Divisive practice of hot desking heightens employee stress

07 May 2019 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read
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The phenomenon of ‘hot desking’ has become one of the biggest office trends in recent years, driven by greater emphasis on flexibility and agile working. Despite its popularity among bosses, however, nine out of ten of office workers have reported issues with it, from time-wasting to not being able to feel at home in continuously changing working spaces.

Hot desking is an office organisation system which involves multiple workers using a single physical work station or surface during different time periods. The office buzzword has stricken equal measures of excitement into hearts of managers and fear into the hearts of employees over the past decade, as the practice has become ever more prevalent in the UK.

Its popularity among the upper echelons of British business stems from two major factors. First, it can be deployed as a cost saving measure, as not everyone who works at a company is in the office at the same time. A study by Jones Lang Le Salle found that at any one time, up to 40% of a company’s staff are not in the building. On that basis, careful calculations mean a company can buy fewer desks than staff, saving space and money. Second, hot desking is also said to improve collaboration, breaking down barriers between departments and prevent a situation where the top level staff sit together, away from the more junior staff.

Issues that arise from hot desking

While the practice might be designed to boost the performance of a company, however, the stress it incurs in the workforce could often have the opposite effect. According to a survey of more than 1,000 UK office workers by consulting firm Brickendon, 44% of workers feel hot desking leads to wasted time as they spend each morning setting up a different computer. On top of that, 33% feel time is wasted looking for a desk in the first place before starting work, and 22% believe it hampers their ability to bond with their team, who they may well end up sitting away from – impacting their performance further.

The practice seemingly forces staff to spend time and energy frittering over a number of entirely avoidable problems. Fifty-eight percent of respondents also said they found the prospect of not knowing where to sit every day as the biggest source of stress when it comes to hot desking, while 61% felt the ability to pre-book their seat in advance would ease this worry.

Employees hold hot desking in such low regard that only 8% said they had no issue with it. At the same time, 80% of office workers report office seating can negatively affect their mental wellbeing. With employee mental health being a major point of focus for British businesses at present, the fact that at least one stressor can be so simply solved is surely food for thought.

Regarding the findings, Christopher Burke, Brickendon CEO, commented, “In its current state, hot desking is very much flawed, and worryingly affecting employees’ mental wellbeing. It’s an important issue requiring urgent attention… It’s clear that measures need to be put in place which monitor and combat hot desking issues and that the full benefits and opportunities are not currently reaped by businesses.”