Everyone has seen photos of regimented offices from the 1940s, where rows of office staff, each with their allocated desks, tap away on typewriters or fill in paperwork. But strip away the machines, furniture and fashions and you’re left with a system that is still in use all around the world: one employee, one desk.

Today this model of running an office is being challenged by more flexible and human-friendly office philosophies, facilitated by technologies such as Wi-Fi and the changing expectations of workers and employers. Two of the methodologies that have risen to the top of the list are “hot desking” and “agile working”. Both offer flexibility and efficiency to a business, and both are generally popular among staff, making them a win-win solution.

Both systems can run alongside a wider philosophy of flexible working that employees in many industries now expect, and as a result, serviced office providers are offering plenty of options for companies taking a more flexible approach.

What is hot desking?

Hot desking is where employees all work under a single roof, but the desks themselves are allocated on a first come, first-served basis. It’s possible that a given employee in a hot desking office might work on a different desk every day for weeks. Indeed, “desks” might not even be individual pieces of furniture as such – the desk could be a large table where staff pick a spot and get working.

Advantages of hot desking

Efficiency

Hot desking is an efficient use of space for a business. Remember that most employees will have about four weeks’ leave every year, so once you have more than 12 employees, there’s a good chance that there will be one vacant desk on any given day, if desks are allocated individually. Hot desking means that companies only need to supply enough desk space for the number of employees that are working on an average day, and that can cut the amount of space required.

Flexibility

Hot desking also allows teams to assemble if they’re working on a project together, and then form different teams the following day, with minimal disruption to the rest of the office.

Staff mixing

Employees sitting next to the same colleagues for years isn’t the best way to build a company with lots of internal networks and cross-fertilisation of ideas. It’s inevitable that sitting next to a mix of colleagues means staff get to know each other better, and this can help with coherence and team-building.

Challenges of hot desking

Privacy and quiet

Staff who are working with words or numbers often need silence to not lose their train of thought. It can be difficult to guarantee a quiet environment if the only desks available are next to teams talking to each other, unless designated quiet areas are set up. Those working on sensitive materials might also require a level of privacy that can’t be guaranteed in the hot desking environment.

Technology and bandwidth

Modern technology needs to be fully implemented if hot desking is to work. If desktop PCs are in use, they must be networked so that work is saved not on the hard drives but on a shared server or in the cloud, and every PC and phone should be accessible by all employees. If laptops are used, it’s essential that the Wi-Fi can cope with the demand, or that ethernet cables are supplied to every desk space.

Staff buy-in

Although hot desking is popular, some employees prefer the traditional ways, and like to have their own computer with their own family photos and other home comforts. Larger companies might be able to offer static desks to some, but it would be challenging for smaller organisations.

It’s not always applicable

Hot desking works best for businesses relying heavily on IT among staff. Where paperwork, physical inboxes and specialist heavy equipment are required, it becomes almost impossible.

What is Agile Working?

Agile working takes hot desking to the next level, and is made possible by modern wireless technologies. In an agile office, nowhere is out of bounds to the employee, and that includes beyond the front door. Although office space is provided, staff might choose to work at home, at the cafe or in the park , and when inside an agile office, it’s not uncommon to see employees working away in the kitchen, the break-out area, the reception, or wherever else they feel productive.

Advantages of agile working

Total flexibility

Agile working allows complete flexibility for staff members, letting them choose the location they feel most productive in. While one member might thrive in a convivial environment next to the coffee machine, another might prefer the solitude of the store room, and as long as these spaces are allowed, everyone’s happy. And that leads to…

Securing the best staff

A happy, flexible office space attracts the most motivated talent, because injecting flexibility into the working day opens the door to a more diverse set of employees. Say you find a brilliant accountant who has to do two school runs every day; an agile office lets them take that time out and still fulfill their work hours between home and the office. And if the best person prefers to come into the office every day, that option is available too.

Costs

Because some staff will prefer to spend time away from the office, less room is required, and that helps keep costs down.

Disadvantages of agile working

It’s not for everyone

Not all workers thrive in the agile environment – some prefer the consistency of their own desk and sitting next to the same colleagues. If these can be accommodated within the agile space, that’s great – but it’s not always possible.

Areas might need to be designated

Complete flexibility isn’t always possible; some employees might prefer quiet space, and working next to certain machinery might be a large part of the job. If a large proportion of a company’s work needs specialist spaces, agility doesn’t work.

More discipline and trust is required

While most workers are conscientious, some may treat maximum flexibility as a license to slack a little, which can lead to disgruntlement among colleagues and reduce productivity. At the same time, staff don’t like to think they are being monitored, so a sensitive and grown-up approach needs to be sought to ensure staff are doing their share of the work.

Technology needs to keep up

As with hot desking, there needs to be the technological infrastructure in place to facilitate an agile office. Wi-Fi will be doing most of the heavy lifting, and power sockets need to keep up with demand. Staff working remotely may require generous mobile data allowances, which can become costly.

If you’ve got any questions about how Easy Offices can help you find a suitable workspace for either method, get in touch.

 

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