Return To Work
March 24th, 2021

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Employees have become accustomed to the flexibility to work anywhere, but that doesn’t mean they want to work from home forever. Research shows most employees want to return to the office when it’s safe to do so, and 70% want to spend the majority of their week there. Not surprisingly, three-fourths said their coworkers were the No. 1 reason they wanted to return.

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

In theory, it sounds like a workplace utopia. But to make flexible seating work in practice, you need to manage several unknown factors.

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?

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

The benefits of flexible seating

It reduces real estate costs

For most organizations, real estate is second only to employees as the highest overhead cost. Even before the pandemic, a considerable percentage of those costs were going to waste. 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.

Flexible seating makes it easier to adjust your office space to align with the needs of your workforce. For instance, if your sales team spends half their week on the road, you could reduce the number of desks in that department by allowing them to reserve desks as needed.

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 this change 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.

It improves the employee experience

Sitting in the same place all day, every day, for months doesn’t exactly inspire creativity or foster strong collaboration. Fifty-five percent of employees who responded to the Gensler survey said collaboration was harder at home. It can also be very lonely. And for the millions of people who live with children or roommates, constant distractions make it difficult to focus.

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. 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.

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.

Now, as employees consider returning to the office, they worry that sharing desks with no accountability will lead to sharing germs.

In the Gensler survey, 19% said they wanted to eliminate shared desks altogether.

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.

Desk Booking Software

They can also create a service request for the facilities team to clean and sanitize each desk after it has been used. And they 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, 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 revert to old habits. Follow these four recommendations for a smooth transition back to the office.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Sanitize

Ask employees to sanitize workstations when they are finished for the day. You can also print out a report to show which desks have been used so your facilities team knows where to clean. If you use sensors, you can further automate this process.

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. Learn more about how Teem’s return-to-office technology helps you manage visitors and reservations to restore confidence and collaboration in your workplace.


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