New Desk, Who Dis? Hot Desking And The Hybrid Workplace

By Melody Brue, Patrick Moorhead - June 2, 2023

Hot desking was popularized in the 1990s to save space and reduce costs. In its simplest form, hot desking is a flexible office arrangement in which employees don’t have assigned desks. It originated to maximize office space in an expensive real estate market and has evolved to include shared spaces and shared devices.

Hot desking has become increasingly relevant today thanks to the rise of hybrid work. It can provide a temporary workspace for remote workers who need a change of scenery or access to office amenities. As a category, hot desking now includes both the office space itself and the technologies and devices that go along it. In this article, I’ll look at how employers are using hot desking as a resource maximizer, what benefits it can provide to workers and the evolving technologies supporting it.

What is hot desking?

Hot desking provides a flexible seating arrangement so that employees can use or book a workstation in the office as needed and on their own schedules. These days it’s often driven by a preference for hybrid work, but it’s also been used for decades in settings such as call centers and distribution centers.

Fun fact: The term can trace its origins to the U.S. Navy, where a similar-sounding practice called “hot racking” was used. Because space was limited on ships, sailors would sleep in shifts, such that bunks would remain “hot” from their previous occupants.

The benefits of coming in hot

Hot desking answers the need for flexible hybrid working arrangements by allowing employees to work from the office when needed without carrying the expense of a fully dedicated space that isn’t fully utilized. It also allows employees to work from different locations and collaborate in person with different people based on what works best for their jobs. Indeed, companies can increase employee satisfaction and engagement by allowing employees to choose the best location for their work. This is supported by a wave of research that has emerged since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, such as a recent study which showed that workers with full schedule flexibility reported a 29% increase in productivity and a 53% greater ability to focus.

Of course, there are some downsides to not having a dedicated workspace when returning to the office. Some employees may feel uncomfortable when they lack control over their environment. I’m a big fan of clutter-free workspaces, so it doesn’t bother me not to have a place to display family photos or my “#1 Mom” mug. However, many people like to have personal items on hand while they’re at work, and hot desking requires any personal accoutrements to be transient.

With any open workspace, noise and distractions can be a problem. While some employees enjoy the variety and social opportunities of hot desking, others may find it stressful or distracting. Beyond that, for those with disabilities, hot desking limits many of the ergonomic or functional accommodations that cater to their unique needs.

Building relationships with colleagues can also be more difficult in a hot desking environment, simply because you don’t have the same office neighbors sitting around you day in and day out. However, working cross-functionally and collaborating with people one might not normally interact with could prove to be very valuable in some situations.

The hot topic isn’t relegated to desks

As the popularity of hot desking increases for all the reasons mentioned above, there are also many technological advancements to support the trend. Coworking apps, cloud storage and shared devices make hot desking more accessible and convenient. Enhanced security on endpoint devices makes shared spaces more secure. Workplaces have also developed mobile apps that allow employees to check desk availability, reserve desks and find colleagues within the office. These apps can also provide information about the office layout, amenities and services.

Hot desking offers call center workers, salespeople and other customer-facing employees who use a company phone the flexibility to work from different locations. For example, RingCentral provides a solution that enables employees to share phones across various offices while maintaining their unique extension profiles and voicemail access. This reduces a company’s investment in facilities and hardware and allows employees to use shared phones without sacrificing productivity. Administrative controls provide device analytics, along with extra security measures such as the ability to log out remotely.

With RingCentral’s solution and many other hot desking technologies, the magic happens by quickly turning any shared device into a private one by scanning a QR code or keying in a code or PIN. Employees can then access all the tools needed to stay organized and connected regardless of location, with files, calendars, meeting software and more all instantly personalized and accessible.

Final hot takes

Hot desking is part of a more significant trend towards flexible and remote work arrangements. Physical workspaces must continue to adapt to accommodate hot desking and other flexible office arrangements. Cisco’s new Atlanta hub is an excellent example of a space built with this kind of flexibility in mind, in terms of both employee preference and device deployment.

I love to see devices and spaces that offer user-friendly solutions that help employees work smarter and help companies provide flexibility while maximizing productivity and resources. I think hot desking is a trend that is just warming up, and that we’ll see a lot more innovation in this space in the next few years.

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Mel Brue is vice president and principal analyst covering modern work and financial services. Mel has more than 25 years of real tech industry experience in marketing, business development, and communications across various disciplines, both in-house and at agencies, with companies ranging from start-ups to global brands. She has built a unique specialty working in technology and highly regulated spaces, such as mobile payments and finance, gaming, automotive, wine and spirits, and mobile content, ensuring initiatives address the needs of customers, employees, lobbyists and legislators, as well as shareholders. 

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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.