Why it pays to rethink hot desking

Also known as non-territorial working, flexi-desking or desk sharing, it’s a policy that has been widely adopted by companies over the last decade for a range of reasons, including workspace efficiency and team productivity. 

Why hot desking?

Many companies find hot desking beneficial as it increases the average number of employees per workstation.

Lowering the amount of space needed for each employee makes the total office space more efficient by reducing company real estate costs and, coupled with workspace flexibility, has the advantage of increasing collaboration between teams.

But in pursuing these benefits, studies also reveal that hot desking may have unintended consequences that hurt the company bottom line.
 

The effects of a clear desk policy

A 2013 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology led by psychological scientist Gregory A. Laurence found that open office layouts contribute to emotional exhaustion.

This was especially true in offices where employees had low levels of privacy and were not able to individualise their work space because of hot desking policies.

Teams working from low-privacy environments experience enhanced pressure “to divide their mental attention between pursuing work assignments and handling the distractions, interferences, and feelings of being monitored,” Laurence writes in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

Further, a 2016 study from The British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology found that working in modern office environments lacking in privacy and personalisation made a majority of employees uncomfortable.

The study reported that these businesses experienced losses of productivity and lower levels of workplace satisfaction.

John Hackston, Head of Research at OPP, commented on rigid clear-desk policies, saying “clearing away personal items [from desks] can be demotivating”.

If employees are demotivated, one solution flies in the face of many hot desking policies.
 

How to increase productivity and staff satisfaction

Hackston’s team found the effects of emotional exhaustion were reduced by “the positive effects of personalisation.”

To improve staff satisfaction and productivity, Hackston argues that staff in hot desking environments should be allowed “more storage for personal items,” and allowed some room for personalisation of their space.

Across studies, employees were found to be more productive, more comfortable and happier when able to decorate their individual work space.

Being able to personalise a workspace may offer employees a raft of other psychological benefits, as outlined in Laurence’s 2013 study.

These include a greater sense of control, enhanced mental resources and an overall increase in workplace satisfaction – characteristics consistently linked to stronger performance.

Despite financial benefits in maximising space efficiency with hot desking, research proves that a degree of workspace ownership is a good thing for employee attitudes, behaviour and general happiness.

And as those qualities translate to better financial outcomes, it makes sense to clear some desk space for the framed family photos again.

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