN so that traveling staff can work from airports, hotels, etc. I can’t access most of the resources I need to do my job remotely (including my company email) unless I’ve connected to our company VPN to secure my connection.

      5. KR*

        I think it would be very reasonable to explain to management that either they need to find the budget to get you a bigger space or allow working from home.

      6. Ann Furthermore*

        If you’re going to implement a WFH policy, if the budget can handle it I’d recommend letting people get large monitors for their home work space. Then they can have 2 monitors, including the screen on their laptop. It makes a world of difference.

      7. Leslie*

        Just as a note about the need for onsite meetings– my field is one where a lot of people are independent contractors who work from home. It’s very possible to have a job in which you have a lot of meetings and people just do them via conference call, sometimes with a screenshare set-up so that everyone can see a presentation or a document being discussed/altered live. It works really well, in my opinion. I personally get more done at home than I ever did in an office– there are fewer distractions, less distance to cover to get lunch, etc. If there are roles that you think could be done remotely, that could be the best way to go. Especially if there are people in those roles that you could trust to get things done even when working from home. (Because there are people out there whose personality/drive mean that they don’t work from home so well.)

        I think if you go to hotdesking as a solution for too many people/not enough desks, you should also have a plan for what happens when there happen to be more people who came in than there are desks on a fluke day. Or when there’s a team that needs to be physically close together, yet there’s 1-2 too few desks in that area when the last few people arrive.

        I would also say that if you do go to hotdesking, maybe give some thought for how you can humanize the office space even without personal items being out. Can you do things with color and plants? The one place I worked that did hotdesking, they didn’t think about the aesthetics of what happens when people don’t have their “own” space to put up a calendar and a plant and whatnot. That office was just cavernous room with a sea of gray desks with gray carpet and distant gray walls. And windows on one side, but no one was allowed to sit at the desks close to the windows because they were reserved for some elite group that never came in. There was NO COLOR beyond people’s clothing, and I cannot adequately express what a damper the space was, particularly since most people were just working quietly on their own. I have never felt such a message of “we don’t care of you as people” as I did in that space.

      8. Not So Little My*

        I’m thinking that in addition to the comments above, there are ways to make the Work From Home option more appealing to the people that need special chairs/desks/equipment. Subsidize purchasing a set of the special equipment for them to have at home – I imagine that for some people with health issues, not having to sit in a car or bus/train for half an hour a day might make their life better, but they have been hesitating to set up a home office because of how expensive ergonomic chairs etc. are. Of course, if they still need to come in one or two days a week, that doesn’t solve the “stop people from walking off with their special stuff” problem.

      9. Sciencer*

        In addition to expanding your WFH options and/or encouraging that for the people who can pull it off, you might look into coworking spaces. Maybe an entire team could rent out a conference room or series of desks in a coworking space for a week or month at a time, while they’re working on a project that doesn’t require a lot of face time with the rest of their colleagues. Of course that depends on whether you have reasonable coworking spaces in your city :)

    8. batman*

      Yep, I was gonna say this too. If you need to make people hot desk, you should also let them work from home more and have more flexible schedules. To me, working from home is more pleasant than hot desking.

    9. Remote Worker*

      Ditto work from home.

      We started running out of space, so I was asked to give up my office. That was a hard sell. I asked about working from home when feasible. My manager readily agreed. End result? I work from home 80-90 percent of the time. Some weeks, I only go in for a couple standing meetings. I’m ten minutes from my office, so I can show up on short notice. We hold some meetings entirely over Skype because we do have employees in other areas of the country.

      I have an assigned desk, but it’s moved around a bit lately. I don’t care. I’m not there often enough to care.

    10. Pomona Sprout*

      I’m not familiar with the abbreviation WFM. Did you mean WFH (i.e., work from home)? If not, Please fill us in.

    11. halfmanhalfshark*

      Assuming you meant work from home, that’s similar to what my office did. We had assigned offices and a generous work from home policy in place already. Then we moved to a smaller, cheaper office space. People in my role and other similar roles lost their permanent offices (we do “hoteling” where you can reserve one of a number of hoteling/visitor offices using an on-line reservation system) but got the official blessing to work from home as much as we wanted, plus additional equipment support as needed (phones, monitors and docking stations). I liked having a permanent office for sure, and I used to try to go in a couple of times a week for “face time” with my bosses but the change in policy and loss of permanent offices signaled that wasn’t necessary. That turns out to have been a welcome trade.

  3. BPT*

    Would it be possible to do a system where if you had a desk the day before, you get to keep it the next day? So for instance:
    -If Bob was in on Monday and knew he was going to be in the next day, he could keep his chair/keyboard/mouse at that desk. If he is in on Tuesday, he gets to keep it Wednesday, and so on.
    -If Bob is in on Monday but knows he’ll be out the following day for leave, training, work travel, etc, he packs up his personal things in a locker. Then when he gets back, he chooses an empty desk, and it starts all over.

    The only thing this wouldn’t work for is sick days, but if you had a system to deal with that it would make it easier. That way it would cut down on how many times people have to adjust their chairs/workspace, would allow the people in the office most often to have some sense of continuity, but would still free up workspaces as appropriate.

    1. addiez*

      At my boyfriend’s company, you can book a desk by the day or week. You get in trouble (not a disciplinary email haha but maybe lower priority?) if you reserve a desk when you’re not using it, but it allows for leaving some stuff from day to day without having actual, long-term assigned desks.

      1. Admin of Sys*

        Oh, I like that – set up a reserve system, book desk space as if it’s a conference room or any other shared resource. I can definitely see that being a solution for some of the issues hotdesking creates. You can then limit pre-booking and encourage folks to cancel their ‘appointments’ with the desk if they’re unexpectedly out, in the same way they’d cancel a reserved meeting room.

      2. anita*

        at ours you have to check-in onsite (or from an app on phone within a few hundred meters) within 15 minutes of the reservation start time or the reservation will automatically cancel

    2. OP*

      This is creative! We have a fairly robust digital sickness/leave tracker so we could check for sick days.

      I’m not sure how we’d police it to check if a desk was taken or not though!

    3. LurkieLoo*

      I was going to suggest exactly this.

      As far as if a desk is taken or not, I would think the stuff on/in the desk would be an indication, but you could also get name placards for the desks, maybe. Or if you’re using a rolling cart system, the cart itself could be left in the desk area overnight to signal it’s taken.

      Or, maybe you could find a program or app to book desks. At the end of the day, the person could schedule their same desk for the next day and people coming who weren’t able to select the afternoon before can choose from the digitally available desks. I’m sure there would still be an occasional glitch, but it would hopefully be minimal.

      I would think you could also give priority (initially) to people who have been physically in the office the most days in the last 6-12 months (or prorated for newer hires).

      I think for unanticipated leave, you could try to hold their desk for a day or two if space allows.

      1. Smarty Boots*

        Online or app reservation should be pretty easy. The library at the U I work at has study rooms, game rooms, small classrooms all available for any student or staff to book online. It’s super easy to use — looks somewhat like making an appt on a google calendar. We can book up to a week in advance and there’s a set time block (2 hours or less?) for sign ups. You could set this up with whatever time blocks and advanced sign up you want, I am sure.

        1. Ophelia*

          There’s probably even a way to make it so that people have an hour to reserve the desk they currently have, and then everything opens up for swapping space. One thing I WILL say, though, is that even simple IT systems require people to be actively trained (and the training has to be mandatory and thorough), or it just won’t work.

    4. Emily*

      I like this, or another way that you could minimize the disruption would be to divide the desk into sort of pods. I’m pretty sure I would be less put off if my department’s 15 or 20 desks were unassigned, but that I’d always be seated near my team in the same general area every day, compared to having to find a desk anywhere in the entire office of 100 desk every day. It also helps logistically because any special equipment could be stored near the pod it belonged to and wouldn’t have to be trafficked across the office. And I’d probably feel more comfortable sharing space with a member of my team than any random coworker.

      Degree does make a difference here and while you may not be able to offer total stability and consistency every day, you can minimize the variance, and it will be more tolerable than when there’s a huge amount of variance from one day to the day.

      1. Ophelia*

        That’s a really good point – and it would also let you allocate desk #s to groups based not just on how many staff they have, but on how frequently those staff work from other locations/travel/etc. So your accounting team (for example) might need 18 desks for 20 people, but your teapot technical assistance team might need 12 for 20.

  4. Anon From Here*

    This is going to be a tough nut to crack. It seems like the LW is actually encountering just about all of the reasons against hotdesking — even before trying to implement it.

    1. OP*

      I know! We floated the suggestion very casually and we met a lot of resistance.

      It’s very difficult as everyone knows there aren’t enough desks, but there seems to be no option which everyone will be happy with!

      1. ACDC*

        When I read the headline of this post, all I could think of was my company’s former admin. She’s in her 70s and hell boils over when you borrow her special chair when she’s out, make any sort of change to the organization/personnel/etc. without telling her, or touch anything on her desk (once I took a paperclip from her desk after she had left for the day, the next morning she comes in guns blazing “WHO IS TOUCHING MY STUFF?!?!?!”). I can only imagine her reaction to this type of arrangement LOL

      2. boo bot*

        OP, is there any continuity in who is out of the office on any given day? From the post I kind of got the impression that it’s evenly distributed among all the workers and somewhat unpredictable, which seems like it makes non-hot desk solutions harder.

      3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        “It’s very difficult as everyone knows there aren’t enough desks, but there seems to be no option which everyone will be happy with!”

        I think that’s your answer. So the best you can do is try to make it the least disruptive for the most amount of people.

        At the end of the day, you’re likely going to end up with this model, so I would really spend the time on researching how to best implement; Software, Storage, and Special Cases should be where you focus your time. Also training and implementation will be important. Try to get a good cross section of involvement from the ranks and really take into consideration their ideas and feedback.

        You aren’t going to turn everyone into converts of hotdesking, but you can make it suck less.

        (I’ve never worked in a hot desking office, but by nature I’m pretty nomadic with my work travel. So I’m generally one of those people who are pretty meh on this subject.)

        1. irritable vowel*

          Agreed – you’re never going to make everyone happy, so don’t try to. The bar for success can’t be the person who takes 30 minutes (wtf) to adjust a chair to their liking.

          1. Fish Microwaver*

            On the other hand, those staff who require specifically adjusted ergonomic equipment to be able to work without pain can’t just be thrown under the bus. Some equipment can be difficult to adjust just so and as far as possible should be left for the worker who requires it.

          2. InfoSec SemiPro*

            The issue with “You can’t make everyone happy, so don’t try” is that it means that the people who will be left to be unhappy are the ones who are pushing themselves to work at all.

            If my job wants to use up my time and productivity screwing around with getting my ergo equipment in order in a new desk each day, that’s an interesting choice on how to spend their resources, but its their choice. I start the day with a limited amount of physical activity I can do before I injure myself. The ergo equipment is designed to let me use almost all of that ability on impactful work. Pushing chairs around and crawling under desks to get my keyboard hooked up means I’ll have a lot less to actually do my role with.

            Its not about “liking”. If things were to my “liking” my skeleton would attach well enough to not rip into my muscles when I move and I wouldn’t need to do an hour of physical therapy a day to be able to walk reliably. But life isn’t about “liking” its about what I need to function. For someone, like me, who can measure the weight of what they can carry in ounces, hot desking is dangerous and painful if you have to set up your gear each day. People instituting a hotdesking policy need to pay attention to the impact they’re having on productivity and health.

      4. Bea*

        Change it horrifying to many. Which is why you do your best to put a system together and take their opinions into consideration however overall you have to be willing to play bad cop a bit
        They will never choose change but will get used to it in time.

        1. Fish Microwaver*

          The reason change is horrifying for many is that things usually change for the worse, the implementation is badly handled and the staff feel like collateral damage.

      5. Former call centre worker*

        Have you asked staff for their suggestions? Maybe someone will come up with an alternative that works, or maybe they’ll concede that it has to be hot desking if there is no alternative

      6. Gumby*

        I hate hate hate the idea of hot-desking, so that probably informs my response here but:

        If you can’t afford the space to give everyone a desk even in an open office plan (ugh), you can’t afford to hire them. The cost of having an employee is not just their salary and benefits but also the infrastructure to enable them to work.

        If you can reclaim the desks via WFH – either full-time thus entirely freeing up a desk or planned desk sharing (though that makes me shudder) – that is one thing. Other options — rent out space in another building; get those stupid temporary buildings that schools use (we called them portables). Beyond that — stop hiring because you cannot afford the new employees.

        1. doreen*

          Sometimes it’s not a matter of can’t afford the space so much as the space is unnecessary. My agency could save a boatload of money if we went to hot desking. The supervisors/managers and support staff are in the office pretty much every single day they work – but that’s six people out of 22 in my bureau. The other 16 spend a maximum of two days a week at their desks. There are many days where only two of the 16 are in the office and the other 14 seats are empty. We could easily manage with half as much space- and it’s the same situation in all 40 something bureaus around the state.

        2. Onyx*

          Yes. This. It’s not unreasonable or contradictory or hypocritical for the employees to recognize that there are too few desks and also object to all of the options *offered*, if the only options offered sacrifice the quality of their work environment so the company can avoid providing adequate resources for them to do their work.

          Other options most likely do exist, ranging from more generous work-from-home policies and/or well-tailored desk-sharing arrangements for people with complimentary schedules (which would require more work to organize and couldn’t just be implemented as a blanket policy) to the organization ponying up the money for additional workspace to scaling back the business to what its resources can support. If the organization instead says, effectively, “We’re not going to provide enough desks for all of you and we don’t trust you to work from home, so we’re going to take your desks away (and oh, by the way, we’re hiring even more people to cram in so you’ll be even more resource-strapped),” then of course people are going to be unhappy!

        3. EM*

          The risk with this is that the company decided they can’t afford you. I work in a company where we had to identify x% savings in a year, and watched while 50% of the team left the business. A few years later, I was in a position to make some decisions in a similar circumstance and am very very comfortable that the decision to hot desk saved peoples jobs.

        4. Zillah*

          In theory, I agree with you – but I doubt the OP has the control to “stop hiring because you cannot afford the new employees,” so this doesn’t feel actionable to me.

  5. Lmcaw*

    As a user of a special chair and special mouse in a hot desking office, I don’t have any problems. Anyone who needs a special chair gets it labeled and it is not used by any other person. I wheel it to the desk I want to use that day and swap it with a standard chair.
    Every desk comes with a default mouse and keyboard, but there’s enough usb ports that you can just use your own easily.
    We do not find that people come in early to get the choice desks, although it was a concern at the start. In practice, people don’t want to be at work more just to have a particular seat!
    As with any change, there’s some people who aren’t on board and tend to never move desks, which is kind of fine. The desk is still available when they’re off site or on holiday.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      Ha, when I read that, I was like, no bleeping way am I coming in early to get a desk. It’s hard enough for me to be on time as it is. I’d live with having a B- desk as the tradeoff of sleeping for an extra hour.

      I feel like even if a few people did do this a few times, they’d either a) be the only ones, so there’d be very little competition, or b) get over it quickly and decide that was not a good use of their time, and live with the other desks.

      1. JaneB*

        I work at a university & we have some good software solutions for students to book work stations and group work rooms in the library and other campus study spaces – maybe something like that exists and you could use it? They use student cards to swipe into the group work rooms, and the room reverts to one free if they don’t swipe in within 20 minutes of the start of their session…

  6. persimmon*

    How can it be that a third of the staff is out or in training every day? Do people really have that much leave or that much training?

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Yup. We have a good deal of client travel in addition to PTO and (to a lesser extent) offsite training.

    1. BRR*

      My employer is pretty similar. Between a good PTO policy and a lot of positions that require frequent, but not constant, traveling we have a lot of people not in the office every day.

    2. Stephanie*

      My function can be up to 75% travel depending how your teapot suppliers are functioning. And employees who have been here 20+ years have a month of PTO plus sick time plus personal days…it happens.

    3. Madeleine Matilda*

      In my staff of ten, at least one person is teleworking everyday on my staff and some days I have two teleworkers, then if anyone calls out sick or with some other last minute issues like car trouble I can easily have 20-30% of my staff out of the office. Today I had one call out sick, two teleworking all day, one teleworking half day/in the office quarter day/at an appointment quarter day, and one in the office half day/on leave half day. That’s 40% not in the office at least part of the day.

    4. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      For most of the past 6 months only 3-4 of the 11 people in my team have been in the office on any given day. Lots of work travel, all day conferences/meetings, work from home, flex-time, vacation, sick leave etc.. Shoot. I think I have only seen my boss 3 days in 2 months?

    5. pleaset*

      Meeting clients or constituents or vendors.

      Visiting sites.

      Doing research in libraries or with the public.





      In court.

    6. OP*

      We have 25 days leave as standard (plus bank holidays, then 28 after 5 years and 33 after 10 years. We also have lots of sickness (long and short term).

      We have a lot of meetings in the campus buildings as well.

      We knew it was high, but we did a survey for a few weeks to figure out the vacancy rate!

      1. From the High Tower on the Hill*

        With leave like that I am guessing you work for the government? The only positive of government work is the obscene amounts of PTO.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          “bank holidays” = non-US = 4 weeks leave / year is pretty standard. Canada is close to the US, but in the UK, it starts at 20 + 8 ‘bank holidays’

        2. Ciara Amberlie*

          Sounds like OP is in UK academia! In the UK the legally mandated minimum for all jobs is 20 days plus 8 bank holidays (pro-rata’d if you’re part-time).

          The university I used to work for has a similar increase in leave allowance at 5 and 10 years service.

        3. LondonEngineer*

          This isn’t unusual in the UK (which I am assuming because of the reference to bank holidays). And the UK takes less leave on average than the rest of Europe…

      2. Genny*

        You’re probably already aware, but the amount of people taking sick leave (or who should be taking sick leave but come into the office anyways) is going to go up with hotdesking. I had to share desks with two other people on a rotation and we all ended up having a perpetual cold throughout winter. It was pretty miserable operating consistently at 75% health the entire season. You were never quite sick enough to be out of the office, but never well enough to be at full productivity.

        1. anita*

          the idea with hotdesking is that you can work from home when you are sick. not sure why anywhere without a high proportion of telework-ready employees would switch to hotdesking.

          1. boo bot*

            My guess about this is that because they were presumably working from home on the days they weren’t in, there was extra pressure to be in the office on those days, and that sharing desks and therefore keyboards and other items allowed germs to spread among the three workers, so that they were constantly re-infecting one another.

            1. Genny*

              The three of us basically served as liaisons between the C-suite and the working level. The C-suite was located in a different building, so one of us sat there while the other two sat in the other building with the staff. We were cycling constantly between work stations every two days, so germs spread really easily. We were able to situationally telework, but it wasn’t ideal for our positions, so we were encouraged to minimize it. If you were scheduled to be with the front office, telework was no longer an option.

              1. anita*

                ugh, anyone who is mandated to be in the office time more than 2 days/week should not be hotdesking.

          2. Former call centre worker*

            Not everywhere that has hot desking allows working from home. Eg my old office, as the work was done on desktop PCs, there were a lot of staff and few laptops, work couldn’t be done on your own device and required access to a landline phone.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              Agreeing with this.

              Hotdesking was originally just one aspect of the innovative mobile work culture of the late 90s (read: Companies won’t have to pay for office spaces anymore! Just think of the savings!) but it was quickly adopted by call centers and other shitty work environments who assumed they’d get all of the savings by only implementing a very small part of the overall strategy. It especially sucks when it’s done entirely by the numbers without thinking about the human element (classic Call Center Hell).

        2. Anonyish*

          As someone who has been off an entire word with a cold thanks to a colleague who came in rather than taking a sick day (which we receive full pay for), hygiene is really, really important. Hot-desking shouldn’t be implemented without proper daily cleaning of all shared equipment,

      3. GingerHR*

        I’m wondering with the numbers and reference to bank holidays if you are UK based OP?
        If you are, then Occ Health is a perfectly standard way to manage requests for special equipment, and if you are UK civil service I’d be gobsmacked if you didn’t already have these arrangements in place. Obviously it’s overkill for mouse / keyboard type stuff, but for a chair, which as well as being really expensive can be actively damaging if it’s the wrong flavour of special, OH or some other form of specialist workplace service is entirely reasonable. We currently give out basic special equipment like keyboards, on request, but anything more complex (even highly specialised keyboards) will trigger an OH referral so that we can be sure we are getting the right things and giving the right support. It’s been this way everywhere I’ve worked – my special expensive chair needed it too! – so it wouldn’t be culturally out of step.

      4. Bagpuss*

        Yes, 25 days + bank holidays is pretty common in the UK, although a lot of places have phased out the extra holiday based on years of service due to concerns about indirect discrimination (it’s harder for women to accrue the service needed, due to being more likely to take career breaks for children)

    7. tacotacotaco*

      I used to work in a government office so much like this one that I’m wondering whether this is actually a write-in from my old department (especially since that office was considering a move to hot-desking….). Our office was specifically assigned to research and work in other countries, but home base for all operations was in the US. It was normal for some personnel to have up to 80% travel. Almost everyone except management was on at least 30% travel. It was very, very easy for a third of of office to be gone at any given time. Travel was such a large component of the job that any meeting where all staff had to be at the home office had to be scheduled MONTHS in advance, and, even then, was hard to work out.

  7. Brett*

    I used to work emergency and work with 911 and dispatch centers, all areas where hotdesking is inherent in the job.

    The personal carts were really critical. There was no real way to handle the individual equipment otherwise.
    For chairs, the first thing was that a lot of money was spent on really good chairs for everyone. For the few people who had specialized chairs, they had set desk assignments (so they only had to swap with people on other shifts at their same desks). We were able to find automated chairs and desks that could save settings for specific users (this was for everyone, not just the specialized chairs).

    It is tempting to use laptops and docks, but in the long run we found it was easier to use towers with virtual desktops. Keyboards, mice, etc went with the person in their cart.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Can you please describe the cart for me? Size, shape, do they have locking drawers? I’m wondering how/where they could be stored that wouldn’t take up space that could hold some desks. Thanks!

      1. WellRed*

        I was trying to picture this myself. If you don’t have room for desks, do you have room of what sounds like a lot of storage? That people need to easily access or waste lots of time getting to each day.

      2. Brett*

        In addition to those links (which will probably show soon), I bet you could arrange a visit to a local 911/dispatch center. If you are in a large enough metro area, there are probably several dispatch centers using a similar console setup that would be worth seeing in person.

    2. raktajino*

      Consistent use of virtual desktops would probably make working from home easier too, assuming IT is ok with people using personal machines from home. No lugging your laptop back and forth and everything is in one place.

      The personal carts reminds me of my dad’s workplace. He was a machinist for a huge company, and everyone in his shop had a personal rolling toolkit, which they brought to wherever they were working for the day. Those carts could be decorated however they liked (within reason obviously), and contained more than tools. It was their personal space no matter where they were.

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      I’ve never worked in a hot desking situation, but I was in grad school recently where I did a lot of work in the library and other shared study spaced with no assigned seating. I really missed being able to leave tea, snacks, a phone charger, and a few other personal items in one spot instead of having them in my bag and lugging them around. I agree that the personal carts are pretty important to making people feel like permanent employees and not students or temps.

    4. Observer*

      It is tempting to use laptops and docks, but in the long run we found it was easier to use towers with virtual desktops. Keyboards, mice, etc went with the person in their cart.

      Yes, this is a MUCH better idea.

    5. Maggie*

      If you must hotdesk, Yes to towers! I teach. My employer switched us to laptops to provide us with more flexibility in terms of hooking up to projectors in a variety of situations. Nice intentions, I guess, but the end result is that my neck hurts ALL. THE. TIME. So much that I even wrote an as of yet unanswered question to Allison about how to set my own ergonomics! Please don’t force your employees into physical painful situations. Pay for towers and monitors!

      1. GermanGirl*

        You can mitigate that with good docking stations that have two big monitors at a good height – you’ll just keep your laptop closed completely and it acts as your portable tower.
        Have the monitors on adjustable arms so everyone can change their height / placement easily.

        If you do decide to use towers (which might be cheaper than laptops) make sure your IT is confident that they can set this up in a way that people have access to their storage / installed software tools / etc quickly. At one place I worked at, the network storage was so slow that you had to wait half an hour before you could productively work on a tower you hadn’t used in a while, because the synching took so long.

        1. Observer*

          That sounds like incredibly poor design. We do a lot of desk sharing, and one of our programs has a whole set of staff moving between sites. Despite the fact that they are connecting via the internet (dedicated VPN hardware at most of the sites), this is a non-issue. One thing though – we do NOT “sync” the computers – the data and documents all live on the server and that’s how they are accessed and saved. So nothing has to be loaded to the local workstation.

  8. raktajino*

    Re the chairs: Do you have the space to store the special chairs when they’re not in use? I’m envisioning the desks that go with these chairs as working easily with regular chairs too. In that case, anyone could use the desk, and if a user needed their special chair, they could go retrieve it from the room, no adjustments required.

    If the desk variations are mostly “standing” vs “not standing,” would it be possible to invest in desks that are easily adjustable? I assume the “good” desks are about location rather than design. However, there might be some design challenges that can be ameliorated.

  9. BRR*

    This is a tough position to be in. I think a good approach would be to lay the issue out at everyone’s feet and listen to what they have to say. Maybe they could think of another option? If you do end up needing to hot desk, make sure to provide things your staff might need to try and make the transition smoother and keep following up with what they might need. Also what would the plan be if it tanks employee morale?

  10. Sit in Syrup*

    If 35% of your desk users are out on any given day, I would suggest as desk sublet system as an alternative (particularly if people tend to be out for a week at a time). The deskless could just occupy empty desks. People with desks would need to secure their valuables and keep their space neat. It’s not perfect, but I would much rather know that someone is using my desk while I’m on vacation or in training than for everyone to have to hot desk.

    1. Dragoning*

      Yes, but how would you feel being the person who had to “sublet” a desk from a coworker of yours–especially if they were supposed to be your peer! That seems to simply create a class system in the office.

    2. Psyche*

      The only way this works is if there are enough people who are rarely in the office. If everyone is there approximately the same amount, then there is no way to pick who needs to “sublet” and who gets a dedicated desk that won’t feel unfair.

  11. Stephanie*

    My department hot desks currently. People aren’t really fans, but I guess what kind of makes it work without complete mutiny:
    1. We have drawers/lockers where we can store things.
    2. TPTB don’t really push actually rotating desks, so people just ended up sitting in the same desk every day.
    3. Many people are at 50-75% travel.
    4. IT gives us all the equipment, so maybe you could work with IT to deliver the specialized equipment.

    People do get in early to snag desks–not sure if there’s really a way to avoid that. But people are usually working then.

    1. TootsNYC*

      also, one thing about getting in early to snag a desk–it may seem fair to the later arrivals in a situation in which everybody starts at the same time. If you show up at 8:30 to get your preferred desk, I’m going to consider that a price YOU paid when I come in at 9.

      for our OP, the big problem is going to be that some people weren’t scheduled to come in at 11, and so they -always- get the dregs.

  12. RecoveringSWO*

    I have a suggestion that might be too much work to implement, but may help. Is there a way to take into account and potentially adjust teleworking and working hours to ease this strain? Specifically, my morale would be much higher if I shared a desk with a specifically assigned (and considerate) person. Then we could share storage space and I wouldn’t need to find a new desk/adjust my chair every day.

    Perhaps you could tell workers that if they find a “desk buddy” and if their working hours or telework schedule match up, or could be changed to match up, then they can have an assigned desk. This would likely increase the amount of non-standard work hour requests, but given your problem of space, it might not be a bad thing.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      This seems particularly realistic because LW states options/thoughts on updgrading/replacing chairs, monitors, towers and other equipment. Why not throw work from home options into the hotdesk renovation budget?

    2. Dance-y Reagan*

      If they specifically paired people up, they should match people by ergonomic need to minimize desk adjustment hassles. Don’t pair the 5′ woman with the 6’4″ man so they both spend the first half hour of their shifts fiddling with chairs and keyboard placement.

      1. RecoveringSWO*

        And that’s why I think it’d work best if you let the employees pair themselves up. That way they can pick a partner based on their desk priorities (ie. John isn’t my size, but he’s super clean and that’s more important to me) and if they can’t find a match, they can still telework and/or use the unassigned desks (no one’s stuck sharing with Fergus).

        1. Addie Bundren*

          This, and even then, only if it’s necessary. The last thing I want, ever, ever, ever, is someone in charge of ops at my company trilling, “We noticed you’re a woman of this specific size, so we put you with this other woman of this specific size!” Probably a good company rule not to get to a point where this would ever happen.

      2. Arjay*

        Yes, ergonomics are still a concern for people who don’t have special chairs, but do have their own regular chair adjusted to fit them.

    3. Ruth (UK)*

      I’m in a workplace which does some hot-desking and people are specifically paired up / grouped together.

      So [all names changed], Bob (who works Mon-Wed morning in my dept and Wed afternoon-Fri in another) shares his desk with Jane, who is in another location early in the week, but in my office all Thursdays and some Fridays.

      Meanwhile, Sarah doesn’t work Fridays or any afternoons, so her desk is used by Joan on Fridays, and is free as an ‘open’ hot-desk for anyone to use on other afternoons.

      I’m full time and rarely out of the office, and I have a permanent desk.

      This seems to work fairly well especially as people know who they’re sharing with, and are still often able to have stuff / a drawer / etc at their various desks (except for Jane in the example above as she works from a different desk / office / location almost every day and just carries everything with her).

    4. GermanGirl*

      This, and you can also leave your special chair at your desk as the “guest” chair. At least my office has two chairs at every desk anyway because most of us have 1-on-1 meetings at our desks somewhat frequently.

  13. logicbutton*

    Also, don’t loot the workstations for parts just because they don’t have a single permanent occupant. You would think this would be common sense, but in the eyes of my employer, apparently it is not.

    1. Lucky*

      I visit a satellite office about once every month or so, and I try to take the same hotdesk workstation (near the team I am meeting with) and every damn time the mouse is gone or the monitors are reconfigured or the thing I plug my laptop into has been swapped for one that fits a different type of laptop. So, I can spend a good 45 minutes just getting myself set up so I can work. Lately, I just set up and work in a free conference room.

    2. TootsNYC*

      the key to this is to have a central stash of keyboard/mouse/stapler type stuff.

      And to have a really responsive IT/supplies person.

      So that when someone’s stapler breaks or mouse jame, they can get another one quickly.

  14. Natalie*

    If you haven’t already, I might look at who is gone a lot – are your absences pretty evenly distributed among staff, or are there concentrations among employees who have lots of trainings, or site visits, or business travel? If it’s the latter, could you solve your space problem with hotdesking for just those employees? (I wouldn’t factor in PTO usage since that isn’t driven by job characteristics as much as personal ones.)

  15. Lavender Menace*

    Is it possible to offer an option for some people to work from home most/all of the time? Certain parts of our org are in a space crunch, and this was the solution for some of them. (They actually forced some people to work from home, which I wouldn’t necessarily advise…but some people may jump on the opportunity.)

  16. animaniactoo*

    Any possibility of desk-sharing if you have people who have compatible schedules for it?

    Also, does it make sense given that a bunch of this is training and planned annual leave — absences known in advance — to *assign* desks on a weekly basis and then do a couple of swaps throughout the week for the few outlier situations that aren’t taken care of by the weekly setup?

    The primary reason I would look at assigning desks is that you can set up to run those assignments fairly randomly and it completely eliminates the potential for “early grabbing” and stuff like that. Possibly you could assign by relative grouping if the numbers work out? i.e. A group of 20 desks is set specifically for the logistics and forecasting teams, so being in that *area* makes people more findable and able to coordinate with each other even if they’re at different desks every day/week.

  17. Falling Diphthong*

    It strikes me that the 35% who are out are on leave, sick, or at a training–that is, this seems quite a different situation from the offices where the 35% are largely field engineers who only come into the office one or two days a month. If they need more people to get sick in order to make the system work, that seems potentially problematic.

    1. Antilles*

      Yeah, the way 35% was counted struck me as odd too – like, if you’re relying on sick leave and PTO to have enough desks, that’s likely to fail at some random Wednesday in mid May or early November when everybody wants to save up PTO for the upcoming holiday. As someone in a construction-related with plenty of field engineers/techs, I can tell you that even in our line of work, there’s still some random days when a couple projects overlap awkwardly and another construction site shuts down to weather and two other random rare occurrences all overlap, so suddenly there’s half a dozen people in the office at once who are ALL normally out on a job site somewhere. If your work isn’t of that sort (and it doesn’t seem like OP’s is?), it seems even more likely that you’d run across days/weeks when an abnormally large number of people are in office.
      Almost as importantly, assuming that 35% is going to remain about the same even as you expand seems optimistic. With 150+ people cramming into 110 desks, all you’d need is for that “35%” to slightly dip a little to like 25-30% and suddenly you’ve got few or zero desks.

      1. Cardamom*

        Yes, I was wondering about the calculations as well. 35% sounds like it is a typical day. But you also have to plan for the days when attendance is higher than average.

      2. Your Mother*

        That was my first thought. I worked somewhere we had a team area in one of our remote sites which, most of the time, could accommodate everyone. But maybe once a week you’d turn up and everyone’s schedules would have collided such that the room was packed and there was no table space to even set a laptop down on, and it was a whole mess.

    2. C*

      Yeah this was my thought. I also wondered when this survey was done. For instance, were schools in or out? Parents typically need/use more leave during set times of year. And it may be that there was a particular project that was keeping everyone out that is now coming to a close or all the meetings are over. Seems basing plans on exactly 35% will lead to trouble …

  18. PBH*

    I have no good advice here. I can see it being difficult. I would HATE this. I have no doubt I would walk around trying to remember where I sat that day. I have to park in the same area of stores every time I go or I end up with no idea where I parked my car. I once lost my car for an hour on the opposite side of the mall I usually park at. ha

    1. JaneB*

      I have a preferred place to sit in every room which I might share with other people, and for me it’s about anxiety management – I really struggle to listen and act professional if I’m wondering all the time how to get out if I suddenly need the bathroom or get a nosebleed, or am feeling too visible. It’s a total pain, especially as shared offices are coming (academic, currently solo offices for teaching academics but as each area gets refurbished these are being replaced with smaller rooms shared by multiple people (and 7foot of book shelf space only :-( ). I’m so stressed about this that I’ve had to go home early after briefings & we still don’t have an implementation date….

      1. PBH*

        Sorry to hear that. I don’t blame you. I really couldn’t handle it either. Frankly I am thrilled to only work from home now days.

    2. Nesprin*

      Yep- switching to hotdesking would have me quitting. It seems like renting more space, or signing up with a coworking service or coffee shop or work from homing would save you in the long term.

  19. Temperance*

    I would probably suggest that a hybrid approach to this is better. For teams who are always in the office and don’t travel/telecommute, let them have a set space.

    I think the people with later start times are going to be the most annoyed, because they’re the most likely to get a “bad” seat.

  20. Babycarrot*

    I know offices which use hot desking that offer a reservation service for desks, as you would a conference room. You can reserve the desk you want in advance if you know you’ll be in the office. This could provide more stability for people who often work in the office.

    1. Canadian Public Servant*

      Can I also recommend that some system be put in place to help you figure out where people are sitting on any particular day? I have no interest in wandering the halls, looking for my finance officer or senior analyst, when I have an urgent deadline.

      In my world, we’re being told “activity-based workplace” is coming (aka more workspace variation – usually meaning tiny spaces, desks for maximum 85 percent of employees). Supposed to also come with greater support for remote work. I am HIGHLY skeptical, in part because the last space reduction initiative, Workplace 2.0, was implemented unevenly, and in a manner where most people got the small cubes/less privacy, but some or none of tools to support it – namely laptops and cell phones, noise cancelling headphones, WiFi, full kitchens, collaborative workspaces, quiet rooms, and small meeting rooms. Bathroom capacity and even adequate air is an issue in many places. Doesn’t help that, much like when admin support was reduced, senior management didn’t seem to feel any of the pain. I also don’t see any training or support for managers to adjust to managing performance for remote workers.

      I wish you luck! Here’s hoping your office does what is needed, sensitively and fully, if this change comes to be.

    2. Jess*

      Yes, I worked at an office that hotdesked and we had a system like this. On Thursdays the system would allow you to book your desks for the following week, so there was never any issue with people coming in early to get the good desks – all of that was already settled in advance.

  21. Dance-y Reagan*

    If you can’t overcome these issues and move to hotdesking anyway…the problem will solve itself. People will quit.

      1. Dance-y Reagan*

        Your math is not like our Earth math. They are 20 desks short for a staff of 130, possibly increasing to 40 short for 150.

        Also, it was quite obviously a hyperbolic comment. Y’all are insanely literal here.

        1. Natalie*

          You seem sweet.

          Sorry, I mistook 110 for 100. You’re response was definitely levelheaded and not at all insane!

        2. Myrin*

          And you are being surprisingly dismissive over a pretty neutral reply!
          (And FWIW, we’ve certainly had comments similar to yours before where people were 100% serious, so I certainly wouldn’t say that your comment was “quite obviously” hyperbolic – people take all kinds of stuff seriously and it can be hard to gauge that from a written comment.)

          1. I’m the mom*

            Stop it, all of you. There is absolutely no reason to snark at each other. None. Zero. Behave like adults and treat each other the way you would like to be treated.


  22. AdAgencyChick*

    People who need a special accommodation for a medical reason should get an assigned desk (but I think it would be reasonable to allow others to use that desk when its “owner” is on PTO). Others should be informed that there are orthopedic/medical reasons for who is allowed a permanent desk and who isn’t. Hopefully this does not lead to an increase in claims of medical issues where there aren’t any.

    DEFINITELY lockers. If your employees have laptops and don’t take them home every day, if you don’t have lockers you are now asking them to schlep a not-insignificantly sized item to and from the office every day, plus any special equipment they need.

    Due to old injuries that I don’t want a recurrence of, I need a special desk setup and if I were told I needed to bring the items to and from work each day, not just from a locker to a desk and back, I would seriously consider looking for another job. My commute is enough of a pain in the ass that my company shouldn’t be making it harder by giving me more stuff to carry and make room for on a crowded subway at rush hour. Maybe my attitude would be different if I drove to work.

    1. Genny*

      Yeah, you definitely also have to consider how most of your employees are getting to work. Schlepping a keyboard to and from work while taking public transit would be absolutely miserable. My commute is over an hour long with no guarantee of getting a seat on the bus. No way am I commuting with extra equipment because the company can’t figure out what to do instead.

    2. WellRed*

      But then I would hope the hot desker wouldn’t change seat heights, monitors, etc. Which would then be unfair to the hotdesker who also has the right to a comfortable ergonomic space.

    3. OP*

      We do have some lockers, but we’d need a lot more for hot dealing for those who needed it. We do have some special wheeler cases for anyone who struggles with carriage.

      However that still has an issue of it being wheeled about which I can see as aggravating if someone has a medical condition. A lot of people do drive but we’re still a walk from the nearest car park.

      1. Lexilynn*

        And don’t forget there’s probably insurance costs if you require people to take your expensive equipment home. If my house was broken into and your computer was stolen, I sure wouldn’t be paying for it out of pocket. If I have it at home because I chose to, that’s different, but if you are outsourcing your storage costs to my home, I’m not accepting responsibility.

      2. Anonyish*

        Don’t forget security… You really don’t want to increase the risk of someone having nowhere to put a confidential file, just taking it home with them, and leaving it on the bus.

    4. Liz*

      I was going to mention accommodations, too. Some people will have physical limitations that would make moving equipment around a challenge, and they should be accommodated with a permanent desk in this type of environment.

      Additionally, unless every desk in the office is exactly the same, there will need to be some room for people who have special immovable equipment to have a permanent location assigned to them. I’m thinking of people who use sit/stand desks for ergonomic reasons, people who have treadmill desks, etc.

  23. Liet-Kinda*

    Just maybe don’t, OP. Hot desking sucks unless it’s for people or teams who are only sporadically in the office and just need a place to sit for a few hours. Maintain some guest desks, but don’t adopt it for people who are in the office regularly.

  24. kc89*

    we hotdesk at my office but it’s pointless because people just sit at the same desk every day and then get SUPER irritated if someone else actually sits at “their” desk

    1. Murphy*

      Yeah, I’m not surprised this happens. I felt annoyed when I was at a training once and someone took “my” seat after lunch.

    2. Antilles*

      Yeah, it’s interesting how often this occurs, because you see it in all sorts of situations where there’s absolutely no formal arrangement that people just sort of naturally settle into an area. College classrooms are the ones that most people would be familiar with – the area you sit in during the first few lectures is likely to be the same spot you’re still in four months later at the end of the semester…but you also see it where people choose to sit in church, professional training seminars, hotdesking (as you said), and even in regularly occurring work meetings.
      And then people get seriously surprised and often irritated if they find someone in ‘their’ spot and/or are forced to sit in a completely different area than they’re used to.

      1. LJay*

        Someone was in “my” spot at the morning meeting this morning.

        I wasn’t necessarily annoyed, but I was surprised and I was thrown off for a moment that I needed to find someplace new to sit.

        1. Free Meerkats*

          A comment I left on a hot desking conversation earlier this year.

          I made this observation in a long ago job where I was commuting on a foot ferry that took about 15 minutes. People get REALLY possessive about “their” seat.

          One day I took a different time ferry than usual for early training. I’m terminally early to things, so I got there early (it was the first ferry of the morning) and grabbed a seat. As the boat was untying dock lines a woman rushed down the dock (delaying our departure) and I was In. Her. Seat. I pointed at a seat close by and went back to my book. She spent the entire ride standing in front of me fuming and complaining that she sat in that seat on that ferry every day and had for the last 10 years and how dare I force her to stand and on and on and on. Yeah, I could have just gotten up and moved, but I was enjoying the little window into the human condition; and I was cranky about having to get to work early for a 14 hour day instead of the normal 12.

          I don’t have to deal with hot desking, and it would drive me nuts. But if I did, I would deliberately sit in a different location every day. And that’s my advice to you, make a game of it and sit in a different place each day. Don’t get in a rut. Keep a map, x-ing out each desk you’ve used and see how long it takes you to sit in every desk available to you.

  25. UT HR Guy*

    The special chair thing is easy- require ADA paperwork for using a special chair. Then it’s established that there’s a process to get approval, and the actual accommodation request means that you won’t be giving them to just anyone. It’s probably something the HR department already has in place anyways.

    1. pleaset*

      Oh come on. I don’t have a physical disability but am more comfortable with the chairs from our conference rooms. I’m sitting for 5 to 8 hours a day. I shouldn’t have to fill out ADA paperwork, claiming a disability, to be reasonably comfortable day after day.

      1. ACDC*

        Agreed. I think asking people to fill out ADA paperwork for a special chair is wildly unreasonable…

      2. Observer*

        The solution to that is to give everyone a good chair. And the OP says that they are doing that. What is under discussion is *special* chairs.

        1. pleaset*

          I’m not disabled but I am one of only two people in my organization using a specific kind of chair. The other people in my org all share a (very) good chair, but it’s bad for me. People vary a lot.

          1. Observer*

            I have a similar situation. So, I get what you are saying. But the concept still makes sense. I just wouldn’t require it to be legally considered a disability. Just a well documented need.

            1. Your Mother*

              But like… Why? Think of what the org has to lose by not policing this (basically nothing) vs the time and cost and difficulty of getting forms like this for the employees.

              1. pleaset*

                Yeah, I don’t understand the need for documentation of “need.” You want employees to be productive? Make the comfortable. It’s basic. The “need” is I prefer this chair and will use it when I work. I’m sitting most of the day.

                Employees can’t be capricious switching stuff on whims, but come on.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Sure, but there are plenty of reasons other than ADA accommodations that one might need a special chair: people who are taller or shorter thanaverage, or with wider hips, or who have a temporary knee injury, or etc.

      3. Lissa*

        How would you then decide who “gets” a special chair? I feel like there’d need to be some method to it because while some preferences vary, there are some chairs that 95% of people are going to find more comfortable than other chairs, and if everyone’s sitting 5-8 hours a day, gotta be some way to decide who *needs* one, right?

        1. pleaset*

          Storage needs and cost aside, I think the way to decide is if someone asks for it. That’s it. That’s the way.

          The employees are sitting all day. They should be comfortable. This is a basic.

    2. AdminX2*

      “Easy” = make it difficult and multiple steps for the employee with other everyday challenges when we’re already making large changes and adjustments

      1. Your Mother*

        Yeah, “easy” if you’re not the one who has to get the stupid paperwork done. Whenever someone suggests making people have physician documentation for things, I feel the need also to remind them that this 1) takes time, because you often not only need an office visit (during your work hours, natch) but also a delay afterwards for the office to compile it, and 2) cost quite a lot of money, because insurance won’t pay for it, so you have to pay an out of pocket visit cost and potentially additional fees for time spent on the paperwork.

        Also 3) many doctors will NOT fill out paperwork like this for something they’re not actively treating you for. Which, for the grand majority of ergonomic-related complaints, there will indeed not be any physician monitoring. Especially if you start tossing “ADA” around, your average doc is not gonna wanna submit forms saying you have an ADA complaint for… Say, being too tall for the regular chairs.

        All that just to reign in the madness of what, some people having different chairs? What’s the point?

  26. MsJill*

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned, if anyone does need a permanent desk to comply with ADA requirements it’s on the company to deal with resentment not the employee. I’ve known many people who need a permanent desk that have to deal with colleague’s resentment. Because apparently grown adults struggle with the concept of accommodations for equal access.

  27. MechanicalPencil*

    My uncle was discussing that his office is moving to hotdesking. His feelings are meh. But the system is that everyone gets an assigned seat rather than everyone choosing their desk du jour.

    For my purposes as a teapot designer, my equipment tends to be a bit higher grade in terms of monitors, etc. than the average teapot generalist. I don’t want to lug around a monitor (or two) every day. I’d hope I could get either leeway to work from home every day or a permanent desk.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Yeah, I have an upgraded computer because my work requires more processing power than our standard low-end machines can handle. I’d want an exemption, or at least for the plan to clearly address how I’ll have access to all the specialty software on a sufficiently powerful computer in a hotdesking scenario.

      1. MechanicalPencil*

        When I’m due a laptop upgrade, I need to have a polite conversation about my processors. Some days I do alright. But other days with larger files, it’s a crapshoot.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Our agency’s standard-issue PC specs say it should be able to run ArcMap without crashing. In reality, not so much.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Also, the standard setup would absolutely have to include two monitors or my entire team would revolt. A docked laptop using both the screen and an external monitor isn’t going to cut it.

    2. Genny*

      That’s another good point. You may end up having to move to a hotdesk system, OP, but before you do that, make sure you really understand what each person needs. I know you’re planning to standardized the IT equipment, which is a good thought, but you also need to know who uses what programs, what specs people need to do their jobs, etc. In a previous job, I needed access to Adobe Acrobat, but the company only had limited licenses. It was a pain to switch computers because invariably I wouldn’t have Acrobat on the new computer. It wasn’t a huge deal, but little annoyances like that add up when you’re in a hotdesk system.

      1. Eliza*

        In that kind of setup it can make sense to consider thin clients instead of full-featured computers, although there are disadvantages to that approach as well.

  28. NCKat*

    I once worked at a job where we “hotdesked” by task, and it was hugely unpopular. There was zero respect for boundaries and no storage space for belongings such as coffee mugs or bags. If you left your mug out overnight, the woman on the night shift would toss it in the bin. I left that job as soon as it was possible.

    But if this is not a choice, at least make sure belongings are secured and there is some privacy.

  29. Non-profiteer*

    In a workplace that big, with over 100 workers, how in the heck would you ever find your coworkers in a hot desk situation? I feel like I would spend half my day roaming the space, trying to find the coworker whom I needed to talk to. I guess if you have an office that primarily does not use face-to-face communication unless it’s in a scheduled meeting, it could work. Or if you have a much smaller office where it’s easy to see everyone.

    Even having to IM someone to ask where they are before stopping by would get annoying very quickly. I sometimes complain about my cube farm, but this post is making me feel lucky. Sorry to be Debbie Downer.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      This. My company is moving to a new building, and apparently hot desking was discussed. Project-based people move at least 1-2x per year, so it kind of makes sense to avoid all the permanent moving and administration of that. (Other roles never move, but it seems that they will move entire departments and reconfigure floor quadrants every couple years anyway.) We have over 1000 people, so I don’t know if you would be assigned an area and could have any desk in that area or what. Thank goodness they aren’t doing this.

    2. ACDC*

      This a really good point! I hadn’t thought of that, and it sounds like that could very easily become an issue for their department with so many people!

    3. logicbutton*

      Oh gosh, and what if you have an employee with face blindness? That would be a nightmare for them. Or what if you have employees who look similar and people are always mixing them up? Especially if “looking similar” means “are the only two people of their race in the department.”

      1. Psyche*

        Trying to find a specific person in a group that large can be difficult. I don’t think that Non-profiteer was saying it was hard to recognize them. I don’t know why you are trying to ridicule a potential issue.

        1. Slanted & Enchanted*

          While I’m not officially diagnosed with face blindness (prosopagnosia), I don’t recognize coworkers if I see them outside of the office — and I’ve worked in a small company of 10 people the last 10 years. Just last week I didn’t recognize a someone I’ve worked with for a year when I saw her at the lobby coffee machine! I’d start looking for a new job rather than deal with the daily stress of not recognizing my coworkers by context.

          1. not quite a hot desk*

            *non-diagnosed faceblindness fistbump* The number of people I’ve known for years who I do not recognize is… quite high.

            1. LPUK*

              I walked past my own mother in the street once because I wasn’t expecting to see her there ( I expected her to be in her office two miles away).

              The issue is real – the finance team in my last job all sat at the same bank of desks and were all slim females with short hair. It was enough to confuse me for months – I used to have to ask a colleague to point out which of the four was Isabel and then move fast before they switched positions!

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          I don’t think logicbutton is ridiculing the issues. To me, they read as sincerely concerned about issues of disability and racism that may apply.

        3. Bagpuss*

          How is that ridiculing it? It’s a genuine issue. I have prosopagnosia and context is really helpful in ID ing people, including the people I work with every day.
          I worked with 2 ladies for about 5 years and still had difficulty knowing which of them was which if they were not in their own rooms (at least until I had seen one of them in their own room and made a note of what they were wearing that day)
          I currently have similar problems as the new employee we took on in August happens to have be a very similar height, have a similar build and body type and similar hair length, style and colour, and similar dress sense, to one of out existing employees. They are both lovely people and excellent employees but if I meet one of them in the kitchen or corridor I don’t know which of them it is at first glance…

    4. Psyche*

      Yeah I can see that being a problem. Maybe they can make zones for sub teams? But I can see that quickly falling apart.

    5. Smarty Boots*

      I imagine an online desk reservation system could be set up to be searchable by name of person. Location could be indicated with a map or diagram or visual of some sort.

    6. Evergreen*

      It’s easier if each team sit in a assigned area: legal are on the west corner, HR along the north wall etc. Then usually you’d send an IM just to be sure they’re available anyway. Also helps if everyone has a picture on their Outlook account.

    7. JerryLarryTerryGarry*

      Label areas and each desk, have people set their lync or whatever with their location each day. Helpful for out of office and work from home situations too.

  30. Lexi Kate*

    We only have them for workers who are dual work at home and in the office so if you are only in the office 1-4 days a week you don’t get a official desk you work on the Agile Isle. Which might be something you want to consider that if you don’t have enough desks you need to implement some work from home and those are the people who are in the hot desks.

    On the other side I can’t imagine having someone sit for 30 minutes adjusting their chair, that seems insane. Are your chairs that bad?

  31. McWhadden*

    You say people are out because of training, sickness, leave etc. Not because they are working from home.

    I think if you are going to have hot desking you really have to have remote work at least a couple of times a week a viable option for people. Forcing them to be in the office but also fighting for desks just isn’t equitable.

  32. all aboard the anon train*

    I just started at a new company who said they’re moving to hot desking in January. This was not brought up in the interview. I’m not happy about it.

    We’re getting lockers, which is good because I don’t want to bring my stuff home each day, but we also have over 500 people in the office and I can’t see this ending well. I also have no idea how big the lockers will be and how much stuff they’ll be able to hold.

    My worry is mostly that hot desking will prove cliquish where groups of friends sit together and gets annoyed if you sit in their space. The company says it’s for more collaborative work and that they’d rather spend less on desks and more money for promotions and raises, but I’m skeptical about that. I don’t like not having my own space and being forced to work that closely with other people for 8 hours 5 days a week.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        My 500 is only one location of a much larger company (there’s 8K in the US and 20+ global locations), so I think they’re trying to save money on space all around the world. I kind of get it, but at the same time I’m not looking forward to it and think it won’t end up working well with that many people involved (we do have multiple floors, so it’s not like it’s all happening on one floor)

        1. ACDC*

          It just seems weird that they wouldn’t do a pilot of this with one floor or department and then scale up from there. Good luck during that transition!

    1. not quite a hot desk*

      >they’d rather spend less on desks and more money for promotions and raises

      How much money are they spending on desks, that it would make any real difference in promotions and raises????

            1. C*

              It’s like what the op is describing. You squish more people into a smaller space – hence you are paying for less space. Some office locations can be very expensive, so any amount of space saving helps.

    2. Evergreen*

      I had the same concerns as you did when we were moving to hot desking: if it helps, none of those problems eventuated. I quickly got into the habit of packing everything in (~30sec each night!) and swapped my own seat each day which helped avoid a cliquish atmosphere.

  33. Leela*

    I’m one of many people with invisible illness. I balk A LOT at the idea of hot desking, because I’m immunocompromised due to being on low-dose, daily chemotherapy. I can still work, and honestly, it is a risk just going outside but not enough of one that I’m going to be able to get disability so here we are.

    But that risk increases exponentially if I sit at a desk that’s constantly rotating, that I doubt is being cleaned every day, and would put me in the awkward position of having to get sanitary wipes and clean the desk myself every day before starting, which in addition to being a pain, to forcing me to get there early if you guys just pay for hours, would be incredibly awkward and if I haven’t told my coworkers I’m on chemo (and I’d rather not!) they’re going to think I’m very tightly wound.

    Also, if I had to voice this concern, it would put me in the position of needing to discuss with my company that I’m on chemotheraphy, which I would definitely rather not do because I worry if I’d still be as attractive for promotions/taking on big projects which I can do, but the word “chemo” really scares people, and even if I omitted it to say I’m “immunocompromised” does the trick just as well.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I think a lot of people without medical conditions would start their day with wiping down the desk area. I can’t imagine this would be an uncommon sight.

      But really how long would it realistically take to wipe down a desk. It’s presumably empty of stuff, so even a very detailed wipe down, 1 minute maybe 2?

      1. Genny*

        Depends on the quality of the desk. The better the quality, the faster it is to clean. At a previous office, the desks were so cheap it didn’t matter how much you wiped them down, there would still be smudges, dust, and crumbs.

    2. Lexi Kate*

      Most people wipe their desks down daily anyway or at least in my office, especially during flu season so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary and only takes a few seconds to wipe down the surface, keyboard and phone. I work from home most of the time but go in 2 days a week I bring in everything in a tote bag including clorox wipes and my own headphones, but I can get the hot desk cleaned and set up in about 10 minutes. The good side is that from 8am until about 9:30 when everyone has arrived the area always has a nice clorox lemon smell. I dont think you will be the only one wiping down daily and it will take less time since you won’t have things on your desk.

      1. Leela*

        It’s not just about the time, it’s that I have to worry about the increased exposure. Wiping down a desk isn’t a silver bullet and it’s not going to automatically protect me, and having to touch the wipe that’s touching the desk put me in closer proximity which is also a problem.

    3. Rezia*

      If you were in this situation, I think you could just say you were a germaphobe if you didn’t want to reveal that you were on chemo. That being said, I often wipe down my own desk (not daily, but at least weekly) because of dust that accumulates. Nobody’s ever commented.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        There’s a lot of stigma associated with ‘germaphobe’.

        I don’t have a solution for the problem, just pointing out most solutions for it have a cost to Leela and people in similar situations.

        OP – definitely something to consider.

    4. Seacalliope*

      That is a very serious and valid concern. I think it is important to consider that the levels of sickness within the office are likely to rise. You can only control your own space and without a blanket policy regarding cleanliness, the office as a whole will pass more germs and experience more illness.

      1. Leela*

        Exactly! And for someone like me, a flu isn’t going to be 1-2 days off, it can lay me out for a week or hospitalize me. Or might be fine. Because being immunocompromised isn’t an exact science and you have to live your whole life as if everything were a potential threat because if you’re not careful, you can literally just die, or miss weeks of work at a time, be hospitalized, etc.

    5. NDC*

      This is a great point. People who manage just fine in a regular office set-up might have invisible illness or disability that they don’t feel comfortable explaining to their manager or co-workers. Physical conditions necessitating special furniture was what I was thinking of as I read down the comments, but immunocompromise is another clear example.

      Also think neuro-diverse folks or people with anxiety-related disorders – all living with a stigmatised condition that wouldn’t need to be disclosed to co-workers if they could just work in a regular office setting.

  34. Hope*

    My first thought is this–how big are the desks? I know you said you’re already crammed in like battery hens, but could you get smaller desks and thereby make space for more? Is every available space truly being used as much as possible (like, maybe someone with an office needs to share that office to make more space for people, or maybe you don’t need a 3rd conference room, just more flexible meeting scheduling, etc.)? I’d rather work in a closet than hotdesk, honestly.

    As others said, if people can telework/work from home, that would be a much better solution than hotdesking. Or it might at least give enough space that people could have desk partners instead of full on hotdesking. You say people come in at staggered times–any way to stagger it such that you’ve got the early people leaving as the later people come in? Or do you think you could get a combo of people who’d want to work 10-12 hour days 3-4 days a week, or work regular hours 3 days a week but work from home 2 days, thereby freeing up desk space? I think some combination of flex time, telework, and desk partners *could* fix this issue at least for now, since you’re currently only looking for desk space for extra 20 people.

    If you really do have to hot desk, could teams be assigned sets of desks/specific areas? That way everyone still knows roughly where people are, and people are sharing desks with people they know better? This would also give everyone a little more ownership of their space, and might cut down on resentment towards the people on teams that do need permanent desks. It would also help cut down on the need for chair storage, etc. I know you’ll run into times where a whole team is out while a whole other team is in, so there would probably need to be some overlap in team spaces, but that shouldn’t be too bad.

    1. nws2002*

      The desk size thing was my first thought as well, but probably because the company I work for already had this discussion.

      When we were moving to new office space, we were shown two options:
      1) The same cubicals we had currently, which were square in shape and had a largish corner desk with space to spread out on two L shaped sides. This option would require us to continue hot-desking in the new space.
      2) Smaller desks (about 5 feet long) that are straight like tables, with less cubical walls. Basically there’s a short wall between so you are not staring at the person across from you all day, but no dividers on the sides. In this case we all had our own desks with a few left over for visitors or growth.

      After much discussion among employees, we went with option 2. I know it made some people unhappy because of the smaller space, but the majority were happy with the dedicated space that we didn’t have to move around all the time.

      Also, for all those asking how you find people when you’re hotdesking. When we did this each department was assigned certain rows, with some overlap. So, to find someone in accounting I knew to always go to this part of the building. To find someone from flight operations I would always go to another few rows of cubicals.

    2. Chatterby*

      This was also my thought.
      There was one horrible job where we were switched to long, long tables with sections marked in tape instead of desks. Even that sounds better than hotdesking, because you’d have your spot.

  35. Anon for this*

    I left a job last year just after they introduced hot desking (it wasn’t the reason – my contract was expiring). Firstly all staff were invited to attend training on how to make the switch then on the upgrade of computer systems including how to Skype or make soft calls since the next thing to go would be the physical phones. ‘Travelling’ staff were given tablets and ‘non-travelling’ were given laptops which we could use from home or a coffee shop if we chose rather than have to go in. Everyday desk had standard docking equipment, a large screen, keyboard and mouse. We had banks of ‘standard’ desks for staff who would be there for more than 4 hours and ‘drop in’ desks where you just sit to send an email or do a quick burst of work that didn’t necessitate setting up the whole desk. Special chairs were labelled with names of the users. I rather liked clearing stuff away at the end of the day, personal stuff to the locker, work in the locked cupboard but you will get people ‘forgetting’ to move their stuff and trying to colonise a desk for themselves. One thing I noticed was that the people who hitherto had struggled to get in for 9am, were suddenly able to hit their desks at 8am – to get their favoured desk!

    1. Anon for this*

      Having said that…. the desks were smaller and instead of banks of 8 (4×2), it was then 10 (5×2) and more banks of desks crammed in than we’d previously had in order to fit in the temporary desks, lockers and general walking space. That was before the disagreements over blinds open or closed, windows opened or closed. When we sat closer together, suddenly minor things became major irritants.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      ‘non-travelling’ were given laptops which we could use from home or a coffee shop if we chose rather than have to go in

      Give me unlimited WFH (or WF-coffee-shop) and I can hotdesk with the best of them! I have an office space set up at home with a docking station, monitor, etc., because we are expected to be able to log in from home after hours if needed, and are occasionally allowed to WFH. However WFH is severely restricted, you have to give a good reason, ask permission, not do it too often etc. I have a feeling that, if hotdesking were introduced at my workplace tomorrow, but on the condition that we don’t have to go in if we don’t want to, people would be all over it. They would still go in occasionally, but the office would not be nearly as crowded as it is now.

  36. Jilly*

    We had a situation where we had more desks than people (we eventually moved). We didn’t go full on hot desking instead you got a desk partner and the two of you came up with a schedule for teleworking (ie I would be in the office Tuesdays, Thursdays, and every other Friday and my desk partner would get Monday, Wednesday and the Fridays I wasn’t there).

  37. Pnuf*

    Most hotdesking offices understand that payroll need their own permanent space, but I’d extend that to all of finance, who need to be able to discuss potentially sensitive or salary-revealing information without 16 neighbours eavesdropping. This probably also applies to HR and any legal teams you have.

    1. WellRed*

      On this note, make sure ALL employees have a private(ish) quiet space to get away from the crowded office or maybe need to take a personal call from their doc or spouse or whatever.

  38. giraffe*

    My office started with hotdesking and everybody hates it and just sits in the same place everyday anyway. And it would work fine in our field; we each only use a laptop and don’t do much with paper, so it really is pretty easy to just plug in your laptop at any seat.

    If you really need to do it, increase the flexibility of your work from home policy so fewer people have to be in the office every day, and give anyone who deals with lots of paper/files/objects (like accounting, HR, etc) their own desk where they can keep their stuff. If you have a certain subset of folks who only need their laptop, have them be the mobile ones. Since not everyone has the same needs, it doesn’t make sense to try and force everyone to use hotdesking.

  39. Cosette*

    I desk share… similar but not quite the same. I am in twice a week and another person is in two other days so we share what was once my desk. We each have a rolling cabinet to lock up stuff, we agreed to keep minimal (for me: none) personal stuff on the desk. It seems to work out fine. We recently went to a standing desk arrangement and fortunately she likes it as well as I do. Hot-desking is a little trickier but as long as people are courteous about leaving a space clean, I think it should be ok. I would suggest a reservation system though if possible so people will know before they come in if and where they will sit.

  40. I hate the very idea of hotdesking*

    Have a plan for quickly dealing with issues! And there will be unanticipated issues!

    I have a severe nut allergy, and lots of people in my office eat nuts/have jars of nuts/eat at their desk. Fortunately, I have my own (shared) office that I can keep nut-free. However, whenever I’m forced to work at another space, I have to start the day with a detailed cleaning of the workspace (because I’m going to be touching everything for 8-10 hours!), which I wouldn’t have to do if I was just popping in for a minute. I also end up replacing the keyboard (usually because the one in place is full of food/crumbs). Even then, one space I had to work in for a couple weeks (because we had too little space during maintenance) was so contaminated, I had three allergic reactions and spent most of the time out on sick leave. When I asked to work elsewhere, I was told there was no special treatment for space arrangements, and setting up an ADA accommodation under our policies would take longer than the maintenance.

    We’ve also had “special” chairs in dedicated offices go “missing” and the person who swiped it and started using it refused to give it back, even when ordered by management. If the chairs were just floating around, that would increase a lot. A number of people do specialized work, so they’ve brought in their own devices/reference materials/office supplies that aren’t required but make their life easier. Hauling stuff from one desk to another would be prohibitive and cut down on their productivity. We’ve had people set up in someone else’s office (and complain they had to leave when the occupant returned) because it didn’t “look occupied” that day. How will you keep desks reserved while people are in the bathroom/in a meeting/having lunch/stretching their legs if they don’t have a lot of stuff to set up?

    Not to mention how territorial people get over their space. At my workplace, I have seniority over almost everyone, and when we moved to “shared” offices, the office I was assigned to had actually been previously occupied by the guy I was sharing with (it was the “corner office,” which no one else actually wanted because of the lousy temperature control). Almost two years later, I still listen to him complain about how I’m in “his office,” I’m not allowed to put up my nameplate because it’s “his office,” I should learn to work at his computer set up and stop arranging it to suit me on days I’m in the office, and so forth. I can’t imagine it’s going to be any less frustrating for someone who accidentally takes a desk someone else “always” uses.

    1. Observer*

      I should learn to work at his computer set up and stop arranging it to suit me on days I’m in the office,

      That’s actually pretty easy to deal with. You should have different log ins, which would mean that you have your own desktop set up the way you like it, and he gets to arrange his the way he likes it.

      And put your name plate up – you don’t need his permission.

    2. WellRed*

      If you have enough time to have 3 allergic reactions, they have enough time for a simple accommodation. All together now, Your workplace sucks.

    3. Former call centre worker*

      If people are refusing to give back chairs even when asked to by a manager, your office has a bigger issue than hot desking!

      1. TootsNYC*

        yeah, I’m like, “The chair, or your job. Pick one. Oh, and when we fire you, you don’t get to take the chair with you.”

        Or you call security to move the chair.

  41. MediaDork*

    I worked in a company that transitioned to hot desking. Here is what helped make it work

    1) Provision of comfortable, useful breakout space with sofas etc that had power points for laptops. The reduction in desks actually created more flexible space. They could be used for improptu meetings or be set up as private nooks. Very useful if you needed a desk for a an hour between meetings

    2) zoning. Teams were assigned zones to hot desk in. Some zones were ‘quiet’ while others were more relaxed. This helped teams sit closer and sitting with related teams. This also involved creative hotdesks for those who needed specialist equipment. And it was easier for specialist chairs. There was synergy between teams in the zone.

    3) clear desk policy enforced. Not being allowed to leave stacks of paper

    4) Lockers and a basket that was big enough for specialist mice and keyboards, mugs and other items

    5) multiple charge cables at each desk, to save lugging chargers around.

    6) work from home policy was expanded.

    7) Prototyping – some teams started doing it before others ( especially those more likely to be open).

    1. Fiona*

      Really smart. These all seem like really practical, useful things that would make a big difference.

  42. Cucumberzucchini*

    Can’t you just rent an auxiliary office for 20-30 people or something? Group some like people together and go rent them a space. Switching to hotdesking isn’t free so there’s going to be an additional cost anyway. You’d improve moral for everyone by unsardine-ing people. Your current setup sounds miserable and the hotdesking solution seems like a lateral or downward move.

      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        And there is definitely no “just” in government procurement, especially of space/real estate

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          I’ve found this to be true in the private sector as well. Want to make leadership cringe and shiver in horror, just mention the word more space.

          Honestly our corporate HQ is packed, as in folding tables set up in hallways with 3 people assigned to it. It’s been this way for years and no changes on the horizon.

  43. Govy*

    We’re in the middle of transitioning into a a system close to this- through it’s happening across our organization we’ve consolidating into one location from about 6- we’ll have about 500 people co-located.

    The system they’re using includes mobility targets- some positions and people aren’t suited to be mobile in the building- and they’ll still have their resident cubicles. I think our target was 40% mobility. People who wanted to be signed up- and they’ll be getting lockers and more portable laptops etc…

    As far as the floor redesign goes, the mobile work stations and resident cubicles are on the outside perimeter of the floor- so that natural light can filter through to all the spaces. The enclosed offices are in the centre of the floor so that they don’t block light. There’s a certain ratio of quiet spaces/collaboration rooms (in addition to boardrooms) to accommodate the fact that we won’t have as many offices as we used to.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      I really like two things about this:
      1) Volunteering for mobile stations (I wfh 2 days, wfo 3, and have 0 problem with hot desking)
      2) Making the mobile stations more attractive in some way (outside perimeter / natural light – this would work in a cube farm too, just make the ‘permanent’ seats the cubes in the middle)

      Another way to make mobile stations / hot desking more attractive is to look at auxiliary offices at a co-working place like WeWork. If you hired a few slots at sites away from the office, you might find some employees get a shorter commute.

      There should be no stigma for *not* signing up, because you don’t know what allergy / chemotherapy / other problem people are dealing with, but making them ‘nicer’ sites would help with adoption

      Expanded WFH would also help, because as someone pointed out up-thread, 35% is an average and there will be times when it’s 25% and you’ll be out of desks. If you mixed in a reservation system and WeWork stations, you could rent more WeWork slots when reservations get high, and send notifications to people who haven’t reserved yet.

      If you need to be flexible, commit to it…

  44. Eagles-038*

    Long time lurker, first time poster. I’m from the Netherlands, so a) grammar mistakes may occur and b) I am definitely not up to speed on what’s normal or legal in the US ;)
    Having said that, a couple of questions for the OP: Are your colleagues allowed to work from home one or two days a week? Does everybody have to be in the office during classic office hours (8-5) or are hours flexible?

    Our company implemented this hot-desking / flex-working a couple of years ago. In general we’ve found that if you allow people to work from home and offer financial compensation to set up a personal work space at home people are content to work from home. At work each team has a couple of desks assigned to their team, with a couple of sets of desks on each floor for overflow. Around 10% of my colleagues need special chairs, desks or other equipment and we have lockers to store them. I guess what I’m trying to convey here is that all of this starts and ends with setting up the correct infrastructure.

    Also, reading the earlier comments from my fellow commentors (bless you all, kind people) it looks like most of us can find reasons why this can not work for them personally. Some are valid, most read more like we’re scared / hesitant to change our habits :-) I’m guessing your own coworkers probably already told you all the same things. I *have* found that interaction between our teams is a lot better these days, specifically because we started using the hot-desk methods. Less us and them and more we, if you know what I mean.

    1. Observer*

      I guess what I’m trying to convey here is that all of this starts and ends with setting up the correct infrastructure.

      Yes, this is ABSOLUTELY key!

  45. Observer*

    A few thoughts – some of which have already been mentioned:

    1. Make sure your phone system is set up to handle this. You don’t want people to be using their personal cell phones. And even company issued phones are not an ideal solution, unless everyone always works in isolation. Our phone system is set up so that a person can log into any phone on the system, and all of their buttons etcc. map to the phone. Soft phones may be another solution.

    2. Introduce WFH. It probably won’t get rid of the need for some sort of desk sharing, but it will be definitely reduce the impact for a lot of people. And it will also give legitimacy to the issue as people will see that the PTB are willing to do other “out there” stuff to deal with the issue. Also, giving people something when you are taking a different thing away makes it easier to swallow the downgrade.

    3. Lockers or some place to store personal items are CRUCIAL. If you don’t find a way to do that, forget about making this work.

    4. Make sure that all of the standard workstations are of good quality – good chairs, computers that will work well for the top 10% of hot desking users, etc.

    5. Establish a process for exceptions. It will keep people from suddenly developing a need for that “special” chair or whatever that has nothing to do with health and everything to do with wanting a set space. And, if people understand what the process entails and who is getting those exceptions, people will be less resentful. (And, if the ARE resentful and act on it, it’s on management to enforce reasonable behavior.)

    6. Consider group hot-desking. For instance, if you have 5 AP clerks, and you never have all 5 in the office, set aside a cluster of 4 desks for that group. It allows groups that need to be together to stay together and it allows people to stay near specialized resources they need. (eg. a check printer.)

  46. ADA*

    I worked in a District Attorney’s Office in NYC and when you work in complaints bureau there is hotdesking. I was the only one in the bureau with a specialized chair, resulting from a serious injury to my spine. Even though my disability is obvious, people still frequently stole my chair. I wasted a ton of time hunting for it every shift. What is worse is the later shifts somehow always seemed to break it. Twice they actually managed to break it in half! It wasn’t until the office was required to order the 3rd chair that the office found a way for me to lock it up at night.

    Hopefully you can find a safe place for people to store things, OP!

  47. Shawn*

    I personally would not mind hot desking. I tend to get bored with the same thing day in, day out. I feel that it would offer a bit of variety!

  48. Asperger Hare*

    I’m autistic and I’m afraid that if my workplace implemented this then I would just… quit. I have mild-to-moderate faceblindness, so I use people’s locations to remember who they are and what job they do, so this would make it just impossible for me. In addition, the uncertainty of where I’d sit, who would sit near me, where I could find other people located in the building, etc. would push my stress levels above daily manageable limits.

    Unfortunately I don’t think that that would come under ‘reasonable adjustments’ to change an entire department just to suit me, so I think I’d just quit!

    1. Random Commenter*

      I’m neurotypical and I also use seating arrangaments in a similar way because I am terrible at names. In my old job I made a small sketch of the office and wrote down everyone’s names according to where they were sitting. Turns out it was a hot-desking arrangement so the next day everyone was sitting somewhere else, and there were new faces, and some people were working from home.

      I can see how this would be aggravating for someone in the spectrum. Maybe OP should check with HR if they are aware of any people in the spectrum and let them know of the change in advance, to know if there is anything that can be done to make the transition easier for them?

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      I feel ya – my mild faceblindness is frustrating and hot desking does make it worse. General build / how they move helps a lot, though.

      But you would absolutely have grounds for ‘reasonable accommodation’ in the US. Autism is a diagnosis that gets attention, which is why I shared my son’s diagnosis with his school. People are even starting to really understand ‘non-neurotypical’ and its advantages and disadvantages.

      Hot desking is getting more common; if you ever come across it, ask for accommodations like ‘permanent desk among other perm desks’ and use instant messaging to find people, before you give up a job, if you like the job otherwise. Most sites do have a mix of permanent / mobile desks.

      It is important in any hot desking set up that people don’t face stigma for not moving to hot desking. Helping managers and planners like OP understand the huge variety of reasons why they need a mix of mobile / permanent seats is useful.

    3. LibraryMan*

      I’m also a person with a bit of face blindness. I told my staff about my issues and their first response was, “So if we switch our nametags …” (Fortunately, nobody has done that – that I can tell!)

      I really hate it when people change their hairstyles (when my mom cut her hair, I couldn’t recognize her at all!), so trying to locate a person in a crowd of, say five, is a problem for me. I couldn’t even cope with a whole workforce hotdesking!

      Honestly, I can see quitting over this, because the complete uncertainty in every day would just be intolerable.

      1. 02020202*

        Interesting to see this – I myself do struggle but I would say don’t necessarily feel too put off by the concept. Whilst not great, if your company do the following things I can reassure you from my own experience it’s much less difficult:
        – whatever desk booking system they get advocate that they get one where you can see who has booked what where (booking grid).
        – Adovcate that people use a pic on email
        – have old school name stands that you put on your desk.
        – have a department face chart at the entrance to the room somewhere

        Or the old school – send an email saying, which desk number are you at today?

        These things have saved me so many times!

    4. Dove*

      Fellow autistic with faceblindness here, and I can second this. When I was working at a call-center, we hotdesked – the only ‘stability’ was that you would sit in the same row as your team lead…which wasn’t always clearly marked, and required you to 1) be able to recognize your team lead, and 2) that they were working the same shift as you (not always a given, I think my team lead was only there during my shifts about half the time). And there wasn’t anywhere to keep things overnight – you got a locker (which wasn’t assigned – you had to pick one that was empty, and the lockers were right next to the training desks) to put your personal stuff during your shift, and that was it.

      So every shift, I had to go in, try to find an empty locker and put my stuff away as quickly and quietly as possible (so as not to disrupt the trainees who were working), and then try to figure out where the heck I could go sit for work. And hope that I wouldn’t get scolded for picking the ‘wrong’ row, or that it wouldn’t take “too long” to find an unoccupied desk.

      It was so, so stressful and I hated it. I would have much rather just been assigned somewhere to work, even if someone else got to use that desk when my shift was over.

  49. Mimi Me*

    I am lucky that I work in a branch that has more desks than employees, but I did have a part time job that was into hot desking. I hated it. I’m very weird about people touching my keyboard, mouse, and phone. I am immediately aware of all the gross things they do with their hands during the day and how those gross things are now touching my stuff. I would literally wash my hands 30 times a shift and excessively wipe down everything with sanitizing cleaner. I had to leave the job when my hands began to crack and bleed. OP, I have no advice, but I do feel for you and the people you work with. Hope it works out!

  50. Random Commenter*

    I used to hot desk at a previous job. I’m tall and there was this one chair that was marginally taller than the other ones. I liked it better than any other chair, and no one else liked it as much as me. So it became “my” chair when I was in the office.

    I think the chair situation shouldn’t be that much of a problem if you just tell people not to use the special chairs if they aren’t theirs (assuming the chairs can be moved from one desk to the other). But it might depend on the overall work environment.

  51. Guacamole Bob*

    Could this be a temporary measure for your office? My agency has announced plans for a move to a new space, which makes it easier to tolerate some of the current office moves that have us squeezed into less space. If everyone knows a fix is in the works, that could take the edge off.

    Also, are there any coworking spaces near you? If your department could get budget to use a nearby space as spillover now and then, maybe for a particular team during project crunch time or for certain kinds of meetings, that could also provide some relief. We recently rented a coworking conference room for a 4-person half-day work session and it was cheap and quite effective.

  52. not quite a hot desk*

    My old office had a space crunch and went to “desk sharing” instead of “hot desking”. In that situation, specific people would be assigned to a desk for specific days a week. This worked because of various schedules, like Alpha would be off-site every Monday, but Beta would only be on site on Mondays and Wednesdays, and on Wednesdays, she would sit in Gamma’s space, because that was Gamma’s telework day. It worked out okay, although there were some necessary shifts and all that. It was, however, absolute hell on All Staff Meeting days, because everyone had to come in, and there was nowhere for them to sit.

    Eventually most staff went to teleworking 2-3 days a week and we worked the desk situation out. And we fixed the meeting problem by stopping making attendance mandatory and let people call in.

  53. Reader, rarely commenter*

    TL;DR: if you’re going to go hot-desking, think about a software that allows you reserve desks in advance, and then check in on that day on your computer. If people are not in by a certain time, the desks open up and people can reserve the remaining ones.

    I work for a large, well-known financial institution that has had 2 forms of hot-desking. Our current one, a neighborhood-based “first come first serve” is a disaster – we are always complaining about not having a desk and getting kicked out of desks if we try to sit in another neighborhood. It is seriously one of the biggest pain points. The original system allowed us to reserve desks anywhere on the floor, and was better for the following reasons:

    1) we could choose the desk we wanted to reserve, and book up to 2 weeks out. This meant that most people settled into having one spot they typically booked when they were in the office, and would just not book when they were out.
    2) We had lockers to store personal items (does not solve your special chair need)
    3) all desks had the same monitors/keyboards/mice available, and there is a team that can assist if the equipment isn’t working
    4) The company had a cleaning crew that wiped every desk at night, although poorly. They also had cleaning wipes at several spots around the floor for those who wished to clean further.

  54. Ragazzoverde*

    My company keeps trying to insist that we use hot desking (for absolutely no reason we are 100 in an office with 130 desks) and even installed lockers for people to store their personal belongings at night. Most people just ignore the idea completely and always sit in the same place as there is little no reason for us to move everything at the beginning and end of every day.

    I think they only want to do it because it’s something that big management consultancy firms do, and therefore in their minds it must be the right thing to do (ignoring the fact that 80% of the staff in consultancy firms travel 4 days out of 5 and we are always in the same place)

    1. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production*

      Interesting! Actually, I would say, I bet they’re setting this as a standard now because they don’t intend to change offices once they grow past 130 people, and it’s far harder to take away a perk (like an individual desk) than it is to simply never offer it. Hotdesking is all the more painful because nobody implements it early in offices (and why would you? As you mention, people will just end up sitting in the same desks every day because there’s enough for everyone), so it sucks extra bad when it becomes necessary. It might just be that your company has enough foresight to know that’s the direction they want it to go, and have a slow ramp-up this way.

  55. SongbirdT*

    Two arbitrary thoughts…

    Anyone who works in a regular office building sort of “hot desks” every day with their car in the parking lot, when you think about it. Everyone has the general area that they like to park in and if they get there a few minutes later than normal it might be taken so you find another spot. There are spots up close reserved for those who need it and while there are certainly those who park there undeserving, most of us are fine to leave them open. Maybe some spots are reserved for employees of the month or whatever. When look at it through that lens, its not that strange of a thing.

    Any hot desking should have a tub of disinfectant wipes as standard equipment at every single workstation. Nothing would aggravate me more than getting to a desk to find someone else’s crumbs and lunch schmoo all over everything. Plus, germs. Wiping that bad boy down would be priority one every day in a hot desk environment.

    1. pleaset*

      Good analogy with parking spots

      BUT I have to say, I started reading your comment and thought WTF – almost no one where I am drives in to work, and the few that do park in garages with attendants so don’t park themselves. And I don’t just mean my job – I mean perhaps a million people around me.

      But the analogy is good – just not related to my experience (Manhattan).

    2. Technical_Kitty*

      Parking is not working. Parking is putting your vehicle somewhere while you actually do something for hours at a time. Equating the two is similar to equating a “hello” from annoying/incompetent person as they pass in the hall, and having to spend the day with them. One is bearable and impacts your day minimally, the other wrecks your day.

      1. Dove*

        I was about to add that, yes. Parking your car in a different spot every day is different from having to figure out where you’re sitting down to work every day; one of these is a brief interaction, while the other is something you’re dealing with that whole work-day.

  56. Triplestep*

    My job is to design and build offices and other places where people work. When I’ve implemented unassigned seating, it’s been done hand in hand with improved policies around remote work, and I will typically involve HR and Technology in that exercise. The idea is that people who truly do not need to come aren’t making things worse for those who do. In some companies, even people who would like to work from home have a hard time grasping that it’s truly OK. But after a few weeks of hot desking, they can see why it’s encouraged.

    LW, I hope you getting help from a workplace designer or strategist. No one I know in the industry would be encouraging a 100+ person competition for desks. We’d be working with you to learn about your teams and their headcount and space needs, then dividing the space into “neighborhoods”. So for example a group of 15 might get 10 seats, and they can decide how to use them. (Assign to someone on the team, share, use as a touch down desk, etc.) This insures that when people do come to the office, they can interact with those with whom they work most closely. (There’s little incentive to come in if that interaction is not going to happen!) It also alleviates many problems having do with needed proximity to equipment, physical files, etc, because they neighborhoods can be placed near the things the team needs.

    Optimally, those with ergonomic chairs would have assigned seats and the chairs would be left alone. But even if the seats aren’t assigned, people’s ergonomic chairs should never be adjusted by anyone but the owner – that should be policy. I don’t think that chairs should be stored overnight. If you have a space large enough to accommodate chair storage, you should make it into a meeting room or focus room!

  57. Former call centre worker*

    One thing to be aware of is that if nobody ‘owns’ a desk, it becomes nobody’s responsibility. So don’t expect spills or mess to be cleaned up, rubbish to be thrown away or any IT issues to be reported unless you rigorously enforce this.

    1. anita*

      Whoa, this is not my experience at all. The staff of the building/property management company do the day-to-day cleaning, and IT issues are reported to the front-desk staff on each floor. When well-executed, there should be at least one person onsite who handles issues (like conference room tech not working, supply cabinet, etc).

      1. Jasnah*

        I think that’s the difference, is that in your office there is a designated management/IT person who handles issues for all areas. If you don’t have an “office manager for all offices” role and people are expected to empty their own trash or report their own issues, then they are much less likely to do so because it’s more work for them and they’re not responsible for the “shared” area. Just look at kitchen wars.

        1. Anita*

          I have never worked anywhere where janitorial staff were not responsible for emptying the trash. This is something that in most offices will be the responsibility of facilities staff provided by the facility where space is leased. OP’s org is clearly leasing space so there is nothing to be concerned about here and there’s nothing different about kitchens in a hot desking office.

  58. Honey and Tea not Ginger*

    #1 MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE — communicate. Communicate the rules clearly, make sure they are well known before you institute hot desking. Also at every single workstation have a little reminder posted of the rules.

    #2 MAKES SURE EVERYONE KNOWS THERE IS NO ‘CAMPING’ at the desks. Chris has meetings throughout the day – Chris does not get to leave stuff at desk. Chris should keep stuff in locker, or take to meeting. Hot desks should have a 2 hour limit – if you will be away for more than 2 hours, take your stuff!

    #3 NEIGHBORHOODS – people are territorial. Workgroups like to stay together. Designate workgroup ‘neighborhoods’ (and don’t forget to designate a ‘free state’ neighborhood)

    #4 PURELL AND CLOROX WIPES throughout the space. You know why.

    1. Ex-Disability Manager*

      We have done literally all of what you say and it’s why it works! We also have cleaners during the day to keep communal areas clean and people who remind the staff to adhere to the rules

  59. I'm from the Government and I'm Here to Help*

    I work for the government which for the most part loves paper. I have a lot of files and review a lot of documents. It’s not only personal items, office supplies, and mice and keyboards that need to be addressed. How will document storage be handled? Will there be file rooms where people store all their documents at the end of the day? What about reference materials? Will there be a checkout system for paper documents (this sounds like a headache and a half already.)? Will existing bookshelves stay and how will they be used?

    I had to move recently from an office with a door to a cubicle and lost half my storage space. We do have a library area but it is filling up rapidly. I really don’t know how I would manage with hotdesking, unless I was able to work from home on a part time basis and had an assigned partner in the same program.

    1. Anonyish*

      So much this! There’s a reason that my desk is covered with paper and it isn’t that I am a naturally messy person.

      And will people be able to move all those files to and fro from their desks twice a day within working hours. If they work 9 – 5 then the time to set up their desks and close them down each day needs to be within their core, paid hours. Otherwise you are not only expecting people to live with what many will perceive as worse conditions (hot desking) you are expecting them to work extra time for free. You need to accept e.g. 10 mins less working time per person to day.

      1. Toots McBoo*

        Yes yes yes. I cannot understand how people can do their work at all moving from space to space all the time. If you are in a call center or your job is a series of tasks to accomplish within a day then I guess it works. But if you have projects how can anyone not have files and papers, reference materials, things posted on the wall, and a white board? I ended up carrying a giant bag of papers and basic office supplies in to work everyday. It was just awful to try and keep track of my projects without a permanent workspace.

  60. AnotherFed*

    My agency is in the process of shrinking our footprint in our headquarters building. We are moving to an open office concept that will include desk sharing. What we are doing is anyone who is out of the office more than 50% of the week must “check out” desks and will have an assigned locker to keep personal items in. For those of us in the office more than 50% of the week, we will have an assigned desk.
    Additionally there are going to be a handful of ergonomic desks for people to be able to check out when they come in and need one.

  61. Czhorat*

    There is technology that can be used to schedule/assign desks and track who is where. Many of the usual suspects in space/room scheduling software have something for this (I tknow that Teem and Robin have the ability to reserve desks, and Condeco even has a little electronic desk reservation sign).

    Utilizing something like that might make it feel a bit less like a wild-west everyone for themself situation and something a bit more managed.

  62. Sorrel Gilbert*

    I was in an office that had a similar situation. and we worked it out really well (meant you got to stay in the same desk lots):

    1) anyone with a special chair, or who is in 4/5 days a week gets a desk. with a few other people getting desks randomly (I personally don’t like it when this is done by seniority – so people who need bigger screens, stuff like that)

    2) all desks have a little-laminated bit of paper with the days of the week on – at the top it says “week starting” so you put the date of the Monday on with a wipe dry pen. Then put your initials on the days you are in. if it’s your permanent desk you get first dibs on the days, but other people can use it on other days – (on those days put your chair in a meeting room). If you don’t have a permanent desk you can only reserve up to that Friday. only thing is that if you have a Friday out you may lose that desk for the following week.

    There was always enough desks that it was never that stressful, but you knew that you may not always get the same one, but again you knew that you could get the same one all week if you were in all week.

    3) home working encouraged one day a week.

  63. Girl with the yellow umbrella*

    I work in a government department too and we hot desk. The people with special chairs have a sign on the back saying “NAMEs chair please do not adjust” and we have spare, standard chairs in a storage cupboard. People do come in early and take specific desks to be with their friends but if someone else has a legitimate reason for needing that desk (training, specific software or something) everyone seems okay with it – there are a couple of people who moan and rant about it but they tend to get ignored because it’s usually only for one day and they’re being petty!

  64. nonymous*

    Could your org hot-desk but have designated zones? At my org we have one big cubicle for our team of seven and another group that performs different work functions has their own shared cubicle in a different area. I could see it being really practical to have an area with multiple large monitors at each docking station for one group and another area with the reference books for that other group and another area that’s specific for confidential records of a certain nature, etc. Bonus is that you don’t need to run all over looking for the rest of your team, but flexible enough to handle if people switch suddenly between roles.

  65. MLB*

    The idea that they are able to hire potentially 20 new employees, but not have the money to move to a new location or expand is BS if you ask me. You can’t expect people to be crammed into teeny tiny work areas and be happy. You’re spending a large majority of your day at work, and need to be somewhat comfortable. And I personally would hate hot desking. I like to personalize my work area so I don’t feel like a machine.

    The only “solution” that seems fair to me is to be flexible and encourage people to WFH. Because cramming people in like sardines is a recipe for dysfunction.

  66. Macedon*

    Look into appealing and generous work from home schemes. There is really no way to endear people to a widely reviled hot-desk arrangement, while the company still obliviously plans to persist with a 15% headcount increase.

  67. DiscombobulatedSue*

    I worked at a catalog call center one holiday season, and the model was hot-desks. Even though my job was temporary, it was incredibly discombobulating to continually gather one’s personal belongings and return to yet another (unfamiliar) desk after break. I can’t imagine doing it on a permanent basis.

  68. Water Runner*

    I work for an organisation that uses hotdesking. When the organisation moved to the building they are in now how it would work was explained to the staff, each team has its own area and everyone chooses a desk in their teams area, everyone gets their own locker to keep their bits and pieces in and there are places in the office where special chairs will be kept when not being used. The staff mostly sit at the same desks each day. People who have special chairs just keep their chair at the desk they normally sit at.

  69. Free Meerkats*

    A few thoughts on potential roadblocks.

    Software licenses: Unless everyone will have a laptop (and the mention of docking sounds like they might), every computer will have to have a license for every bit of software anyone might need to use.
    Computers (subject to assumption above): All computers will have to be speced for the most powerful needs. If you have a couple of video editors, every computer will have to have multiple fast processors, high-end GPU(s), and maxed RAM.
    Monitors: All monitors – same thing as computers.

    Storage of items:
    If you’re in the snow belt, room for everyone’s boots and overwear – secured so my $800 snow boots custom made for my duck feet (11 EEEEE shoes are tough to find) and Mabel’s fur-lined snow coat don’t leave with someone else.
    You’ll have 150 rolling files that need someplace to be every night. Can’t leave them under a desk, that would be claiming it for the next day.
    You need 150 personal stuff lockers.

    Appearances: I’ve been in government since the mid 70s. If we aren’t working in Dickensian workshop conditions, there will be a group of taxpayers who will find out and complain to the council/mayor about how their “tax money is being wasted on high-end computers and monitors when I could buy a computer for $400 at Best Buy!” Or something else, like being allowed to work from a coffee shop or from home.

    1. Observer*

      Don’t worry about appearances – hot desking or not, someone is going to complain about the “waste”.

  70. Liz A*

    My company hot-desks (though we call it hoteling) and we use a reservation system called AgilQuest. You can reserve up to 14 days, up to 45 days in advance, and it shows you maps of the floors and what is and isn’t available. It got rid of all worries of employees that come in earlier taking the “best” desks, and people that reserve in advance tend to stay in the same desk instead of moving around. I’ve not moved once, and we started in January. I’ve kept up my plants and photos, and it’s worked really, really well.

  71. Shoes on My Cat*

    If an office must hit desk, and it does seem like yours is one, in addition to laying out the why to everyone, it might help cut down resentment if those who get permanent desks get the worst ones. Then everyone gets a “well at least my desk is….” Fill in the blank: Permanent/not in that horrible spot the permanents have to work in/I can get a different one tomorrow. If the early birds are bad enough, you can also make a policy that no one is to be at desk more than 15 min prior to clock in. If earlier, hang out in cafeteria. My hotel did this, except you had to stay off site, to reduce the people coming in hours early to get extra free meals. -they gave 30 minutes though so people could shower before shift since some biked to work and some didn’t have hot showers at home).

  72. sally*

    In my experience, It’s always those low in the hierarchy that have to hotdesk. Those with any seniority get a permanent “hot desk” and then look down on those who have issue with making the sacrifice that in reality they never make.

    1. Windchime*

      I’ve never had to hot-desk, but this is the impression I get as well. And proponents of hot-desking always say, “Well, it can work because we carve out quiet spaces with sofas, private rooms for telephone conversations, and lots of conference rooms.” Why is there room for sofas and private phones and (extra) conference rooms, but not room for desks?

  73. Jane*

    The majority of our staff now hot desk across our entire building. It’s nice to have the flexibilty to move around and sit in different locations depending on your work requirements (i.e needing quite space to concentrate vs needing space to collaborate on a project) but it does suck that you can’t personalise your desk. Our company has a policy that anyone with an identified work, health and safety requirement and people working in certain roles that need special equipment get a designated desk – everyone else including managers must hot desk. There are also certain ‘rules’ everyone has to follow such as keeping noise levels down in quite spaces, not leaving desks messy at the end of the day, no passive aggressive behaviour around snagging the best desk etc. So far the whole system seems to work well and most people are happy to have more space rather then being crammed in like sardines.

  74. Lilly*

    Is there a chance to rent extra office space nearby, or near locations where there’s lots of training? I’ve done a bit of work with a company (Breather) that offers this – kind of a “space as a service” thing, and it’s super economical for startups scaling fast, or big companies testing new locations/building new teams (daily/weekly/monthly leases and fixed space/layout help, vs a 5 yr office lease, and no bro coworking space issues – it’s their space.) If you’re in a city there’s a good chance of a service like that being around, and one or two satellites and more WFH might be a cheaper bandaid than the morale/productivity/renovation issues from hotdesking if it’s only the next year or two.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      If the way I feel, along with some of these posts, is any indication, I would see hot desking as the very last, tried everything else, no other options, going nuclear resort. Don’t forget to include all the management and logistics and new equipment that will be required to implement hot desking in your projections!
      I think it would be better to assign a few hot desks/hot deskers based on job function than to do the whole office. Or have only new people hot desk as I posted below.

  75. UK Civil Servant*

    Lots of comments about chairs and mice, but ‘special’ desk set ups for disability go way beyond those. *Please* consult thoroughly with your staff who have desk related “reasonable adjustments”, *and* with those who don’t have them now but might need them if you move to hot desking.
    E.g. someone with autism or an anxiety disorder may be fine now but extremely stressed by hot desking. Or the correct setup for a bad back may involve a precise position for the monitor and keyboard not just a chair. Or someone with ADHD may struggle with a desk on a corridor vs in a corner. Etc etc etc.

    Involve Occ Health, and consult with other Civil Sevice departments’ especially any employee disability networks – someone will have handled this situation before.

    We have hot desking, but “Priority Desks” are given to those who need them, labelled with what not to move, and with a little timetable of expected occupancy. However, if the priority occupant shows up to find someone else sitting there they are allowed to evict them – no argument.

  76. Ms Male Doninated Industry*

    I’ve worked for the same company in two countries (one of those the UK), who had two different responses to limited space.

    1. The UK business is 100% hotdesking for everyone below Director level. EAs also get permanent desks. Everyone else has a locker that they must put their gear in every night. Also, hotdesks are grouped by teams (I.e this bank of desks is finance, this bank of desks is sales), and people in the teams have a right to use those desks up until 10am (I.e they can ask someone to move from their desk). This helps teams to work together.

    2. In the other business senior managers/directors/partners/EAs had permanent desks. Graduates and second year staff had a “grad cave” area, with no assigned seating, but the tables were large and shareable which suited this experience level (plus lockers). Everyone in between was assigned two to a desk (I.e this is Jane and Bob’s desk. Whoever is in first gets to use the desk and the other uses a spare desk, there’s cabinets for each person under the desk and you can personalise half the desk if needed. This worked as the pairs weren’t often in at the same time).

    I quite disliked the hotdesking in the UK office, as I ended up sitting in the same place a lot of the time, but had to pack away everything every night. The second office worked well, and I did enjoy the collegial environment the “grad cave” area encouraged, as well as knowing that getting promoted = desk. Which was a further encouraging point. WFH was also brought into the second office and encouraged for flexibility.

  77. Tallulah in the Sky*

    There are already a lot of comments here, but I’ll still add my experience to the mix.

    I work in the IT department of bank, which has something like 6.500 employees in one building. We were formerly spread in two buildings, but the whole org went through a whole reorganization about how we work. People are allowed to work from home two days a week, so there should be 70% of employees present in the building. The smaller building was dropped, and hot desking was set in place to maximize the space. We were all a bit apprehensive about this, but I think our company did a good job and there haven’t been many complaints about this.

    – We have lockers and were provided boxes (with compartments) to store our work stuff and easily transport it to our desk. Those who want their own mouse and keyboard can store it there.
    – Everyone got computers, and every desk has a docking station.
    – Teams are still kept together by delimiting areas. For example, my team has a quarter of the 7th floor. People from outside the team can still work there if need be (need to work closely with our team for a project, their area is at full capacity,…) so it’s still flexible, but team work isn’t lost either.
    – Some people because of the nature of their job have fixed desks still. Same for people with special circumstances, they are allowed to have a fixed desk. They have to clean their desk up just like anyone else though, so that someone can use their desk when they’re not here. I also think that’s why nobody cares they have fixed desks.
    – People usually still sit at the same 1-2 desks, which are close to each other. The ones who change the most are the ones who come in late (like me !)

    We’ve been asked feedback on this new way of working (which is this + other stuff), and I didn’t hear anyone complain about hot desking. I think it’s due to the majority of people only needing a computer to do their job, and I think our company did everything to make it as painless as possible. Also, we were already working in an open space environment, so it didn’t feel like we were losing our desks or an office. The first few weeks were a bit annoying, but that’s just because we had to change some of our habits.

    I read some people would miss the ability to customize their work space. Me and my colleagues didn’t really do that, so I don’t know how much of a blow it can be. Plus our company try to make the space as warm and inviting and pleasant as possible (it’s colorful, we have sitting areas, a babyfoot table,…). What I’ve seen some people do is store some frames in their boxes and place them on their desk for the day when they set up.

    And I know what some might think about having to set up your desk and clean it each day, and it was annoying at first, but it really just takes a couple of minutes. Plus cleaning up after yourself is something far too few people do on their own…

    1. Tallulah in the Sky*

      I just read more of the comments and… Oh my god am I thankful for having non-stealing coworkers and a respectful management !

      One last word for OP : we weren’t happy when they announced this change at first either. But now it’s just how we work, and it’s all good. I think what helped is having management making this as easy as possible (individual lockers, easy to move storage boxes, docking stations) and enforcing the rules (there was a team who at one point came working in our area, forcing some of our team to go sit at the other side of the floor, making things harder for the team (plus they were super loud); we complained once and it was resolved). So take care of your employees, listen to their complaints and take them seriously.

  78. Dom*

    I interned for a law firm that did hot-desking for a lot of the same reasons you want to do it, OP- people traveling, for example. Two things you might want to consider:
    1. You said your office works in teams- the biggest issue I encountered with the hot-desking was it had the huge potential to separate team members. The firm I was working for had teams for different areas of law, and usually enough people were out each day that we could sit together in teams. BUT if attendance was good one day, you’d sometimes have a team member or two or three forced to go work at an empty desk halfway across the office. This got incredibly frustrating when I was supposed to be working with someone else but couldn’t easily go talk to them. If you need team members to easily communicate, hot-desking might not work as well.
    2. Seniority issues- some of the more senior people on each team had what was considered “their” desk. Occasionally I was told: “Oh, Jane is out today, just sit at her desk…” Jane was the manager, I was the lowly intern. Needless to say, depending on the hierarchy, hot desk arrangements could get uncomfortable, especially if people lay unofficial claim to “their” desk. It’s super weird to feel like you’re taking your grand-boss’s desk.

  79. CHACHA*

    My concern is overpacking people is such a small work space. If this office is in the US their are state and local fire and building codes that must be followed. Are their adequate restroom facilities? Safety must always be the first consideration.

    1. Antilles*

      I’m usually all for “if the higher-ups had to deal with this, it would get fixed quickly” argument…but hot-desking is actually one of the few exceptions where the argument unfortunately doesn’t work from a practical standpoint. The nature of a CEO/senior executive role in most organizations bigger than a few people really demands an office with a certain level of privacy. It’s just not feasible to discuss sensitive company financials, company performance, layoffs/firings, meetings with lawyers, and so forth at a hot-desk where you can be overheard, documents left exposed, etc.

      1. only acting normal*

        Our CEO et al hotdesk (in total open plan too) same as the rest of us. If they want a private meeting they (their EA anyway) book a meeting room, same as the rest of us. We all handle sensitive info where I work, so the execs don’t have a monopoly on needing private spaces.

      2. LPUK*

        Yes. Worked for a company which was open plan and the CEO and leadership team sat in the same desks as the rest of us – though they were permanent. They had one dedicated conference room for any private conversations , confidential working, but if they weren’t using it anyone else could do so, as long as they accepted that if one of the management team needed it, you got out. Use was monitored by the EA who had leadership diaries, so you had a pretty good sense of how likely that was. Worked well.

    2. Ex-Disability Manager*

      Ours do. Only the three super head honchos have offices (and actually one decided not to tak one); that are used predominantly for really important secret meetings. The head head honcho (CEO) has also said if he isn’t using the office, anyone can (I am yet to try that!!)

    3. Toots McBoo*

      Yes. This. I’ve been in two different areas of government that switched to hot-desking. Both were a complete disaster for morale and retaining talent. The people that travel and work from home the most are the upper management. Their offices also take up the most space by far. They have the argument that they need private space for private conversations, but the reality is that we all do. And everyone needs private space to simply think and do work.

  80. Grey*

    Employees who use special chairs, mice and keyboards are probably doing this for medical reasons. They should fill out a simple 504 Reasonable Accommodation Request and ask that they be allowed to use their own equipment everyday. This will force your employer solve the issue.

  81. T*

    Hot desking is the worst. I share a desk with a guy who comes in on his WFH days, and constantly hangs around the desk. He comes by literally 15 times a day to talk, grab snacks etc. and interrupts me every time. I’ve literally had to tell him to go away when I was on the phone. Currently job searching and if I find out a potential job has this set up it will be a deal breaker.

  82. automaticdoor*

    My husband’s large accounting firm hot desks nationwide. All accountants except the partners (who have dedicated office space) have to hot desk now. (Not sure about HR, support staff, etc., who don’t generally leave the main office, but I think they have dedicated space too.) It works for them because at least half the office is out on any given day at client sites. There’s a reservations system set up, and you get better space depending on staff level. For example, when he goes in, he can check out a whole office because he’s a director; managers can share an office (two at a time), and associates/senior associates get cubes. There was a lot of complaining at first, but folks adjusted. Also, there’s so much turnover among the younger staff that basically only the partners, directors and managers at this point remember pre-hot desking. I believe each office/desk has standard equipment because they all need multiple monitors. Everyone has a laptop and a locked storage space. So, it can be successful!

  83. TokenArchaeologist*

    What about telecommuting? I can’t tell from the e-mail if it’s an option with the type of work people are doing, but it might be another option. Or an option for staff who are really uncomfortable with hot-desking. I had a job in the past where I found out my first day on the job that I would be hot-desking. (They didn’t tell me before hand, because they didn’t realize until that morning that they didn’t have a space for me!) Honestly, after that experience, hot-desking five days a week would be a deal breaker for me. But, if I could work from home the majority of the time, and hot-desk say, once a week, when I absolutely had to be in the office I would take that compromise.

  84. JerryLarryTerryGarry*

    Have a reservation system, black out desks for people that are the wrong height or otherwise don’t fit their ergo needs.
    Set aside space for extras- tissues, trash bags, cleaning wipes, mice and keyboards, staplers, pens- throughout so people don’t have to wander to set up their area. Lots of extra chairs so people who needs special set-ups can swap but others can have one. Chair migration is a real thing, they form Vs and everything.

  85. Gaia*

    At OldJob we were rapidly running out of space. We took over extra space in the building and immediately filled it. Unfortunately, because of the type of company OldJob is, moving is not something that can occur without 5 – 7 years of planning and growth at this speed just hadn’t been predicted that far out. A plan is in place to build new space and move (and space that can accommodate much faster growth for many years to come), but for the time being we faced the hard reality that there were too many people and not enough space. So, hot desking it was!

    Out office broke out like this:

    A: 50% of the staff spent more than 3/4 of their day away from their desk in a different work space
    B: 30% of the staff spent more than 1/2 of their day away from their desk in a different work space.
    C: 10% of the staff spent more than 1/4 of their day away from their desk in a different work space.
    D: 10% of the staff spent less than 1 hour of their day away from their desk in a different work space.

    If you fell into group C or D you kept a permanent desk, in a permanent space. If you fell into A or B, you were assigned to “hot desking.” We had enough hot desks for 60% of these people to be at a desk at any given time. These desks were identified with little signs and special mousepads (with ergonomic info on them). We moved to chairs that were easier and quicker to adjust and we gave everyone in group A and B a locker and a rolling file cabinet (which slid into the locker). Everyone had their own laptop, keyboard, and mouse.

    It wasn’t popular at first and it took a bit of adjustment but it ended up working really rather well. People tended to fall into predictable schedules and as far as I could tell we rarely (if ever) came across a situation where a desk was needed and one wasn’t available.

  86. LL*

    Hot desking would drive me nuts because I would have to wipe down all the surfaces (desk, keyboard, etc.) because I am a bit of a germaphobe and who knows who sat there before me. I would need a storage locker for my chlorox wipes!

  87. Dwight*

    My input might not be what you’re looking for, but I can attest that I would be looking for a new job if my company instituted hot desking or an open office. Feels very unprofessional, and my performance would suffer being forced to adapt to a new environment every day. It sounds strange that I would need to re-adapt, but we’re creatures of habit.

  88. Michaela Westen*

    I would so hate hot desking and I’m very glad I don’t have to do it.
    I would try some other things first.
    1. Instead of announcing you’re going to hot desk and asking for input, how about asking for input before the decision to hot desk? Maybe your colleagues will have ideas no one has thought of.
    2. A middle ground: how about keeping the assigned desks, and having people without desks use the empty desks? Then it would be new people who hot desk and people who’ve had their own desks can continue to have them.
    To me this seems like the least stressful solution. New people will become accustomed to hot-desking as part of learning the job and old-timers won’t be disrupted while a longer-term solution to the space shortage is being worked on.

  89. Lily in NYC*

    I love my job and have been here over 10 years. I think having to switch to hot-desking would be a dealbreaker for me. I went from an office to a cubicle and adapted. Then we went from cubicles to open floor plans – I don’t love it but I adapted ok. But this? Hell no.

  90. Data Miner*

    I worked in public accounting in NYC and they’re hotdesking set up seemed to work efficiently. There was an online reservation system that was tied to your phone number, so you HAD to find a desk if you were going to make/receive calls. That also gave you leverage to kick out squatters (“sorry, the client is calling me and your in my desk…”). We had lockers for our overnight stuff (pretty big ones, too) and if you couldn’t find/reserve a desk, there were common areas you could work from that didn’t require reservations (you could also reserve for a full week, one week in advance). Weekends were free-for-alls since plans changed quickly and teams would try to sit together.

  91. Sukisuz1013*

    Ugh, this sounds horrible, however, there is something that is really glaring to me, and as someone who has worked in commercial property management for 20 years, the main sticking point for me was what OP said about the occupancy.

    “I work in a large department of a large civil service. We have a department of 130 employees and occupy one of the most densely occupied buildings in our branch. It is open plan and we are crammed in like battery hens. We have no funding for more office space and nowhere else to expand into, and any office move would be at least two years in the future (if at all). We currently have the issue that we only have 110 desks but 130 staff, which will likely rise to 150 in the next few months.”

    Forgive me forgive me if this has already been brought up, but I am inclined to think when the OP mentioned they were in “civil services” I think of a government agency, however regardless if they are or not, it sounds like OP’s office has a serious building and fire code violation occurring, and this could be the reason why management is implementing the “hot desk” solution. If this a government agency there are federal laws they must abide by, and if this is a non-government entity, they must be compliant with their local government’s codes. What it comes down to is how many bodies are occupying a designated square footage at any given time, and how many exits are available in the event of an emergency. Unfortunately, OP’s office may not have a choice and will have to do what they can to make this work until they can expand, or move.

  92. Billy the Squid*

    Someone else may have mentioned this, and apologies if someone did, but news like this is often easier to accept if it has a known lifespan. Ideally, you would want to say something like, “This will only be in effect for six months.” If you can’t give a good idea of when it will be over, can you promise to revisit every x months?

    Also, you may want to present it to everyone or to a focus group before making changes and asking what can be done to make it easier for everyone. They will appreciate being involved instead of having a major change implemented without any say.

    Lastly, is working from home an option for some employees? That could alleviate some of this.

  93. wheeeee*

    Ugh, hotdesking is the WORST. SO DEMORALIZING AND DISRUPTIVE. If you don’t have the $$ or space for most of your employees and they can’t work from home, then DON’T HIRE SO MANY PEOPLE. Workspace should be factored into expenses and should come closer to the number of employees (again, unless some can work from home).

    1. Michaela Westen*

      Yes, that’s how I would feel if it was forced on me. Demoralized and disrupted. The moving around would also impact productivity.

  94. Cold-Desking*

    I’ve worked in 2 places that did hotdesking, 1 successfully and 1 unsuccessfully.

    The unsuccessful 1 first: They implemented it for the same reasons you’ve given: hiring too fast and outgrowing the current space. It was an open plan office with some “non-traditional” work spaces, like booths near the breakroom, a bar with stools by the window, etc. They implemented the change during a move to a new office, which was still too small, and everyone had a locker where they could store things. Chairs were the same, equipment was the same. The problem is that, on days when a lot of people showed up to work in the office there still were not enough workspaces. Even in a small office it took roughly thirty minutes to find a desk and get set up every morning. There was a rush for the desks close to windows. People didn’t clean the desk or the keyboard/monitor the day before so you had to wipe it down before using it. Flus and cold spread more easily, which means more people taking sick days. And no amount of hotdesking can solve the space issue. The crush for space meant teams that needed to work together couldn’t find places to sit together and collaborate. They eventually gave assigned seats to some people but not to others, which also went over poorly.

    The successful office: Also a brand new office, so the hotdesking was in place from day 1. We had lockers for storage (big enough to leave supplies and laptop). The difference with this office is that they had PLENTY of space. They had more space than they needed to start off with and were planning to grow into it. There were plentiful desks in all areas of the office, along with things like booths that could be used for small meetings, couches, some desks grouped into “team pods” and other sections with the desks all arranged in rows. Teams gravitated together. People who needed to be alone to focus drifted off on their own and found a quiet spot. The spread of disease was still an issue with this office, but they had better cleaners that came through every night and cleaned every single desk and keyboard/mouse.

    This boils down to the fact that hotdesking will not solve the problem that you’ve outgrown your space, and implementing in an office where people previously had assigned desks will probably be difficult (they will always thing of that desk as “my old desk”.) You already said you’re crammed in like hens. You will still be crammed in like hens with hotdesking, just now everyone will also be mad that they had to come in and spend ten minutes hunting for a desk and another ten minutes setting up their station in the morning. Combining hotdesking together with a more robust WFH policy for people who don’t need to be in the office, or with an overall office redesign to make the space more efficient might help. But you need a bigger office. Or you need to switch to hiring remote employees. Anyone you hire is going to expect that you have a workspace for them, and right now it sounds like you don’t.

  95. Ex-Disability Manager*

    So in my old role I worked on a project specifically about implementing a completely hot desking environment in an office and how we catered to people with workplace adjustments. This is what we did and how it worked (and I do believe it works) p.s I work for a huge global company and this was for a big office.
    1. A special chair does not mean a fixed desk. Some people have fixed desks if they have other larger specialist equipment (we have circa 8 in 2000)
    2. We have strict rules regarding specialist chairs. If it’s not yours, your butt stays off it. We have no space for specialist chaies, they get stored near teams.
    3. Teams have zones. They usually sit in those zones (helps to find people). Those zones aren’t sacred and you can sit where you like, but people tend to sit in their zones
    4. We all have lockers and they are a decent size. Specialist keyboards and mice sit there. (We actually all have our own keyboards and mice that we get out).
    5. We have 2 in 1 devices and to use a desk we just have to plug one cable in. This means setting up in the morning is super simple, it also means moving desks is super simple
    6. We have a lot of other furniture for meetings, casual working, touchdown. We are encouraged to only occupy a desk if we truly need to.
    7. They worked out ratios based on analysing average holidays, absence, working from home and other reasons people may be out of the office (client visits etc)

    This took a lot of time and investment to implement properly. They consulted workplace specialists and really had to get staff on board with the vibe and the reason. Some people still don’t love it, but mostly it works, and we never have an issue that some people simply can’t find a desk, because the ratios are right .

  96. Jaid_Diah*

    My federal agency is developing procedures for WFH. I think so far we have three units of CSR’s (phone work) involved. When walking through the area, there’s a unit’s worth of cubicles with a paper attached with days of the week marked off. It’s clearly notated for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday with the names of the three individuals who will occupy the desk each day when they come in. Specialized equipment such as ADA chairs are set aside for their users to retrieve. One desk is set aside and has sight-impaired equipment left on it.
    I know they were given computer bags. I don’t know how they handle the overhead bins and under desk drawers.
    Personally my concern for them is cleanliness and the fact that my building has issues with bedbugs. Hi Buddy from Pest Control Services!

  97. Autistic Farm Girl*

    Don’t hot desk, it is hell for anyone who has special needs. I have a special chair, footrest, standing desk, in a particular location of the room, keyboard and mouse and to begin with i had to argue with people who thoght my desk looked comfier than theirs (it is, there’s a reason why it is) and it came to the point where my whole team doesn’t hot desk anymore to avoid people being horrible and “stealing” my adjustments.

    Even people without adjustments find hot desking hell, and we’ve found that people still end up always sitting in the same area/same desk, so it defeats the point.

    We have teenie tiny lockers, that barely hold 3 big folders, which is useless. If i had to actually hot desk and fight for my desk every day i would quit. I cannot deal with it.

  98. Toots McBoo*

    Ugh, commenting for the first time just to rant about how much I truly, deeply loathe hot-desking. Many commenters have noted how awful this set up is for people with special physical needs but hot-desking is a unique hell for people with hidden disabilities too such as anxiety, ptsd, chronic migraines, or any type of trauma recovery. It is a big problem to try to cope with the instability of the physical work situation without outing your condition to your supervisor and even then it is unlikely they will find a solution. People with these types of conditions may need a space that is quiet, private, personalized, has a certain lighting situation, or personal items to be able to work effectively. I’ll also note that it makes ergonomics an every day issue for absolutely everyone with a new arrangement of chairs, desks, and keyboards to adjust everyday.

    From your description it sounds like we may be coming from the same workplace. I have worked in two government settings that had outgrown their physical spaces. The problems stemming from hot-desking are far too numerous to even touch on all of them. You didn’t mention the nature of the work being done. In my government agency we were doing research, analysis, and program management. Everyone had advanced degrees. When my private space was taken away I had to take my degrees off my wall, take all my reference books home, and throw out tons of past work product I liked to have around to reference. I no longer had a wall to use to hang up things I needed to reference often. I no longer had a white board to write out ideas on. Even taking calls, personal or for work meetings, became a huge problem without physical space routinely available. Upper management just pretended that these things were not problems because everyone had the problem. You might be able to guess that this led to the best researchers leaving for consulting, pharma, and academics. The brightest young people leave their fellowships and don’t try to stick around for an fte.

    One branch implemented the switch to hot-desking far better than the other. I could write a book on that alone, but it doesn’t change the fundamental issue in this setting that people need physical space to do their work. Period. Hot-desking came from the consulting world where consultants were spending most of their time on-site with the client. Consultants make tons of money from the demands of their work. Government employees do not, or rather, could always be earning more in the private sector. In government, hot-desking has come about to hide the failures of upper management to secure the resources they need. End of story.

    1. Commenting Nymph*

      I really feel this. I have a lot of idiosyncrasies/mental health issues that on their own are not enough to discuss with my employer and also probably not enough on their own to get ADA accommodations for. I manage alright currently but hotdesking sounds like hell. It would throw half of my at-work coping mechanisms out the window and I would be pissed if this came up in a job that didn’t require it by the nature of the work. And I don’t apply for jobs that obviously do require that kind of flexibility.

      And then there are all of the more common things I do – like keeping lotion on my desk and my favorite mints and pens and a med kit with pads/tampons and my pain reliever of choice in my desk. Like putting post-it notes all over the edges of my monitor and other things I use to remember what I’m working on. Like you, I brought in reference books from home. Sure, there are other workarounds for these things – but why intentionally make life harder for your employees who spend more waking hours at work than they do at home?

      I’m in the process of trying to get a special desk modification because of some issues I’ve been having. During the ergonomics assessment, one of the things the risk management officer asked was whether I’m the only person who uses my desk. It’s healthier for employees to have the keyboard at the right height, the chair at the right height/firmness/etc, and the monitors placed correctly. It prevents injuries if people are able to have their work space arranged for their body. People shouldn’t require special accommodations in order to be treated as human beings.

  99. Scarlet*

    OP, my company’s building is going to move to hotdesking at the end of the year.

    I have all the concerns most people here have, but one extra is emergency scenarios. We’re in an earthquake zone, and people are required to keep emergency kits, and it’s not been made clear exactly what we’re supposed to do with these in this hotdesk scenario. Do they move with us? They probably should, because they’re personal (e.g. should contain a couple of days worth of any medications), and I’m not sure how much use it is if you’re working on the 7th floor to have to go to your locker on the 12th floor to get your stuff before you can leave the building. Because, yes, while they’re talking about the potential for flexi-group-areas, there *is* the possibility people will end up working spread across multiple floors, because that already happens with the floors that are currently “hot”.

    So I guess – think about your emergency processes, and how these might be impacted by people not being in a consistent location (fixed desk/not on site are both straightforward). Do you have employees who might require assistance to evacuate? Can you be sure they’re findable? Currently, our floor wardens know who our folk in this situation are, and know their desk numbers, so they can give this info easily to emergency personnel. And speaking of floor wardens, if you have any equivalent, or your registered first-aiders, consider where they’ll be in an emergency.

  100. short_stuff*

    We hot desk. It is fine.

    The set up is that desks are essentially identical, they all have docking stations, keyboards, mice and monitors, and chairs suitable for nearly everyone. They also each have 2 power points and 2 additional USB ports. Every member of staff gets a locker and a box for carting stuff around in. The locker is about the same size as an archive box. The office has great wireless and other spaces for formal and informal meetings and discussions. About 1 in 6 desks have double monitors, and 1 in 8 desks is height adjustable.

    The process for getting there was combined with improving the aesthetics of the space which made the working environment more pleasant. And everyone up to and including the CEO hot desks, and the rule about WFH is that the default answer is ‘yes’. We have a clear desk policy which is adhered to pretty well, there’s no desk ownership but there are people who have ‘preferred desks’. This is tolerated as long as they do not make a fuss if someone else uses ‘their’ desk.

    I think the main reason why the transition was successful is that it was part of a genuine commitment to making the organisation a great place to work, and so we now have nice things in general (fair and flexible policies, decent equipment etc).

  101. Jessie*

    We did this at a former job of mine (and called it hotel-ing). Here are a couple issues that came up:
    -I work in accounting and the five of us who do were allowed to keep our permanent desks since we have special printers, check deposit machines, and were located physically close to confidential file cabinets and where our screens couldn’t be easily seen (I did payroll, it was bad enough doing this with an open office plan). A number of people made comments showing they didn’t think it was fair.
    -VPs and exec-level employees did not clear their desks at the end of the day/week like everyone was supposed to, and effectively staked claim to the desks they wanted. Nobody wanted to ask them to move or respect the new rules, since they supervised so many of the people who would have been asking. We ended up with just lower-level employees hotel-ing and exec-levels doing whatever they wanted and basically keeping permanent desks.
    -People reserved our small conference rooms to work in if they didn’t like their desk options. This really made the whole problem of having too many people in the space, much worse. It was hell trying to reserve a conference room for actual meetings. I had a VP for our company refuse to leave a small conference room I reserved when I was supposed to be interviewing a candidate in there.

    It was like all decency and sense of sharing space went out the window and turned into an every person for themselves kind of environment. I think this is because so many people were not on board with the idea when it was implemented. You really need buy-in from most everyone, including and especially upper-level managers who are going to set the pace and be good (or terrible) examples.

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