It's 1993. Clinton is in the White House, Jurassic Park has hit the big screen, and Buckingham Palace has opened its doors to the public for the first time. And, of course, hot-desking has just entered the office lexicon.

Now 20 years later, the "no work desk is assigned to any one employee, but is used by multiple workers at different times" concept is making a comeback. The question is, what does it look like today, and what kind of role can clever office design play in making it work?

While hot-desking could be used in any office, it has been most successful in companies where not all employees are in the office at once.

It might be an office of freelancers - people who work half the week in the office and the other half at home, or, say, sales staff who are in and out of the office, and it doesn't take a genius to realise the cost savings associated with sharing space. Given the increase in flexible working these days, hot-desking makes a good business case.

It also encourages a paperless office, can promote interaction among different teams, in turn stimulating new ideas, and streamline work procedures. Plus if hot-desking goes hand in hand with more flexible working conditions, it isn't too bad a trade-off.

Why the bad press? 

With the filing-cabinet-on-wheels came a change in office culture and for some, it was an actual culture shock - the informality of it and sense of territory loss didn't mesh well for them. People don't always like not having a desk of their own, or at least it is an odd concept to get used to.

They do like to have their own space - a physical area they can put their mark on. There is also concern that team spirit can suffer as teams are split up.

How to succeed

Done wrong, hot-desking becomes sparse and dehumanising. The trick is it needs to be managed properly so that workers are given support in the transition. As always with office redesigns, get employees involved in the process right from the get-go and they will have a better understanding of the benefits of hot-desking.

Listen to them as it will be them using the system every day, and their productivity affected.

A key part is to help them adjust to the fear of loss of 'ownership' over an area of the office. They already share their workstation with other colleagues, so this is just about removing the attachment to a specific desk. Ensure that the entire workplace, not just one or two departments, have the right level of 'identity'. So, wherever an employee is based, they should feel part of the business and the company culture.

Technology can play a vital role here too. Does the technology exist to keep people communicated when they are on other sides of the business? It is initial investment in these kinds of areas that will support a successful hot-desking system in the modern business world.

And, let's not forget that hot-desking is pretty radical and will require comprehensive staff training and for a set of rules to be adhered to, for instance regarding telephone and message handling. To counter the breaking up of teams, consider creating more informal and formal meeting spaces in the new office layout.

And give employees the chance to regain some territory by providing lockers for them to keep files and personal belongings in. Hot-desking needn't be an all or nothing thing.

While it might work well for some departments - sales, marketing, human resources... it may not for other teams, like legal, finance and IT.

Are you still hesitant about hot-desking, or are you one of the blessed few that got it right? Either way, we'd love to hear your thoughts. Tweet us @AreaSq to let us know.

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