Right now, almost every business is trying to figure out what to do with employees who have spent the last two years working from home. If you've spent a lot of money leasing an office space, you probably want your team back together as soon as it's safe. On the other hand, many of those employees aren't sure they ever want to return to the office--at least not full-time.
Hybrid work, where employees spend part of their time working remotely and part of their time in the office, has been presented as the ideal solution. Tech companies like Google have invested heavily in modifying office space to accommodate a different way of working.
For example, Google redesigned its office space to make it easier to collaborate between in-person and remote team members. It also built outdoor spaces that allow teams to meet together more safely.
The idea is that employees won't need a permanent office or desk since they'll only come to the office two or three days a week for meetings. The rest of the time, they'll work from home.
That leads us to hot-desking. This is the concept where your company's office is basically a co-working space where no one has a designated workspace. Instead, you choose a place to work from different environments and reserve a spot on a day-to-day basis.
On Monday, for example, you might work from a desk. Then, on Tuesday, you might sit at a high-top table, or in a living room setting. The point is, no one has a desk--they just show up and find a place to work.
This is, by far, the worst thing about hybrid work, and it has to stop.
Sure, for the company, it seems like a fantastic idea. First, it saves costs. Since no space belongs to anyone specific, every space is shared. And since not everyone shows up every day, you can afford to have fewer desks.
It also lends itself to creating different work environments. Instead of building row after row of cubicles, you might have a few different areas where people can work depending on what they have to do. For example, you might have separate spaces with open tables, separated desks, couches, or maybe bistro tables.
A few years ago--before COVID-19 was ever a thing that changed everything about how we work--I walked through the headquarters of a company that did just that. I was given a tour by one of the company's employees, who showed me a coffee bar area, a living room-type of space, breakout rooms, and different areas with tables and desks. It all looked very cool, and it seemed like it would be a fun place to work.
I asked the person giving me the tour how it worked, and he explained that it was basically first come, first serve. They had considered a system where you could reserve a space in advance, but they abandoned it because it felt too "controlled." The entire headquarters was meant to "foster creativity," he told me.
"Does it work?" I asked.
Even though he tried to seem enthusiastic, it was pretty clear that it wasn't his favorite. I asked why not, and his response wasn't what I expected at all: It's too stressful.
It surprised me because the space looked amazing. It seemed exactly like the kind of place you'd want to work. Especially since you could choose a new environment based on what type of work you needed to get done. What wasn't obvious, but should have been, is that hot-desking introduces all kinds of other problems.
For example, what if the type of workspace you need isn't available? My tour guide told me that some employees come into work an hour earlier than they were supposed to, just to be sure they could get the space they wanted.
What about if you're new--or, for that matter, introverted? It turns out that trying to figure out the social dynamics of who works where is a lot like an eighth-grade cafeteria. No one wants to sit in the wrong place or get stuck at the wrong table. It's not exactly ideal for getting work done.
I'm sure there are some companies where employees are thrilled with hybrid work. Even so, it's up to you to do what you can to make the environment where people work as stress-free as possible. Hot-desking might seem innovative, and it might save you money, but that doesn't mean there isn't a cost.