March 30th, 2022

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There are many advantages of flexible seating — if it’s implemented well. But without the right approach and workspace technology, it can quickly become a chaotic mess.

Employees have become accustomed to the flexibility to work anywhere, but that doesn’t mean they want to work from home forever. Research shows people still see the workplace as a valuable space for socializing, mentorship, deep concentration, and collaboration. But, as office utilization shifts and companies work through their long-term plans, who's in the office will change daily — sometimes even hourly.

Because of that, accommodating hybrid workers takes a lot of work and coordination. On one hand, employers understand they need to become more flexible and provide what today's workforce wants. But they also know they need to balance that with other important goals, such as maximizing their existing real estate and offer more meaningful in-person experiences. Many organizations are navigating this challenge by implementing flexible seating in the office.

Here’s how to make flexible seating work for everyone in your workplace while improving your bottom line.  

Flexible seating in the workplace

Findings from a recent survey conducted by Accenture also found more than 80% of employees prefer a hybrid work model. As you can imagine, the rise of hybrid work and the shrinking amount of space each worker can claim in the office today has led to a rise in the adoption of flexible seating models, including hot desking and desk hoteling.

Flexible seating gives employees the best of both remote and in-person work arrangements, the ability to have face-to-face meetings and re-establish a sense of community in person, without the rigid requirement to report to an office five days a week.

In theory, flexible seating sounds like it creates a workplace utopia. But to make flex seating work in practice, it takes a lot of juggling, management, and creative problem-solving skills.

Just think of all the unknowns:

How many people will actually come into the office on any given day?

Will we have enough space for everyone?

Should we limit capacity to allow for physical distancing?

Will employees actually be able to meet with the people they came in to see?

How will employees feel about sharing desks?

Like anything, adopting a hybrid work strategy with new seating arrangements has its pros and cons.  What's important is to understand what options are available and know the different advantages and disadvantages of each solution you're considering. 

The benefits of flexible seating

Flexible seating reduces real estate costs

For most organizations, real estate is the second highest overhead cost (behind only employees). Yet for far too long, a big percentage of those costs have been going to waste. Just look at what a 2020 JLL benchmarking report found: Most organizations had average space utilization rates of only 40-60% due to employees traveling to off-site meetings or working remotely.

That's where flexible seating can help. For instance, if your sales team spends half the week on the road, with flexible seating, you could reduce the number of desks in that department by allowing them to reserve desks on an as-needed basis.

Flexible seating makes it easier to adjust your office space to align with the needs of your workforce.

 

 

Accounting and consulting firm Ernst & Young did just that when it moved into a new location in downtown Cleveland. A large percentage of the workforce spent the majority of their time traveling, so the company eliminated private offices and assigned them to a desk hoteling pool.

Making the change to flex seating along with other workplace design updates allowed the company to eliminate 100,000 square feet of office space while adding 200 employees to bring its workforce to 1,300.

(By the way, you can check out our article on office hoteling best practices for some helpful tips on this set up.)

Flexible seating improves the employee experience

Sitting in the same place all day, every day, for months doesn’t exactly inspire creativity or foster strong collaboration. And employees are feeling the repercussions of long-term isolation: 55% of workers who responded to the Gensler survey said collaboration was harder at home. It can also be very lonely. For the millions of people who cohabitate with spouses, or have children or roommates, constant distractions make it difficult to stay focused.

Flexible seating lets employees take back control of their workday.

 

A completely open office environment can be similarly distracting. A workplace where employees can choose between a variety of rooms or workspaces improves productivity and satisfaction

With flexible seating and a desk booking app, people have more say over their workday. They can reserve a small private office to concentrate on a presentation during the morning and book a desk near their team members to get feedback on it later that afternoon.

The ability to choose when and where to work — in other words, take back control of their own workday — can be both empowering and motivating.

It’s easier to keep the office clean

Employees tend to accumulate piles of personal belongings at assigned seats. They sling several different jackets over the backs of their chairs, forget to take home dirty dishes after eating at their desk, and cover the surface with everything from family photos to print-outs of their latest projects.

At a time when half of employees expect to see increased cleaning in the office before they’re willing to return, according to Gensler, this clutter can’t continue. Not only does it make it harder for the facilities team to clean and sanitize surfaces; it also makes the office look less professional and inviting.

In a flexible office environment where employees share desks, they’re more likely to leave them the way they found them at the end of each day.

Flexible seating options: Hot desking vs. desk hoteling

Flexible workspace strategies aren’t new, but they have evolved along with the needs of the workforce. Here’s a closer look at two of the most popular models.

Hot desking

Hot desking, one of the most popular models, emerged in the mid-90s as a way to literally break down the walls of traditional cubicles and improve collaboration. The idea was simple. Employees could claim any space on a first-come, first-served basis — no reservations required.

While this seemed like a good idea, there were some clear disadvantages of hot desking.

Prior to the pandemic, many employees complained about having a hard time finding available space or finding space that was best suited to their needs. If they needed to work on an important project with people from their department, they would be scattered across the office or located on different floors. It was impossible to find anyone. The first employees to arrive claimed the best workspaces — the desks near a window, or in a quiet section of the office — while those who worked a later shift were stuck with whatever was left.

Desk Booking Software

Now, as employees consider returning to the office, they worry that sharing desks with no accountability will cause more problems. In the Gensler survey, one in five say they wanted to eliminate hot desking altogether.

Fortunately, with the right technology and flexible seating protocols, you can make it work for everyone.

We wrote about this in depth in How to Get Employees Warmed Up to Hot Desking — where we covered topics like:

  • How flexible seating can help you reduce real estate costs
  • The difference between hot desking and desk hoteling
  • How to implement a desk booking system (and get employees on board)

For free access, download it here.

Desk hoteling

Desk hoteling is essentially hot desking with reservations. Employees can book a desk in advance or at a moment’s notice — ideally with a mobile app they can access anywhere.

This flexible seating arrangement eliminates many of the concerns about hot desking by giving both employees and workplace leaders more structure and certainty:

  • Employees can easily see which desks are available and choose the one best suited to the work they’re doing that day.
  • Workplace leaders can see how many desks are reserved in advance and choose to limit capacity if necessary to keep employees safe.
  • People can also create a service request for the facilities team to clean and sanitize each desk after it has been used.
  • Leaders can see desk utilization trends over a period of time, which helps them plan ahead.

If they notice a significant increase in the number of reserved desks after they’ve reopened the office, they can convert an underutilized conference room to additional workspaces. Or, if they notice only a small percentage of the workforce comes into the office on Fridays, they could consider closing the office at noon or making it a designated work-from-home day for everyone.

How much could you save with desk hoteling?

Considering the average cost of leasing and maintaining one workstation is about $18,000 annually and most companies have 242 workdays in a year, the daily cost of one desk could be as high as $74. If your desk booking analytics justifies closing the office just one day each week and your office has 100 desks, you could save over $371,900 per year!

How to make flexible seating work for everyone

Implementing any successful flexible seating strategy requires the right technology and policies.

Without a desk reservation system and flexible seating tech, employees will have to fight for access to the workspaces they want and spend valuable time searching for what’s available. And without setting expectations around reserving desks, they’ll just revert to old habits.

Follow these three flexible seating recommendations for a smooth transition back to the office.

  1. Choose the right desk booking solution
  2. Make workspace uniform
  3. Give employees a place to keep personal items

Choose the right desk booking solution

To maximize user adoption, the desk booking software you choose has to be as intuitive as the apps your employees use every day. Look for software that includes both room and desk booking within the same mobile app.

It should be easy for employees to see which spaces are available and where they are located. If employees are reserving a room, they should also be able to see its maximum capacity and what technology and amenities are available.

To help you make the most of your space, your software should also include desk booking analytics — such as the number of desks reserved each day, the average reservation length, and the number of unattended reservations.

And because unattended reservations create wasted space and frustration for employees, look for software that eliminates them. Software that requires check-in can free up a desk if no one arrives after a set period of time. And software that integrates with sensors does this automatically.

Make workspaces uniform

Employees shouldn’t have to spend the first part of each day getting acclimated to a new workspace. Make sure each one includes all the essentials — a comfortable chair, a strong Wi-Fi connection, a good monitor, power strips, outlets, and dongles.

Give employees a place to keep personal items

Employees should leave each workspace exactly as they found it. They should also feel comfortable in their environment. Avoid clutter by offering plenty of places to store personal belongings. Considering adding closets, coat racks, and lockers.

Managing a flexible work environment at scale

Without the right technology, flexible seating strategies like hot desking can become a hot mess.

Fortunately, Teem offers desk booking and room scheduling solutions you can implement in minutes. Employees can easily reserve desks or rooms using the Teem mobile app and find their way around with digital maps. Teem also integrates with sensors so you can see real-time availability of every space.

The future of the workplace is flexible. Your technology should be, too. And an app that makes flexible seating is a great place to start.

For best practices, considerations, and tips on implementing flexible seating and getting your team on board - Get your free guide: How to Get Employees Warmed Up to Hot Desking.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Teem

Teem by iOFFICE provides enterprises with space scheduling and management, workplace analytics, building, and campus wayfinding, and visitor management to help cultivate workplaces that fuel productivity, efficiency, and creativity.

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