Is the desk as we know it in danger?

The pros and cons of hotdesking.

For employers, hotdesking and activity-based working are great – the sharing of workspaces allows them to cut back on office space.

For employees, however, the upside is sometimes less obvious. Many employees, long used to arriving at work and plonking themselves down in their own space every morning, can struggle with not having a desk to call their own.

Hotdesking and activity-based working are slightly different. Hotdesking means employees no longer have assigned desks. Instead, when they arrive at work they grab their work materials from their locker, find a spare space and work there for the day. At the end of the day they pack up, leaving the space clear for another person the following morning.

Are assigned desks on their way out?

Are assigned desks on their way out?

In activity-based working, employees also don’t have their own desks, but there are a wider range of workspaces for them to choose from. For instance, there might be a cluster of desks for collaborative working among teams, some pods for quiet work involving concentration, and some meeting rooms.

Consultants and sales people who are often out on the road and recent graduates who are used to studying at home, in the library and in tutorial rooms and lecture theatres tend to adjust better than workers who’ve had their own desk for many years.

Employees might be uncomfortable with the new workplace arrangements, but there’s no doubt they are becoming more popular, particularly in the financial services sector. Macquarie Bank, Dexus, and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia have all adopted the practice.

If you find yourself in a company that adopts hotdesking, follow the tips below to get the most out of it:

Take the challenge

“What we know about the non-territorial office is that people tend to work with the same people around them and some people find it difficult to regularly adjust and acclimatise to different locations and different people,” says George Mylonas, a psychologist and interior designer.

Employees should try to see hotdesking and activity-based working as a challenge rather than a burden. “What we know from the research from people who are able to do that is they’re better able to cope with stress,” says Mylonas. “I would encourage people to challenge themselves to move around the floor or the building and experience different work environments within the office.”

Introduce yourself

When hotdesking, you’ll find yourself sitting next to colleagues who you might never have met, so introduce yourself to them when you sit down and find out a bit about what they do in the organisation.

“It can provide great opportunities to establish new contacts or a resource that can be beneficial on that day or down the track, and it’s an opportunity to acquire new knowledge,” says Mylonas.

Personalise your workspace

Human beings are territorial creatures and like to personalise their own space and this is one of the factors which make the transition to hotdesking difficult. “People feel as though they have no identity and they’re one of many,” says Mylonas.

His solution is simple: carry around “personal artefacts” such as photographs and display them at their temporary desk. “It’s also a good starting point for a conversation with a new colleague,” he says.

Workers can also personalise their laptops with different colours and screen savers.

Be organised

Activity-based workers should prioritise their work tasks at the start of each day, and decide what type of work environment will be best. “For example, if you need to write a report and analyse data you need to concentrate, so you need to choose a quiet zone,” says Mylonas. “You’re likely to be more productive.”

Prioritising also allows you to identify the items you need for that day so you’re not carrying unnecessary and heavy items around the workspace.

Cut back on paper

It’s easy to let the paper pile up when you’ve got your own desk, but you need to cut back once you start hotdesking and activity-based working.

“It’s really important to try and streamline the number of things you have to carry around with you,” says Tony Armstrong, an associate director at commercial real estate company CBRE, where he heads up the firm’s workplace strategy arm.

“Paper independence is usually a big component of activity-based working so that as you move around you only have to carry around a small folder of papers and preferably none at all.”

Going paperless should ideally start ahead of the transition to hotdesking. “If people don’t start that journey they’re already on a bad footing, because they’re going to be dragging a big box of papers out of the cupboard, wandering around, finding a spot that they like with all these papers and their laptop under their arms.”

Get familiar with the new workplace

“It’s really important that people sample all the new workspaces,” says Armstrong, who previously worked for CBA and oversaw the bank’s transition of 6500 staff to activity-based working at its custom-built workplace in Sydney’s Darling Quarter.

Before activity-based working is introduced, Armstrong encourages staff to look at a floorplan of the new workspace and do “a day in the life of” – to work out which spaces would suit their work style and different tasks.

Meet your team

One of the pitfalls of activity-based working and hotdesking is that teams might not interact as often as they should. “It’s really important that teams have an agreement among themselves as to what face-to-face time they’re going to spend each week,” says Armstrong. A weekly team meeting or even a coffee or lunch, is enough.
“It’s a really healthy thing for the team dynamic,” says Armstrong.

Make your workspace comfortable

A simple tip, but important. You should be comfortable in all of your workspaces, so learn how to adjust the chair, the desk and the computer monitor to suit your needs.

December 2014
December 2014

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