Inside the Latest Office-Design Craze: Hot Desking
The cubicle's days are numbered.
A concept called "hot desking" is rewriting the rules on how companies should landscape their work environments. By ditching desks and dividers, the hot-desking faithful make the entire office--and more--their workspace. This free-range approach, in which employees (and their laptops) shuffle between open tables, couches, and stations, encourages greater collaboration and innovation among co-workers. The beauty with hot desking is that (unlike its cubed counterpart), there's no right or wrong way to do it.
We spoke with founders and managers at five companies to get a feel for their different approaches to ditching assigned seating.
Josh Dunford | Founder of Burnkit Studio | Vancouver, British Columbia
"Burnkit's design studio is a warehouse in a formerly industrial area pushed up against the harbor and the railway tracks. The space has a character that's a little bit raw. I liked the rawness compared with a climate-controlled cubicle. It's a working warehouse, and I like the feeling of work. What I love about it is that there's room to think. We have a 22-foot ceiling, and in a creative space like ours, it gives us room to think. We're a creative crew, and we have creative teams inside our space, so we like the open environment. The desks are custom made and completely open, and we're set so that we can turn our screens and face one another. It's nice to be able to see everyone, and to have a level of connection and contact. Just with our size, only 12 people, we are like a family. Our culture here is that we trust everyone, and the space is conducive to that style."
Maja Henderson | Office manager of Square | San Francisco
"We have a completely open floor plan. It creates this really open, comfortable environment where people can just walk up and engage one another in a way that wouldn't happen with a typical office. There are so many environments that the day ends up flying because you're constantly moving. We don't want our employees sitting in one chair all day, because that's not good for them and it's not good for collaboration. We just get these really great intersections of people and ideas. For instance, a lot of times our CEO, when he has some down time, will hang out at a stand-up table to do some work. And that provides an employee the opportunity to have some face time with him. They'll start chatting, and then someone else will see them and walk up to talk. This keeps happening, and then suddenly and randomly, we'll have these conversations with people from finance, legal, design, and you get these collaborations that wouldn't otherwise occur. I love how flexible it is, and that there are always different people sitting at my desk. It makes me feel more in touch with my co-workers and what's going on in the company."
Navin Thukkaram | COO of Qwiki, an interactive video start-up | New York City
"Our office, located in SoHo, is essentially one large loft space with exposed brick and a high ceiling. And we wanted to maintain the integrity of that openness. We spent a long time wondering how openness would affect the culture and collaboration of the team, and what we came up with was a series of very long desks, 12 feet or so by five feet. We've been here about eight months, and the results are A+ so far. The intention was to have a collaborative work environment in which our Web team could collaborate with the design team and with the CEO. And I think a lot of that has happened; everyone works together seamlessly. When people are just talking together, that's when the magic happens. Since our shared desks are so large, we all eat lunch and dinner together very often. Having those casual conversations goes a long way. We're always looking for those "a-ha" moments, and those are easier to come by when you have a lot of smart people around the table, and I think that's true for a lot of tech companies."
Jess Hanebury | Community manager at Threadless | Chicago
"The office is like an elementary school setup, with pods of four desks facing one another. But you can turn around, and there's another pod behind you. Each department is close to the others. By being right near the production team, we get to see new stuff that's happening. They'll try out new stuff for our select lines, dresses, and more. And sometimes, we get to contribute and let them know what we like. That open structure really makes it easier for people across departments to throw in their two cents. At Threadless, the roles are defined, but you don't have to stay confined within your little niche. Since I know what new products we have coming up, I can plan ahead. By being six feet away, I'll hear that a product is coming, and then I can plan an event in advance. I can literally still sit at my desk and talk to people in other departments about strategies. It's far easier to say, 'Let's go sit on the couch.' Impromptu conversations are much easier when you're right next to one another. It's about 10 times easier to hash out ideas. Collaboration is the best part of the job, and you can't get that in a cubicle."
Brooke Moreland | Founder of Fashism, an online fashion and community retail site | General Assembly incubator space in New York City
"We loved the community and having a bunch of other companies around for social reasons. I'd be wondering aloud: 'How do I do this on PhotoShop?' And someone from another company on the other end of the room would yell out, 'Its Control + P!' Just having other people there with other knowledge sets was cool. Fashism had its own little cluster so we could talk and build our own culture. We were able to bond a little bit more as a team. But there wasn't a lot of privacy. So when you wanted to talk about things that were sensitive to your company, we had to talk in code all the time. And if you're getting in an argument, it gets a little embarrassing to have other companies watch you. So you're a little bit more under a microscope. Mostly, there's good energy. It's just contagious to be around people who are passionate and excited by what they do."
(GA photos courtesy Michelle Young/Untapped New York)