hot desking

What is hot desking?

Hot desking is a work space sharing model in which employees outnumber desks. In some such environments, each work station has its own computer and the worker logs into a virtual desktop. In other implementations, workers have notebook computers that they bring to work with them or store in a locker on the premises, along with any personal effects.

The hot desking model was deployed in some workplaces in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, technology to make the model viable was not fully developed, the system was not widely adopted. Factors behind renewed interest in hot desking include improved communications, collaboration and virtualization technologies in conjunction with an increasingly mobile workforce and budgetary pressures.

From a managerial perspective, hot desking is attractive because it can cut overhead costs significantly. However, the concept won't work in environments where employees are expected to be in the office most of the time. Furthermore, for some employers, the cost benefits are outweighed by the lack of ability to monitor employee activities. For employees, the system also has both drawbacks and benefits. Many workers are reluctant to give up personal space but others are happy to have more flexibility.

According to Franklin Becker, director of the International Workplace Studies Programme at Cornell University, "About 70 per cent of the time people in jobs like management consultancy, sales and customer service are not at their desks. That is a constant statistic across country boundaries."

The concept behind hot desking is said to have come from the Navy's practice of hot racking or hot bunking, in which a sailor finishing a shift would take up the still-warm bunk of the sailor whose shift was just beginning.

A similar model to hot desking, hotelling, is a reservation-based work space sharing arrangement.

Learn More About IT:
> offers advice for making hot desking work.
> CC Holland debates whether hot desking is a cool idea or a catastrophe.
> World Wide Words explains the history behind the term 'hot desking.'
> Bob Leung proposes a better use of office space.

This was last updated in January 2010

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