dash for a desk2 blog

Dash for a desk - the hot-desking effect

29 July 2018, by Duncan Mitchell

This blog is for any Chief Executive, Director or senior leader thinking about adopting activity based working (ABW) or hot-desking/non-allocated desk sharing at their workplace. Be warned, it’s no one-stop fix. You need to really understand your teams, how they work and what your people need to do the best work they can.

My Workplace Strategy team at TwentyTwo recently undertook an evaluation of a hot-desk/non-allocated desk trial for a large organisation here in NZ. The organisation wanted to explore how providing non-allocated desks at a ratio of 80 desks for 100 staff would impact on people and teams. Here’s what we found out…

Impact on People – don’t be the late starter

Desk sharing impacted differently on different people. While some people enjoyed being able to choose where they wanted to work on a daily basis, others found that the lack of certainty about where they were sitting caused anxiety and stress. 

It seemed desk sharing had less of an impact on those people that could or preferred to start earlier. They got the best choice of where they wanted to sit. Those that for family or other reasons preferred to start later, were disadvantaged because by the time they arrived the only desks available were not where they wanted to sit.

During our workshops we heard a story about two people in the same team who tended to start later after dropping their children off to school. On many mornings they would arrive at the railway station, look at each other and realise that by the time they raced up to their building, there would be only one desk left with their team. For many teams this might not matter, but both of these people worked in a team where it was important that the team was seated together.

It is hard to imagine a worse way for these people to start their working day than a daily “dash for a desk”. While their fitness may have improved, I suspect their state of mind when they arrived at work may not have been conducive to an enjoyable work experience.

Impact on Teams – agile working verses the hot-desk 

The winners here are those who worked across many projects in the organisation. These people found it more productive to be able to choose where they wanted to sit on a daily basis. It was much better for them to be seated in close proximity to a particular team or person they needed to collaborate with on that day.

The flexible environment also worked for those who work in more of an autonomous work style, where they work independently for periods of time and check in with their teams at more formal, arranged meetings or when it suited them. The flexibility that the non-allocated desks strategy gave them was the ability to choose a desk that suited them best, either in a quiet zone or near the window for example.

However, many of the teams in this trial worked in an agile methodology. Agile teams focus collaboratively on delivering small pieces of a larger project over one to two weekly cycles. They have daily "scrums" where the activities are planned out. Collaboration generally happens at the team pod of desks. Small pieces of work are reviewed and stitched together as they are completed. For this part of the organisation desk sharing happened at a team level. That is for each team of 10 people would only be given 8 desks. This meant on most days one or two team members would not be able to sit with their agile team.

While team productivity is difficult to measure as reliable metrics are not often kept by organisations, anectodical feedback indicated non-allocated desk strategies had a negative impact on the productivity of teams that rely on being together. 

The Outcome

The objective of a successful workplace is to balance the needs of the organisation to deliver affordable property solutions and the needs of teams to work productively.

Desk sharing is just one dimension of a workplace strategy that needs to be considered along with the use of other facilities on the floor, the workspaces in the rest of the building and the ability for staff to work at home or in other public spaces (café’s etc.).

In my experience organisations are complex entities and the range of teams inherent in them do not respond well to the simplistic application of a single workplace rationale.

TwentyTwo has developed a range of team workstyle analysis tools to allow us to investigate in more detail how teams work and what workspace and support facilities they require to be most productive. We believe there is significant value in not only taking the time to develop a Workplace Strategy, but it is also immensely important to develop an implementation plan – but I’ll save my thoughts on that for my next blog.




About the author

Lives on Asian food. Listens to music that sounds like a washing machine. Once played the clarinet! Dreams of lazy days sailing. Rides a mean mountain bike. Predicts the weather. Avoids crowds and dancing.

Duncan leads our Strategy practice area which includes our property strategy, workplace strategy, strategic briefing, technology and master planning areas and has been the driving force behind the growth of this practice area. Duncan remains focused on how the workplace (physical environment, technology, people and process) can best support organisational performance.

Other posts by this author...

01 December 2020

The Critical Success Factors for the post-Covid workplace

The Covid-19 enforced lockdown has had at least one major upside for me – leadership teams are now wanting to talk about the workplace and new ways of working for staff.


30 October 2019

TwentyTwo helps Toi Ohomai take home International Award

 Congratulations to Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology who took out the Australasia "Institution of the Year" award at the 2019 Tertiary Education Facilities Management Association Awards.


22 October 2019

“A new approach to workplace thinking is needed,” says Duncan Mitchell

 I read an article on Workplace Insight recently with interest as it raised the issue that many workplace change projects are not delivering the outcomes businesses and empolyees are expecting.


14 November 2018

How to deliver a truly effective, high-performance workplace

The workplace is a complex environment that needs to balance many competing drivers.In my previous blog, I expressed my frustration with many businesses seeking simplistic solutions to complex workplace issues.


09 April 2018

ABW: Why does Activity Based Working feel more like an accounting solution than a workplace solution?

What's ABW?Talk to many Property Managers in large corporates or government organisations about workplace planning and the first thing they will tell you about is Activity Based Working or ABW.


30 January 2017

Taking innovation learnings from Fusionopolis to Gracefield

While in Singapore in July, I visited an innovation precinct called ‘one-north’ – specifically one of its developments called ‘Fusionopolis’ that’s relevant to work that TwentyTwo has done with Callaghan Innovation on its Gracefield Innovation Quarter in Lower Hutt.


11 July 2016

The perils of Millenials

It's always fascinating to read articles about what Millennials want in their workplaces, demand from their employers, and general views on how they're seen as part of society.


06 April 2016

Planning workplaces to reduce the menace of interruption

I recently watched Jason Fried’s excellent TED talk Why work doesn't happen at work.


04 June 2015

Five workplace trends for 2015

The tech revolution is disrupting traditional working practice and workspace planning has to reflect the changing times.Employees have increasingly high expectations around how their employer should respond to the revolution.


04 June 2015

TwentyTwo’s tips for 2015 – Auckland and Wellington office market

Following our latest blog post on Five workplace trends for 2015, here’s our thinking on property trends for Auckland and Wellington this year.


04 June 2015

TINTalk – Building Cultures That Inspire and Succeed

I’ve always been interested in how some companies focus on their culture to help them succeed, and particularly how the physical workplace can support a culture change.