Hot-desking / Activity-based workplace - A thing of the past?

by Karina Yu, Marketing Associate | |   Managing People
Hot-desking / Activity-based workplace - A thing of the past?

With embracing innovation being the way of this century, hot-desking and activity-based workplaces (ABW) were introduced for the evolving millennials and savvy businesses. Integrated with flexible settings and creative spaces, the modern office is dynamic and adaptive - aimed to maximise innovation and collaboration.

However, recent research into hot-desking / ABW revealed that the sharing of spaces could actually decrease employee satisfaction and impede productivity levels. Thus, the effectiveness of these popular workplace setups is being questioned.

Does hot-desking / ABW really encourage collaboration?

The urgency to get into work early every morning, worrying about securing a seat and who's sitting around you, would be distressing to most. Substantial time is wasted daily on setting up and settling into workstations, relocating amongst spaces and then packing up at the end of each day. A reserved employee may be struggling to meet his deadlines if people seated next to him are talkative and disruptive. These problems arising from hot-desking arrangements have proven to create employee distrust and negative relationships [1].

The indefinite spaces affect the social dynamism of the workplace, creating partiality and unnecessary tensions between regular occupiers of certain spots and fleeting users [2].

Research has also reinforced the poor performance levels of many employees in these shared environments, and some companies have experienced a decline in teamwork and cohesion [2]. However, the assumption that most older employees will reject the hot-desking concept has proven to be false [3].

Sometimes you just want your own space and the ability to personalise it, especially in an environment that is pretty much your second most frequented residence. The demand for hot-desking / ABW offices is slowly diminishing.

The autonomy to sit wherever you want isn't exactly what current employees are looking for. As Director of workplace think-tank Reventure, Lindsay McMillan explains that the concept of hot-desking 'was created not with workers in mind, but in the interests of conserving space', therefore, the pitfall of hot-desking doesn’t come as a surprise for her [4]. Moreover, hot-desking is said to be introduced to accommodate employees who largely work outside the office [2] - basically people who are hardly even in the office.

Research noted the general misconception with hot-desking: the sharing of spaces leads to more collaboration. The reality is that collaboration in a workplace is strengthened by having access to adequate collaboration spaces and having mobile technology to utilise them [5]. A fixed-desk environment does not deter collaborative efforts.

Different people work better in different environments. Ideally, there would be spaces for the permanent, introverted employee and the extroverted, on-the-go employee - essentially, a workplace that would consist of both fixed workstations and activity-based spaces.

The workplace becomes the choice of destination for the most effective collaboration and productivity for employees when fitted with the right tools and facilities conducive to such interactions but also providing the autonomy and technology for work to be undertaken everywhere else.

"Many more people have higher expectations for their working lives now - they want to be able to work in a more flexible way," noted by Richard Andrews, Managing Director of Inspiration Office, an office space and furniture consultancy; so offices need to cater for this [4].

It's about culture, not where you sit.

Surveys like Glassdoor's Best Places to Work emphasise the significance of workplace culture. 'Career progression, learning and openness of teams' were repeatedly correlated against culture by employees of the top rated companies in Glassdoor’s survey; office settings and its leisure facilities fell between the cracks [6].

"Work environments reflect culture, they do not create culture," says Ram Srinivasan, Vice President and Head Consulting, JLL Canada [6].

Many try and replicate a Google-like workplace, in the hopes of accelerated innovation but the reality is that Google-like success doesn't eventuate for everyone else with the same physical settings [6]. Culture reflects the mindset of the employees. When organisational and employee values align, and the right tools are available to support their efforts, then an innovative, collaborative and productive environment can truly exist. It is about reinventing the experience of work for employees, and in turn increasing the value of their work.


The CEO Institute, established over 25 years ago, helps business leaders like you connect with your peers to share skills, insight, and experience. The CEO Institute's leadership programs are available globally. To register your interest in any of our programs, click enquire.


[1]Retrieved from Morrison, R. & Macky, K. (2017). The Demands and Resources Arising from Shared Office Spaces. Applied Egronomics, vol.60, pp. 103-115.
[2]Retrieved from Sander, L. (2017). The Great Hot-desking Experiment Has Failed.
[3]Retrieved from Koehn, E. (2017). From Hotdesking to Dog Parks, Which Office Trends Should Your Business Follow?
[4]Retrieved from Skills Portal. (2017). Say Hello To Flexible Working.
[5]Retrieved from McDonald, S. (2017). Hot desking, Remote Tech or Millennials: Which is the Bigger Influencer on Office Design?
[6]Retrieved from Srinivasan, R. (2017). How Can Workplaces Achieve The Right Balance Between Work and Play?

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