In the last few years, we've been seeing a massive shift in the way office life is run.

For years, if you had an office job, you came to your office everyday, sat at the same desk, and had the same office until something changed. But with the financial crisis forcing cutbacks in the private and public sector and more employees having to travel or telecommute, offices around the world are embracing "hot desking."  

"Hot desking" is based on the Naval practice of "hot racking," where multiple sailors use the same bunk in different shifts. With hot desking, employees share the same work spaces in shifts, whether it's organized by time of day or days of the week. This policy can help with cost reduction— up to 30% by some accounts— but it doesn't allow for a lot of space personalization.  

I talked to Hai-Man Lee, a government services worker based in London about her experience with hot desking and the difficulties of styling a desk that isn't completely yours. Note her thoughts below, in italics and then in the Q & A section:   Inline images 2The old set up was in an open-plan office with clusters of desks equipped with telephones, desk top computers, and pedestals, and separated with a small cubicle wall high enough for you to pin notices but low enough so that you can see and communicate with your colleagues. Inline images 3Since January, the company has renovated their offices from a 70's style office to modern white, contemporary office – we have four colour coded zones but the main colour is white.  Meeting rooms have smartboards and frosted glass.  There are rows and rows of desks equipped with the same monitor, a docking station, mouse and keyboard.  Here is an example really close to what my office looks like above with the only difference is that there is only one screen per desk space.  

1. What industry do you work in? What's your position?

I am currently working in government services serving as a project support officer in London, UK.


2. How many employees are employed with the company? How many of them hot desk?

There are around 3,000 employees and about 70% of us are hot desking. There are co-workers who are based in other locations and they will move to hot desking later this year.


3. When did your company start hot desking? 

The company started hot desking in January 2013.


4. How is the hot desking managed? Through computer software, sign-up, whiteboard, etc.?

There are rows of desks each equipped with a monitor, keyboard, mouse, docking station for laptops and power-points. We were all moved to using laptops and mobiles so we have greater flexibility and mobility.  Storage is greatly reduced as we are all given one team locker for communal files and documents, we no longer have our pedestal and instead have small lockers to fit our laptops and other bits and bobs.  There’s also no desk cubicle divider boards to pin/stick things to and we also have no whiteboards/notice boards.  Everything is done via email or electronically.


5. How has hot desking effected your workday in terms of time spent pack/unpacking, moral, etc.? 

I have found hot desking good in terms of meeting and befriending new co-workers I didn’t know.  Everyday you are surrounded by new co-workers and it gives you freedom to move to other desks if you don’t like a particular desk (my old desk was next to a noisy printer that was constantly at work). It’s beneficial in terms of minimising meetings as you can sit with someone from another team if you are working on a particular task together.  I feel my morale is better after moving to the new set-up as I can get a change of scenery and meet more people. The only downside with that is it can be quite difficult to find someone if they aren’t answering their mobiles, and also certain people get territorial over certain desks even though we are encouraged not to and sit somewhere different every day.

However, hot desking isn’t without its faults, I have spent longer unpacking at the start and end of every day as I would need to grab team files from one locker and then go to my locker to get my laptop and mobile.  More often than not, some of my colleagues have laptops that aren’t compatible with the docking station, so they would need to directly connect the cables individually and leave without reconnecting them to the docking station at the end of the day. As a result, I would spend a couple of minutes connecting all the cables to my docking station in the mornings then I would adjust my chair, arm rest, back support position and disinfect the keyboard and mouse with the wipes provided.

Given all the hassle with the laptops, docking stations and fetching files and folders I have noticed a lot of my previous colleagues that had nicely decorated desks have just stuck to keeping a cute pen holder (or nothing) as that takes no time to put out.  As a result we all have the same looking desks, just laptop and bits of paper strewn everywhere (we no longer have paper trays to organise them) that lacks any individuality, homely or personalised feeling.  We don’t have a lot of time to set up or space to store our ornaments, team awards, stickers, pictures etc.  I used to have a little stationery tidy and drinks tray with hot chocolate, coffee, tea, mugs, tumblers, lasered crystal ornament of myself and my partner, origami folded name card made by my cousin, vases with flowers and hand creams etc  We have communal service centres where stationery is provided and there seems little point to carry around anything other than a pen. This hasn’t greatly damaged my morale but our desks could do with a pop of colour and a personalised feel, especially if we are spending up to 12 hours there a day.


6. What kinds of things do you usually bring to work to decorate your space?   

In the current setting, I only have a colourful mug (even though I’ve been provided with a plain white corporate mug with the company crest), a colourful pen and currently looking for a nice way to organise my bits of paper.  It’s currently bundled together in my laptop bag, which isn’t particularly pretty but company provided. Some ideas I've had is perhaps cute bottles to store hand creams, or sanitisers.   It seems that none of my co-workers have made an effort to decorate their desks again but maybe I can inspire and start a trend?  It appears that the general feeling is "why bother?" and it just gives us more things to pack away at the end of the day; however, as sad as it sounds, the work place is like a second home so emphasis should be given on making it a welcoming place to stay.  


How would you decorate a hot desking space? Check back for my posts on tips and tricks! 


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