Is Hot Desking a Cool Idea -- or a Catastrophe?

Last Updated May 14, 2008 1:56 AM EDT

215239532_baebec2f64_m.jpgMy brother, a muckety-muck for storage vendor Sepaton, stopped by yesterday en route to Red Herring 100, where he's part of a panel discussing clean technology. Over lunch he told me that one of the speakers would be discussing new software to enable hot desking.

Hot desking? Surely not the short-lived '80s efficiency fad, whereby employees were turned into roaming vagabonds without a place to set their staplers?

Yep. It's ba-ack. The same trend that began with hoopla and ended with snickers for companies like Chiat/Day is resurfacing.

The idea behind hot desking (a.k.a. hotdesking, a.k.a. hoteling) sounds brilliant. Rather than maintain desk space and amenities for employees (such as salespeople) who might not use them regularly, a company creates a revolving roster of desks that anyone can use on a reservation basis. Employees' personal items are stored in lockers or crates, to be trotted out only when their owners made an in-office appearance. Files are centrally stored on network computers, accessible at any desk. Laptops, BlackBerrys and cell phones make things even easier.

Eliminate redundancy, foster efficiency, reduce overhead and save money. What's not to like?

Well, how about this: It might kill collaboration. A February 2008 study from the Institute of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield in England suggested that hot desking makes workers feel less connected to their team and may limit knowledge-sharing across the company.

Other people argue that by creating a "virtual" office space, people are deprived of privacy and the opportunity to build relationships both with their colleagues and surroundings. And a quick Google search on the topic unearths scads of scathing comments.

I've never hot desked and doubt I'd be good at it; I'm more of a nester, less of a Sherpa. But if any of you out there are doing (or have done) it, I'd love to hear your take. And meanwhile, take my poll.

[poll id=9]

(Image by Frenckieb via Flickr, CC 2.0)

  • CC Holland

    CC Holland is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of national magazines. Online, she was a columnist for AnchorDesk.com and writes regularly for Law.com and BNET. On the other side of the journalism desk, she's been a managing editor for ZDNet, CNet, and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where she earned an APTRA Best News Web Site award.