If you haven’t heard of hot desking anxiety yet, you will. As many workplace leaders prepare to reopen the office without a clear idea of who will be returning, they are implementing flexible workspace strategies like hot desking.
But to many employees, it hasn't been working out.
According to global design and architecture firm Gensler, the majority of employees want to return to the office, but 68% want to reduce the number of shared workspaces.
While their concerns about sharing desks are understandable, returning to a traditional model of assigned seats just isn’t realistic for many workplaces — especially when many desks were vacant 50-60% of the time even before the pandemic.
To ease the transition back to the office, start by acknowledging your employees’ concerns are valid. Then, make sure you have the right return-to-work solutions to put them at ease.
Hot desking is a good idea in theory. The benefits for employers are clear: it’s cost-effective and provides increased flexibility in managing office space. Hot desks are also easier to clean because they are free from clutter.
But for employees, hot desking can be frustrating and demotivating.
It operates on a first-come, first-served basis, so employees may not always be able to find a desk in an ideal location. They might also find it difficult to find key team members, resulting in wasted time and limited collaboration.
Hot desking anxiety isn’t new. Even before the pandemic, employees were venting their frustrations about hot desking on Twitter:
Hot desking is an anxiety-filled nightmare.— James Lewsey (@JayLews_) May 24, 2018
Hot Desking is THE WORST. Oh the area I usually sit is full? My anxiety instantly is triggered.— Ben Morrison (@bencmorrison) February 25, 2020
Some employees like the idea of hot desking, but feel it negatively impacts productivity.
People fed up with hot desking and open plan offices. Personally I quite like hot desking in principle but have managed teams where seating arrangements on busy days have taken up way too much energy https://t.co/dd5DMjyUDG— Katie Jacobs (@katie_jacobs) June 17, 2019
Aside from the uncertainty, there’s also an underlying sense of giving up control at the root of hot desking anxiety.
And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, flexible seating presents a whole new level of challenges that can exacerbate hot desking anxiety. Everyone is on high alert, remaining vigilant about hygiene and trying to maintain a safe distance.
Shared desks are potential hotbeds of germs and require proper sanitation, which can be another source of stress.
The prospect of going back to an office with a completely unstructured seating arrangement has unleashed a new stream of social media posts.
Hang on, hot desking is supposed to be what we shouldn’t do in a time of COVID...— Brett Gray (@bcgray) October 10, 2020
Employees like Steph [@efffyy] are anxious enough about going back to work, and hot desking anxiety doesn't help:
As much as I want things to get back to normal and as much as I am bored to tears, I’ve gotten used to it so much. I have a massive ball of anxiety in my stomach about travelling to work and being back in an office where they have now introduced hot desking.— steph🍃 (@efffyy) June 22, 2020
Lauren [@beyondbrandable] shares how unsettling hot desking can be, tweeting,
Hot desking is really hard - while remote work has lots of challenges, it’s easier for me to know where I’m headed for the day. No designated space means it’s hard to ever get settled & do deep work. Also, I like my photos & trinkets- they ease anxiety in stressful moments!— Lauren Barrett (@beyondbrandable) September 17, 2020
Hot desking anxiety has been compounded by months spent working in the relative comfort and security of home offices.
Establishing good hot desking protocols can go a long way to alleviate hot desking anxiety and help employees feel valued and safe.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides guidelines for businesses to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
While the CDC suggests seven days is the limit for virus survival, a recent study found that coronavirus can stay on some surfaces for up to 28 days. Although many experts say this is highly unlikely outside a dark laboratory, it can make employees think twice about sitting down at a desk.
That’s why it’s still important to disinfect shared surfaces with an EPA-approved cleaning agent, such as Lysol.
Don’t forget about door handles, elevator buttons, photocopiers, light switches, faucets, keyboards, and conference room scheduling displays.
While you will need monitors, adapters, and power strips at each shared desk to make it easy for employees to get set up, everyone should have their own laptop, mouse, and keyboard.
You may also want to consider adding clear barriers between workstations.
Not having a place to securely store personal belongings can also cause hot desking anxiety. Add coat racks and lockers so employees don’t have to worry about lugging around an armful of items throughout the day. Intelligent lockers provide contactless access using mobile apps, while also giving employees a place to collect packages or deliveries.
In the US Work From Home Survey, Gensler found that 73% of employees would welcome more remote working. Most want to come to the office a few days a week, while 12% say they want to work from home permanently. For some positions and some employees (especially those who commute long distances) it may be ideal to move them to a primarily remote status. This can allow you to reduce the number of desks in your office and maintain a greater distance between them without having to invest in additional space.
The uncertainty over finding an available space is one of the biggest factors contributing to hot desking anxiety. A desk booking system gives employees the flexibility to work anywhere while maintaining a sense of control.
They can easily book a workspace from their phone, whether they’re in the office or planning their week from home.
Teem’s room and desk booking system integrates with Teem Maps to make it easy for employees to find a place to work. Their reservation automatically appears on the calendar they already use and on digital displays for everyone to see.
Our desk booking system also tracks when desks are used, which simplifies sanitizing and contact tracing. Workplace leaders can also use data booking analytics to make adjustments to their space and plan for the future.
Hot desk anxiety have become a hot topic. People are understandably anxious about sharing workspaces, but when it’s done right – with clear guidelines, sanitation, and a desk management system – you can create an effective flexible workspace strategy for the return to work.