Hot Desking: The Pros and Cons of Sharing a Workspace

Group of people working together in an office

Younger workers typically favour less rigid and more communal environments, and most modern companies are shifting the way they do business to attract and accommodate new talent. So, it's not just technology that has transformed traditional office design over the years; today's employees also need to embrace open floor plans, activity-based workspaces and hot desking.

For those not familiar with hot desking, it's a flexible office environment where no one has an assigned workspace. You come to work and simply select any open desk or cubicle, and that's your base of operations for the day. Depending on the company, you could be choosing from a row of identical work stations, or you may have options for standing desks, group work tables or other non-traditional seating arrangements.

Hot desking is appealing to employers because it's a more efficient use of space, and a smaller footprint means cheaper rent. But for potential employees searching for a new job or for freelancers considering a coworking space to share with other independent workers, what are the upsides to swapping desks every day? We'll take a look now at all the pros and cons of being a nomad at work to help you decide what's best for you.

The Pros

You may be a little apprehensive about searching for a new place to sit every day, especially if you had your own office at a previous job. There are a lot of positive aspects to hot desking, however, and here are six advantages for you to consider.

1. There's More Opportunity for Collaboration

One of the main reasons that employers promote hot desking is because it creates a more collaborative environment. Any open floor plan can increase valuable face-to-face communication, but sharing desk space takes it up a notch by giving you the opportunity to interact with a much wider variety of people. Open sharing of ideas between employees with completely different jobs, strengths and experiences often leads to more creative, innovative and ambitious projects.

Aside from the exciting brainstorming and problem-solving sessions, there are other benefits to the teamwork this setup can foster. You'll get helpful support when confronting difficult tasks and heavy workloads, while toughing out all the ups and downs of a project together can create meaningful relationships with your coworkers.

2. It Improves Your Social Skills

Whether you've been working at home or in a small office with the same people for three years, or glued to your computer in a row of high-walled cubicles, chances are your social skills have gotten a bit rusty. Transition to a job that employs hot desking, or rent desk space in a coworking environment, and you'll get daily chances to meet new people and interact on a more complex level than just the casual hellos you might exchange with regulars at the local coffee house.

Even if you're the chatty type who collaborates easily with others in your corporate office, being generally restricted to one department means you may get used to shorthand conversations in speciality-specific jargon. Working next to people from different areas of the company, on the other hand, requires you beef up on your listening skills and learn to assess a new person's communication style, while it also forces you to express yourself more clearly.

3. You Can Choose Your Environment

Anyone who's ever asked the hostess to be sat away from noisy children or a cold air vent in the restaurant knows that your environment greatly contributes to your happiness. The beauty of hot desking is that you'll often be able to choose a workspace more conducive to your needs and even your mood. A quiet spot in the corner, a bright desk space by the window or a sofa in a casual meeting space near the kitchen offer different advantages depending on what type of work you need done that day.

This will be easier in larger companies where there are many workspaces to choose from, but another perk of hot desking is the ability to avoid an annoying coworker. Rather than being eternally stuck across from a micromanaging boss or next to someone who talks loudly on the phone all day, you can select a spot among workers you actually get along with.

When choosing a coworking space to rent, make sure to select a flexible environment that offers both communal and private workspace, and has an ambience you find pleasant. Also check for their list of amenities, which includes food and drink, standing desks and even exercise or relaxation spaces.

4. You'll Be More Productive

A 2014 study of workers showed that an organised and uncluttered workspace contributed to a 167% increase in productivity. Hot desking is the epitome of a clean work area since each worker must clear the entire space each day and leave it pristine for the next worker. If you tend to let clutter build up into a chaotic mess of old files, notes and expired memos, desk sharing solves that problem by forcing you to streamline and stay easily mobile between spaces.

5. There's a Chance for Flexible Hours

Companies use hot desking to save on workspace, and they count on their employees not all being in the building at the same time. Landing a job at one of these companies likely means you'll have greater flexibility in choosing work hours to suit your lifestyle. Whether you want time in the mornings to hammer out a novel or prefer to be home in the afternoons to pick your kids up from school, there will be a desk that's been vacated by someone working an opposite schedule.

Setting your own hours, as well as working from home and then popping into the office once or twice a week to collaborate with coworkers, helps you create the perfect work-life balance that mental health experts advocate.

6. It Can Help Your Business Budget

If you're a freelancer or running a small business, acquiring a private workspace can be expensive. Booking a monthly hot desk can save you quite a lot of money, as a quick search on coworking sites like WeWork will show you. A shared desk in London, for example, saves around £1,200 per year over a dedicated desk and runs thousands less than private office space.

Coworking spaces can vary greatly in price, so shop around to find the best deal. Some offer flexible hot desk options such as limited days a month, offering an even less expensive option than 24/7 workspace access.

The Cons

As awesome as the benefits of hot desking are, there are a few potential downsides. Read below for some things to consider before you leap into sharing a workspace.

1. It Can Increase Distractions

Communal environments are great for brainstorming as well as keeping up on the latest news and gossip, but they can be really distracting if you need to focus on something complicated or time-sensitive. There are ways to combat these disruptions to your workflow, like moving to a more quiet area or putting on noise-cancelling headphones, but it defeats the whole purpose of hot desking if you are constantly trying to tune out your coworkers.

Consider taking a job in a more traditional environment if you prefer to work in a controlled and quiet workspace.

2. You May Get Stressed Out

While chatting with new coworkers every day can be exciting and help inspire creative ideas, the uncertainty of your environment can also cause stress. Searching for an open desk among unfamiliar faces can transport you back to your childhood, nervously scanning the lunchroom for a safe place to sit. Once you've found a good spot, you may feel like you've bonded with a coworker, only to have weeks pass before you can find a place next to them again.

Particularly in large businesses, the continuous cycle of new faces can make it difficult to remember everyone's name, and you may discover after a few months that you don't know anyone that well. Despite the busy environment, the chaotic seating arrangements can cause you to feel isolated.

If too much randomness concerns you, look for jobs in smaller companies, or for offices that keep hot desking contained within separate departments.

3. You May Feel a Loss of Identity

One of the biggest complaints about hot desking is the inability to personalise your own workspace. Many employees like having a small section of their environment completely within their control, to both express their identity and provide a soothingly familiar space to return to after stressful meetings or business trips.

A 2018 study by the University of Wolverhampton, meanwhile, found that the 'non-territorial office' could distress people enough to affect their productivity.

There are ways to personalise your space in small ways, like choosing a unique laptop wallpaper or phone case or bringing your travel mug emblazoned with the words 'Shhh… There's wine in here!'. If you require a more lavishly adorned command centre, however, hot desking likely won't work well for you.

4. There Could Be Less Supervisor Support

Traditional office spaces generally place employees near their immediate supervisors. If hot desking extends to management, however, you might not always know where your boss is. There are always technological ways to keep in touch about your assignments, but it can be frustrating when you need a response to an issue quickly. It can also be difficult to resolve workplace conflicts without a person of authority nearby to keep order or to act as a neutral third party in work-related disagreements.

5. Your Inner Germaphobe May Be Triggered

You might think door handles, hotel TV remotes and public toilets are the most germ-infested areas in daily life but feel free to add workspaces to your nightmares.

According to microbiologist Dr Charles Gerba, a desk can contain 10 million bacteria, and your keyboard alone has over 3,200 germs per square inch. Hot desking means more people and more germs, so make sure your company or coworking space has plenty of antibacterial cleaning supplies and hand sanitiser available!

6. You Might Be More Disorganised

Though we mentioned above that the minimalist workspace can contribute to productivity, the lack of a stable environment can cause organisation and efficiency problems for some workers. Finding and setting up a desk space every day can be time-consuming, especially if you need to plug in laptops and other devices as well as arranging any hard copies of documents and client lists. If you're the type of worker who likes to spread visual materials across a whole workspace, it can be difficult to pack this all up at the end of the day and then try to reorder them in the exact same way the next morning.

Lack of permanent seating arrangements can also make it difficult to find and coordinate with other people in your department when a normal office style would have them seated in the immediate vicinity. If you're committed to the hot desking environment, one of the ways to overcome communication and organisation issues is by using all the latest storage, chat and time management apps available.

There's a lot to consider when deciding if hot desking is right for you. The pros of a collaborative and ever-changing environment may be just what you're looking for, but more introverted types may be concerned by some of the disadvantages of losing personal space and a more comfortable hierarchy. You may not have a choice if your company is reorganising to incorporate this style of work, but you can always use these lists to collaborate with your bosses on the best way forward.

Have you tried hot desking? What do you think are some of the pros and cons of a more flexible workspace? Join the conversation below to let us know how it's affected the way you work.