Just when it looked as if public opinion was finally turning against the open plan office, yet another idiotic management fad has reared its ugly head. It's called hot desking, where nobody has their own work area and thus must find a new one every day.

According to a recent survey of 400 multinational corporations, fully two-thirds (!) plan to implement hot-desking within a few years. But like all dumb management fads there's plenty of evidence that hot desking is a corporate sh*tshow. Here's why:

1. Hot desks decrease collaboration.

Hot desks are supposed to increase collaboration by allowing people who are working together on a project to sit together in the same general area. What happens instead is that high-status workers become "settlers" who sequester the most desirable work areas (usually next to a window) and then use social pressure and the pecking order to prevent lesser status employees from encroaching on their territory.

Meanwhile, lesser-status employees become "vagrants" who must wander about, carrying all their things like a bag-lady, until they find a spot to camp, regardless of who they're supposed to be working with. Then, if somebody needs to bring them into a conversation, nobody knows where they are. The result: less communication and less collaboration.

2. Hot desks create cliques.

Another supposed benefit of hot desking is that it allows different people from different organizations to work together and thus reduce organizational stove-piping. That's in theory. In practice, hot desking is like a high school cafeteria where the "cool kids" stake out the best areas and sit together, while "outsiders" sit wherever anyone will tolerate their presence.

These "outsiders" don't make friendships or form their own cliques because they end up sitting each day with different people whom they don't know. Even introducing yourself is taboo because you'll be interrupting the other people's work. For the outsiders, every day at work is like the first day of school… after you've moved mid-semester. 

3. Hot desks spread infectious diseases.

Open plan offices are already toxic because a single sneeze can propel germ-laden saliva throughout an entire office area. Hot desks are far worse, because a single sneeze will cover every hard surface of the work area with a film of germs that will remain there for days, just waiting for the next person to use that work area to pick them up.

If the work area has a permanent keyboard and phone hand set, even a handy-wipe isn't likely to kill enough germs to make the area safe. BTW, keyboards are among the filthiest items in any office, probably worse than toilet seats, which get regularly cleaned. And just so you know: only 5% of your coworkers are washing long enough to kill e-coli bacteria (poop germs) and 1 out of 10 don't wash at all. (Blech!)

4. Hot desks increase strain injuries.

Sitting all day at a desk is hard on your body. It can result in back pain, carpal-tunnel syndrome, headaches and repetitive stress injuries. To avoid this, you must have ergonomic furniture, keyboard and screen that's precisely tuned and tilted to match your individual physical characteristics. This can take hours to do correctly.

With hot desking, work areas are less likely to have ergonomic features (because that would mean replacing everything) and even if those features are present, few workers are likely to spend the necessary time and effort to adjust everything correctly. In addition, hot desked workers often injure themselves lugging around heavy bags and laptops.

5. Hot desks massively decrease morale.

According to extensive research, employees in hot desking offices feel isolated and disconnected from their coworkers and less trustful of supervisors. They feel less productive and less healthy, not because hot desking is poorly implemented but because hot desking strips away the last vestige of privacy and control in today's open plan office: your right to your own work area.

There's no way to sugar-coat the truth-;with the possible exception of those few high-status workers who can capture and hold down a desirable work area-;employees loathe hot desking. Millennials hate hot-desking. Gen-Xers hate hot desking. Boomers hate hot desking. (At last, something we all agree upon!) Hot desking may be the ultimate morale-killer.

How to Cope

Obviously, unless you're truly desperate, avoid any job where there's hot desking going on. If you must work at a such place, do the following:

  1. Bring plenty of handy-wipes and use them religiously and frequently.
  2. Avoid using a common keyboard or workstation.
  3. Never let your mouth touch a common phone handset or headset. Bring your own.
  4. Work from home or from the local coffee shop as much as possible.
  5. Start looking for another job, stat.

I would have added "try to convince your boss to go back to a regular office," but here's the sad truth: bosses who actually think hot-desking is a good idea are so deep into corporate cloud cuckoo land that they're irredemable. 

Published on: Jun 24, 2019
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