Hot-desking is supposed to reduce complacency and encourage creativity. But does it work or is it just a passing trend? Martin Waller, former columnist at The Times and a self-proclaimed grump, explains why he is not a fan. 

LAST WORD

 

LAST WORD

Where’s

my desk

Where’s
my desk

 

I once had a colleague who was indescribably untidy. As the months progressed, his desk and the space around it gradually filled up. Clothes, shoes, more clothes, books, boxes, things in boxes… as he ran out of room he started to annexe the next desk, lebensraum in the open plan.

Early one morning, he was found asleep under his desk by a startled cleaner. It might just have been the aftermath of a particularly dissolute party for the press, but it was hard to escape the suspicion that, after some terrible residential reverse, he had been reduced to camping out in the office.

Hot-desking would not have suited him, then. Nor those domestic souls – and they are found in most offices – whose desks gradually become extensions of their homes, with pictures of children and cats, pot plants, knitted toys, knick-knacks, scarves and so on.

Nor those colleagues whose desks are kept in such vile squalor that you can’t help but wonder what their homes must look like. 

Filling station

The concept, officially known as ‘non-reservation-based office hotelling’, emerged in the US, apparently in areas such as consulting, where there were a number of part-time staff and employees could expect to spend much of the working day elsewhere, such as on secondment to clients.

The more colloquial term, hot-desking, comes from hot bunking or hot racking: military phrases that refer to shift systems in the army and navy, where one person’s bunk, once vacated, is taken by another.

In office parlance, it means that, rather than having a desk of your own, you are assigned space on a daily or longer-term basis. One advantage is that it flattens the office power structure, with no unseemly squabbles over who is sufficiently senior to warrant a desk by the window – or even, Heaven forbid, an office of their own.

But there are different, and variously brutal, ways of doing it. In some firms, employees reserve such space as they feel they will need on a given day. In others, a more extreme version prevails – ‘beach towelling’, where it’s everyone for themselves and the last one in gets to work in the canteen. Or the lift. This must do wonders for office punctuality.

Empty desking

You can see how the concept might have emerged. Look at the average open-plan office. At any given time, half the desks are unoccupied, with people on holiday, out at meetings, off sick or departed and as yet not replaced.

History does not record which sharp-eyed accountant, on casually noting this, came up with the logical cost-saving solution. It may be significant, though, that the practice seems to have been adopted with particular keenness by the accounting profession.

As to whether you take to the idea, it is, I suspect, a generational thing, like unisex loos, zero-hour contracts or portfolio careers, where you do a string of temporary jobs at the behest of a string of employers. It all seems free, fresh and funky when you are in your twenties. But Old Grumpies like me need our own space, a regular view through the same window and somewhere to stash that report into the rise in share ownership that you just know you will need one day. 

Back to your roots

We Old Grumpies have not fully grasped that everything is now available online, and that the office filing cabinet is fast going the way of the afternoon tea trolley.

All this rather suggests that, as those twentysomethings mature, they will remain content with a nomadic, rootless existence and an exciting new colleague at the next desk every day with his or her exciting new irritating habits.

Or perhaps one day, even they will pine for their own little bit of the office – the cat picture, the pot plant, that unchanging stretch of desk that is forever theirs. Time will tell. We Old Grumpies will by then have long passed on to the Great Filing Cabinet In The Sky 

Back to articles

 

Hot-desking is supposed to reduce complacency and encourage creativity. But does it work or is it just a passing trend? Martin Waller, former columnist at The Times and a self-proclaimed grump, explains why he is not a fan. ​

 

I once had a colleague who was indescribably untidy. As the months progressed, his desk and the space around it gradually filled up. Clothes, shoes, more clothes, books, boxes, things in boxes… as he ran out of room he started to annexe the next desk, lebensraum in the open plan.

Early one morning, he was found asleep under his desk by a startled cleaner. It might just have been the aftermath of a particularly dissolute party for the press, but it was hard to escape the suspicion that, after some terrible residential reverse, he had been reduced to camping out in the office.

Hot-desking would not have suited him, then. Nor those domestic souls – and they are found in most offices – whose desks gradually become extensions of their homes, with pictures of children and cats, pot plants, knitted toys, knick-knacks, scarves and so on.

Nor those colleagues whose desks are kept in such vile squalor that you can’t help but wonder what their homes must look like. 

Filling station

The concept, officially known as ‘non-reservation-based office hotelling’, emerged in the US, apparently in areas such as consulting, where there were a number of part-time staff and employees could expect to spend much of the working day elsewhere, such as on secondment to clients.

The more colloquial term, hot-desking, comes from hot bunking or hot racking: military phrases that refer to shift systems in the army and navy, where one person’s bunk, once vacated, is taken by another.

In office parlance, it means that, rather than having a desk of your own, you are assigned space on a daily or longer-term basis. One advantage is that it flattens the office power structure, with no unseemly squabbles over who is sufficiently senior to warrant a desk by the window – or even, Heaven forbid, an office of their own.

But there are different, and variously brutal, ways of doing it. In some firms, employees reserve such space as they feel they will need on a given day. In others, a more extreme version prevails – ‘beach towelling’, where it’s everyone for themselves and the last one in gets to work in the canteen. Or the lift. This must do wonders for office punctuality. 

It all seems free, fresh and funky when you are in your twenties. But Old Grumpies like me need our own space”​

 

Empty desking

History does not record which sharp-eyed accountant, on casually noting this, came up with the logical cost-saving solution. It may be significant, though, that the practice seems to have been adopted with particular keenness by the accounting profession.

As to whether you take to the idea, it is, I suspect, a generational thing, like unisex loos, zero-hour contracts or portfolio careers, where you do a string of temporary jobs at the behest of a string of employers. It all seems free, fresh and funky when you are in your twenties. But Old Grumpies like me need our own space, a regular view through the same window and somewhere to stash that report into the rise in share ownership that you just know you will need one day. 

Back to your roots

We Old Grumpies have not fully grasped that everything is now available online, and that the office filing cabinet is fast going the way of the afternoon tea trolley.

All this rather suggests that, as those twentysomethings mature, they will remain content with a nomadic, rootless existence and an exciting new colleague at the next desk every day with his or her exciting new irritating habits.

Or perhaps one day, even they will pine for their own little bit of the office – the cat picture, the pot plant, that unchanging stretch of desk that is forever theirs. Time will tell. We Old Grumpies will by then have long passed on to the Great Filing Cabinet In The Sky 

Back to articles 

It all seems free, fresh and funky when you are in your twenties. But Old Grumpies like me need our own space”​​

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Bridgepoint  |  The Point  |  November 2018  |  Issue 34