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Psychological Impact of Hot Desking

By Jennifer Stacy

Hot desking is a cost-effective way for management of office space.  It also promotes employee social interaction.

But, what are the psychological impacts of hot desking?  Hot desking can have a positive or negative psychological impact on employees. Employees have the opportunity to meet and work side by side which one another. This can increase or decrease employee communication, collaboration, innovation, and productivity. Each employee is different and understanding your employees should determine your approach.

Hot desking involves providing a pool of desks from which all employees choose to work from each day. It usually includes having fewer desks than employees and the system typically works in companies where most of their employees don’t spend a lot of time at their desks.

Hot desking allows management to optimize their real estate cost by eliminating excess space that is not being utilized.

However, it has been known to affect employee productivity by making the workplace unbearable to some. The psychological consequences can be extensive.

Positive Psychological Impact of Hot Desking

Hot desking can provide a positive psychological environment that results in increased productivity and communication in the workplace.

  • Sitting and working alongside different individuals each day provides employees with an opportunity to build relationships with other employees;
  • Enhances collaboration as employees sit with different employees and will discuss projects they are working on;
  • Hot desking environments are particularly favorable for extroverts and autonomous individuals.  They get the chance to mingle amongst other employees in such an informal environment and are bound to feel more comfortable in the workplace resulting in higher productivity;
  • People tend to work better and faster when they are less bored and constrained;
  • Gives younger inexperienced employees the opportunity to learn from the best in the field;
  • The ever-changing seating arrangements ensure more experienced employees mingle with the younger inexperienced ones. This positively charged atmosphere can foster company innovation and growth;
  • Optimizes real estate utilization and costs;
  • Can lead to quicker employee development as employees get to know the business quicker sitting with employees outside their team.

Hot desking has been known to work in companies with a large pool of employees below the age of 30, they seem to love the flexible surrounding that hot-desking system brings.

Negative Psychological Impact of Hot Desking

Hot desking can also have the opposite effect, negative developments can affect employee productivity and psychological wellbeing.

It has been observed that employees think of their desks as zones where they feel safe and secure. And because of this, employees can carry out tasks more effectively. The removal of this form of the safety net can cripple productivity immensely for some.

  • The open and ever-changing work environment could be too chaotic for certain employees;
  • The lack of privacy can impact an employee’s productivity;
  • Inability to establish some form of stability and can make employees feel out of place and their work suffers;
  • Difficulty finding fellow employees;
  • Additional distractions from other employees can make it impossible to get focused work done;
  • Seating arrangements are not structured and out of the control for employees;
  • Employees can’t really choose who they sit beside. This makes it hard to maintain workplace relationships;
  • Managers are constantly looking for their team and feel less in control;
  • Team relationships can break down;
  • Older workers seem to think it’s too noisy and confusing.

Technology can be used to assist with employee concerns on being able to locate a desk and find colleagues and teammates each day.  Technology software can be tailor-made to a specific employee database and floorplan.

While this arrangement was created to prevent a disorganized workplace and increase output, at times, it does more harm than good.

Although a company gets to save on real estate costs, it can be at the expense of employee’s psychological and emotional well-being.  The absence of a permanent workspace can be stressful to employees. A desk gives the option of personalization. In a hot desk environment, employees are not able to keep family portraits and plants at work because there isn’t a permanent desk.

While employees will have access to a locker, the more autonomous employee tend not to miss their desks and are fine with the lockers; there are other employees who need the sense of identity that a singular, personal workspace provides.

Taking employees out of their comfort zones is bound to impact work-related stress that can affect morale and productivity. Employees may begin to harbor dislike for the company and might even resign.

Most introverted employees thrive better in isolation and hot desk policy can throw them off balance and affect their productivity. Working with new people can bring up conflicts since most people aren’t particularly keen on making new friends in an environment where they don’t feel safe. There has to be some element of control for people to feel comfortable enough to start making friends.

Is Warm desking a viable solution?

Warm desking integrates the communal framework of the hot desk practice, but only to a limited degree. Instead of a large pool of desks that employees compete for, there are four to five desks in a particular location in the building.

  • This way there is an interaction between employees, without things getting too uncomfortable. The system is used by trendy companies and they find it more effective than the original hot desking model.
  • Employees seem to like it better. Although it doesn’t solve the lack of personal space, privacy, and identity in the workplace, it does make things a little bit better.
  • The Warm desking platform is a band-aid to the hot desking problems.
  • Most companies result to adopt this model to make the employees more comfortable without having to spend too much.

Adopting a Semi-Hot desk environment (Assigned and Unassigned Seating)

  • The semi-hot desk environment is a complete solution to hot desking problems.
  • It retains the older office or permanent desk model and it integrates it with the newer hot desk model.
  • This means that some employees will sit and work using the hot desk model, while others will maintain their permanent assigned desks and enjoy the perks that it brings.
  • This model is particularly effective because it allows employees to work comfortably.
  • Those that enjoy the communal hot desking and those that cherish the sense of identity that assigned desks bring.  This model caters for the two employee types and addresses the psychological effects of the old system and adapts to it.

How to manage a hot desking environment

This is the question that all companies shifting to a hot desk environment ask. It’s important to carry the employees along and inform them of the changes that the hot desk system brings. It’s important to familiarize employees with the advantages and the disadvantages of the system.

  • When introducing the system, it’s important to give the employees the opportunity to shape the system, this will help get them on board,
  • Employees should be instrumental in setting the seating arrangement,
  • Employees to feel free to raise their concerns about their own productivity,
  • Management, Real Estate, Technology, and HR should come together to provide practical solutions to every employee concern.

Is hot desking worth it?

  • That really depends on who you ask. Management feels like it’s a smart way to save money and foster interoffice relations and they aren’t wrong.
  • The employees are divided on the issue.
  • Some feel like it promotes office relations while others think it’s invasive and counterproductive so there isn’t a clear answer here.
  • It would be wise to bring up the idea first and see if what majority of the employees think before adopting it.

Does Hot desking cut cost?

It has been known to cut costs considerably. The largest expenditure for most companies is office space. With the system, you would be saving a large sum.  There are times that up to half of all employees are absent from the office may be due to vacations and fieldwork. All this extra space could be going to waste and hot desking provides a practical solution.


Jennifer S.Jennifer Stacy – Professional writer, editor, and proofreader.

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