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The idea of having unassigned desks at work got off to a rocky start more than 20 years ago, with the concept of hot desking.

Certain enterprise businesses decided to shake up the status quo by getting rid of dedicated office space for their workers. So each day when employees got to the office, they had to find an available desk where they could sit. Then they could get down to business and do their actual work for the day.

As you can imagine, spending the first 10-20 minutes of each day finding a place to sit wasn’t terribly efficient. (Hey, hindsight is 20/20.) And people weren’t keen on giving up their spacious offices to sit at an anonymous desk.

But many of the core benefits behind the concept are just as sound today as they were then. More so, in fact, given the shrinking amount of space each worker can claim in the office today, and the rise of flexwork and telecommuting.

So innovative businesses are giving the idea another shot, this time with a different twist: desk reservations.

Want to learn more about desk hoteling and desk reservation software? Check out our on-demand webinar.

Also known as desk hoteling, this approach lets an employee reserve a specific desk for a set amount of time, on an as-needed basis. It works because of today’s improved technology, from the prevalence of laptops and mobile devices in the workplace to the availability of software that makes it easy to reserve desks.

Desk hoteling eliminates the downsides of hot desking, which is the equivalent of musical chairs for the office, while still maintaining the benefits of having flexible seating arrangements.

Cuts Down on Wasted Space

Given that real estate costs are the second biggest overhead expense for companies, it’s a no-brainer that businesses are constantly looking to maximize every square foot of office space.

So if almost half of a company’s available desks are going unused, as evidenced by a recent report, that obviously runs counter to the goal of maximizing the use of space. To get a sense of just how much investment is being wasted, consider that in New York and London, the average annual cost of providing a desk is $18,000.

Now, we’re not saying that every company should immediately plan to move half of its desks to an unassigned arrangement. The ideal proportion of assigned to unassigned desks depends on the type of company. For some, having only 20% of desks unassigned is the right number; for others, it could be as high as 80%.

Businesses with employees who travel or telecommute are some of the most likely to implement desk hoteling. For example, at accounting and consulting firm Ernst & Young, many employees worked at their clients’ offices for 80-90% of the time. So when the company moved into its new location in downtown Cleveland, it placed more than 60% of its employees into a desk hoteling pool.

That change, along with other workspace design improvements, allowed the company to cut its office footprint from 240,000 to 140,000 square feet, while keeping the same staff of 1,100 people and having enough space to add 200 more.

Gives Employees More Flexibility

Real estate savings from cutting back on unused desk space isn’t the only benefit to desk hoteling. The ability to reserve a certain space for a particular timeframe also gives employees more flexibility around where and how they work.

If someone needs to focus on a heads-down project, they can reserve a desk in a quiet location. Or, if an interdepartmental team needs to crank through a group project, team members can sit next to each other for the duration of the project. Maybe it’s even as simple as choosing between a standing and regular desk for a particular day or afternoon.

Regardless, desk hoteling empowers employees to choose what works best for them, even if they don’t travel often or work remotely. And that choice improves the employee experience.

Hoteling also breaks down structural hierarchy and helps combats a silo mentality. People of every level and in every department can work together, beside and around one another, and are more easily able to share ideas and information.

Finally, desk hoteling can help break up the monotony of days and weeks in the office. It’s hard to pin an ROI number on it, but in many cases, simply changing up the “scenery” can boost productivity and creativity.

In a survey of more than 9,000 employees located throughout the world’s eight largest economies, flexibility was the top job feature by those surveyed. A lack of flexibility was also one of the top reasons they’d quit.

So whether half your employees are on the road most weeks, or whether you’re trying to improve collaboration and break down interdepartmental barriers, a more flexible workplace that includes desk hoteling could be part of the answer. When people can choose how and where they work, you’ll have a more effective workforce.

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