In recent years, hot-desking has become a popular way for businesses to economise on space, ensure their employees are communicating and making new contacts, and to engage more in their work. But is hot-desking actually beneficial to business, or does it in fact cause more issues?

Hot-desking has increased in popularity as a flexible working solution over the last few years. Upon its inception as a concept, it rapidly became a solution to employee cliques, distraction and individual clutter.

With employees sitting away from their respective teams/departments, it was believed that hot-desking allowed employees to build connections and create collaborating opportunities with other employees they do not often engage with.

A few years down the line and this view seems to have changed somewhat.

Reboot Online Marketing conducted a survey, receiving a respectable 460 responses from office workers across the UK, who are currently or have had previous experience of working under a hot-desking model.

The statistics revealed a very different view of hot-desking, with 81% of office workers stating they would prefer to have their own desk or work station. Contrary to popular opinion, 75% of respondents believed that cross-departmental relations and collaboration did not improve as a result of hot-desking; 66% stated they didn’t make any valuable new contacts from sitting next to or around different individuals from outside their own team/department; and 59% thought the morale of their own team/department declined as a result of hot-desking.

One of the respondents, Darren, who is a Senior IT Consultant commented: “When the company initially announced that they were going to be introducing hot-desking, I was really open to the idea. The biggest selling point for me was that I would be able to have professional conversations with employees from different departments whom I would normally never get a chance to meet.

“By the time hot-desking came into place, I didn’t really notice that much of a difference. Since most days you were sitting next to someone different, you didn’t really develop a meaningful working relationship with anyone outside your team. Similarly, even though you were away from your entire team, you would still be constantly wondering the office to find fellow colleagues to go through different projects and documents with them.”

Maria Parker, a Business Consultant shared her opinion on the hot-desking concept, suggesting it has become a lazy form of culture change in an office environment: “I have seen a lot of businesses subscribe to the hot-desking model over the last few years because they believe it will enhance cross-departmental cooperation and collaboration. Businesses though must realise that these components do not simply just happen because you split teams up and get them to sit separately across the office. It’s a more complex process than that.”

In agreement with Darren, Maria suggests that hot-desking may actually waste more time and cause more distraction than it’s worth: “What many businesses tend to find after introducing hot-desking is that even though teams are away from each other, they still end up going to each other’s work desks or stations multiple times throughout the day. Instead of making valuable connections from other departments, they end up gravitating back towards a circle they have always been familiar with. Its human nature”.

So, the theory that hot-desking creates greater cross-departmental integration is out. How about a more focused and cleaner working environment?

Christina, who is a Merchandise Buyer commented on her experience: “I personally find hot-desking really irritating. Moving from desk to desk on a daily basis you never truly feel settled. Also I am one of those people that needs to splash files, notepads, documents, electronics and stationary across the desk to fuel my work ethic – so packing everything up at the end of the day is not only time-consuming but frustrating. Additionally, with so many employees at our company, you often end up worrying about not getting a spot in-case you’re running late or have an external client meeting. If it was up to me, I would prefer to have my own desk for peace of mind”.

Justin is a Junior Financial Analyst, who sees some benefit in terms of cleanliness – but only at the cost of the morale in the office. He said: “Even though hot-desking has reduced mess around the office, we don’t have the same harmonised spirit we used to have when sitting together in our teams. With our company also introducing flexible working hours complimentary to hot-desking, face-to-face interaction has also dropped enormously. With my role involving analysis of multiple physical and digital documents, my preference would be to have my own desk where I can leave things without the stress of taking it all home and then remembering to bring everything in the next day”.

Advocates of hot-desking seem to be forgetting a few office truths: employees appreciate good hygiene in the office; they want to be comfortable where they work; and they want to have their own space and identity attached to that space.

With each employees hygiene and health levels varying dramatically, swapping and changing desks may actually pose a problem with physical health. With a lot of companies choosing to equip their office desks/workstations with computers, keyboards and telephones – they could become the primary facilitators of bacteria growth, especially in the hot-desking model. With some employees being less considerate towards sanitation than others, bacteria on such ‘working tools’ could not only be harmful but cause illness. This is evident by the recent results of a survey whereby 32% of office workers admitted to not washing their hands after using the toilet. Additionally, with employees not having their own working space, they will feel less inclined to wipe or clean any minor spillages or stains caused by themselves. This could actually lead to more sick days than without having a hot-desk model.

Even such things as re-positioning screens and chairs may contribute dramatically to the leading cause of physical ill-health in offices: back pain and eye strain. Not having the right chair for your needs, or a screen at the right distance for you, and changing such things on a daily basis could cause huge physical problems.

When moving from desk to desk, as redundant as it sounds, most respondents in this survey complained that they didn’t have a space to make their own – with photographs of loved ones, plants, personal calendars or simply a personalised screensaver. To put it simply, having their own little sanctuary to function in exactly the way they want is important. With the frequent desk-hopping that hot-desking entails, employees may begin to feel dis-jointed with the company, and even with themselves as an employee, feeling like they are just an another disposable component in the larger machine, rather than a valued individual.