Activity Based Work or Hotdesking is a shared office approach in which individuals do not have assigned work stations. Rather the office is designed to accommodate all employees on an as needs basis including IT access, meetings, networking etc. Immediately it is clear that the greatest benefit of such a design is that it maximises office space in that you can fit more employees into an a single area. This works by having an employee who is at their desk for 40% of the day and out of the office for 60% of the day. If we have 2 employees that meet this criteria then instead of 2 desks hypothetically they could work from 1. Less space per employee means less overheads and greater savings for the organisation. Another benefit for organisations that have multiple departments is that due to the office spaces being indifferent, departments can be moved and changed as needed throughout office spaces providing greater flexibility.
So great benefits for the organisation but what about the individual? On average not so great.
In a study by Morrison & Macky (2017) found that shared desk environments increased distrust, distractions, uncooperative behaviour and negative relationships. Shared desk environments were also found to have a decreased perception of supervisor support. In a study by Hirst (2011) in which observations were made of a team transitioning to a hotdesking system, it was found that social patterns still persisted in that some individuals would arrive early and settle in certain spaces whilst those who were unable to were termed “wanderers” resulting in bigger environmental changes and lower perceived identity at work. Both studies also cited the issue of having to pack up and set up desks on a daily basis which was perceived as a waste of time by employees and an inconvenience.
On the face of it a shared desk environment makes sense, much like trickle down economics. However, it only makes sense from a financial standpoint and it is at the cost of employee wellbeing. That is not to say that some employees do not enjoy a flexible work environment where they can choose to take a space that is isolated, social, standing, sitting or anything in between but it is a preference and depends on their work style and demands. Workspaces need to accommodate the needs of the worker and should be a reflection of the various work roles of a team.
Hirst, A. (2011). Settlers, vagrants and mutual indifference: Unintended consequences of hot-desking. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 24(6), 767-788. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09534811111175742
Morrison, R. L., & Macky, K. A. (2017). The demands and resources arising from shared office spaces. Applied Ergonomics, 60, 103-115. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.apergo.2016.11.007