Hybrid Work

Is Hot-Desking the Magical Solution for Hybrid Work??? Nope!

Spoiler alert! Desk booking isn't a standalone solution to make hybrid work, actually work.


If you're involved in helping your company transition to hybrid work, chances are you're familiar with the terms ‘hot-desking’ and ‘hoteling.’ But just in case you aren't, let's define those terms quickly.

While both generally refer to booking a desk at an office or workspace, there is also a notable difference between them. Hot-desking means you make a reservation that guarantees you're getting a seat when you arrive, though you are not able to reserve a specific spot. In contrast, hoteling means you're reserving a specific desk for the day, similar to how you would rent a hotel room. While both concepts existed before hybrid work models became popular, these terms are now all the rage.

“Return to Office” has been an ever-evolving journey. In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, keeping people safe was the primary concern and so making reservations for offices and desks made a lot of sense. Hot-desking and hoteling were all about controlling spacing, enabling contact tracing, and reporting. It was through this context that the rigidity of hot-desking and hoteling started to be perceived as the solution to hybrid work.

But...we believe that's actually a false positive. I mean when was the last time anyone got excited about booking a desk? 

In this next phase of post-pandemic hybrid work, the new challenges are coordinating who's where, when, with whom, and why, and balancing flexibility with purposeful time together. It's going to be all about people...not desks.

As we navigate the path ahead, we're all realizing that we will need a lot more context and additional tools to go alongside desk booking to make the future of work a success.

What else is needed to make hybrid work, actually work?

1. Location awareness.
A system to coordinate where and when people plan to be working is key. Without this knowledge, there's no way to plan meaningful time together. After all, there's nothing worse than getting excited to show up to the office only to find out that nobody you want to meet or socialize with is there. We call this ‘anticipointment’. While desk booking is one way to signal where people intend to be, it doesn't have to be the sole way to do this. And if you're not space constrained, the concept of booking your own desk every day is just silly.

2. Methods for teams to organize when they plan to be together.
Whether your approach to hybrid work is more prescriptive in suggesting or requiring people to be in the office on certain days OR it's more choice-based, teams need the ability to coordinate easily when they're going to come together. Unfortunately neither slack nor calendars were designed to do this well. Whether its for collaboration or building bonds, it should be easy for team leaders and team members to facilitate their co-located activities.

3. A strategy that establishes good hybrid work policies.
Policies don’t need to be a four letter word. Rather, policies should simply articulate and clarify how a company, department, or team is approaching the balance of remote versus in-person work. These are new complexities that have never been contemplated before. Questions like, “What's a rule? What's a choice?” must be clarified for both employees and leaders. Also, who determines what's a choice or a rule? Is it the employee or the team leader? Is it the department leader or the C-suite? You will need to operationalize hybrid work through clear and concise policies across the organization. And, chances are each team will require a different approach based on the work they do, so policies may need to differ between teams.

4. A system that gathers insights and data.
Hybrid work will undoubtedly impact critical metrics across your organization. People metrics like: employee engagement, employee retention, productivity, connectivity to people as well as purpose, will all be impacted by these new models. On the real estate side of the house, there are huge potential real estate and facilities savings that can be reaped with a well-coordinated hybrid model. While we all probably have more questions than answers right now, it's critical that you commit to early data collection which will eventually pay meaningful dividends down the road.

TLDR: desk booking does play a role in hybrid work, albeit smaller than many may have initially expected. In order for hybrid work to truly work efficiently and effectively, it needs to function in concert with the points outlined above.

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