Why companies are doing away with assigned desks

It sounds like a gag straight out of a Dilbert cartoon. But for a growing number of companies, taking away assigned desks and turning employees into office nomads has its advantages.

At Citi, executives saw office work space going unused because employees were home sick, out on vacation or on flexible schedules. So the company filled an entire floor of a building in Long Island City with conference rooms, meeting areas and desks -- but no assigned desks. In fact, there are only 150 spaces for 200 people, according to Harvard Business Review. Employees put their personal belongings in lockers and simply find a space where they want to work.

The trend, informally known as "hot desking" or hoteling, has begun to take hold in Europe and is spreading to North America. The new Toronto headquarters of professional services firm Deloitte will have no assigned desks when it opens next year. Even the top boss will only have a locker for his personal stuff.

"We are asking people to be agile, as opposed to 20 years ago, when you would have gone to the office and had your space, your cubicle," the managing general partner for the Deloitte office told the Financial Post.

The idea is to have offices operating at maximum efficiency. It's also a response to employees moving away from paper and into purely digital environments. They don't need file cabinets and they no longer have piles of memos to sort through.

Another benefit of the trend is that it forces employees to mingle more. An executive at Samsung describes it as getting people to "collide," increasing the number of chance encounters that could lead to more collaboration. One workplace expert estimates that 40 percent to 60 percent of a worker's interactions during the workday are with immediate office neighbors, The Wall Street Journal reports. The chance of interacting with someone two rows away drops to 5 percent to 10 percent.

In downtown Los Angeles, real estate brokerage CBRE asked employees to scan or throw out most of their papers and assigned each one just one file drawer for storing documents, The Los Angeles Times reports. The company expanded the model to its Baltimore office as well.

Washington-based video game developer Valve adopted a different strategy, mounting worker desks on wheels so they could roll into new work areas whenever they wanted.

In New York, consulting firm Gerson Lehrman Group did away with assigned desks for its 250 employees. Workers instead migrate around different seating areas, including large tables and the office coffee bar.

The trend is even spreading to the federal government: The General Services Administration did away with many assigned desks, instead requiring workers to reserve workstations in advance. "It really changed dramatically how this agency works and collaborates," one employee told The New York Times.