Keeping your hot-deskers shipshape

Summary:If applied with care, forethought and consultation, hot-desking it can be a solution right across your company. But the issues are far-reaching - not least of which is selecting the right technology

Keeping your hot-deskers shipshape
Manek Dubash
If applied with care, forethought and consultation, hot-desking it can be a solution right across your company. But the issues are far-reaching - not least of which is selecting the right technology

The Sunday Times'   annual survey into Britain's best companies, as voted for by their employees, reminds us that the nature of work is changing. As more people classify themselves as intellectual workers rather than blue-collar, they want a better balance between life and work. Legislation now gives employees a statutory right to ask for more flexible working practices and employers must respond within two weeks.

It's not just a nice-to-have either. As technology increasingly permits, more people find their work removes them from the office for significant periods of time, especially if the business becomes more dispersed.

It all means flexible working is becoming more prevalent, in particular, hot-desking. It's a term believed to derive from the sharing of bunks that perforce exists on warships: to save space, a sailor coming off watch sleeps in a bunk still warm from the previous occupant who is just going on duty. In the same way, employees share desks but not at the same time.

Hot-desking benefits
Because of their peripatetic work patterns, sales forces in particular are likely to experience the biggest increases in productivity as a result of hot-desking. Out meeting clients, they may only be at their desks 10-20 percent of the time, so hot-desking for them makes enormous sense, savings stemming from not having to provide everyone with their own desk.

That sort of flexibility is popular among other employees too, as the newspaper's survey suggests. If people are allowed to work from home, even as little as a morning a week, their job satisfaction jumps. Among the top 100 companies, many, such as Sun, allow considerable degrees of work/life flexibility, including hot-desking. Employers tend to agree that such flexible working can help retain staff and increase productivity.

HR issues
Some employees say that the loss of social contact is a disincentive to hot-desking, since not everybody's character suits solo working. It's argued too that the lack of a strongly defined company culture, which can be one consequence of hot-desking, makes induction harder when hiring new staff. Some managers also report problems regarding loss of control over subordinates, although others say this quickly dissipates with the correct training.

IT issues
IT departments suffer more than most when it comes to hot-desking, though. From a technology perspective, it adds costs and management time to set up and manage it. Employees with only occasional contact with IT systems may lead to greater reliance on the helpdesk, which has a cost attached. Those without robust networks may also find that upgrades are required, as the load involved in processing screen frames for dozens -- if not hundreds -- of users can be considerable, especially for graphics-heavy applications.

If a more conventional, PC-based approach is taken, management overheads are likely to be higher, security needs to be watertight and costs per workstation may be higher. For example, a hot-desked PC will need a card reader so that, wherever the user logs on, the correct profile along with network and file server permissions are delivered automatically to that PC and the machine looks to each individual like their own.

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Topics: Mobility


Manek Dubash is an analyst and journalist with over 30 years experience. Focused on business technology, he observes and comments on enterprise infrastructure issues for a range of industry-influential websites. His work has appeared in national newspapers as well as specialist technology journals and websites. He has also held senior pos... Full Bio

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