Monday, November 28, 2011


Some companies are moving to a system of seating for employees where the workspaces are not assigned to anyone in particular. Each employee can just pick any spot when they arrive at work. This system is called hoteling (but according to Wikipedia if reservations aren’t necessary, it should be called “hot-desking”).

The benefits from a company point-of-view are obvious: saving costs. If employees are in the office 75% of the time on average, then the company only needs to offer 75% as many work stations. And with people having to store their work items in lockers, they typically don’t accumulate as much paper and other items so that the work stations can be smaller.

In talking to employees about this system, I was surprised to learn that the most common concern is the lack of a space to call one’s own. I would have thought that other concerns would be greater such as the time it takes to bring work items from a locker and set up each morning, and more time to tear down each evening.

Another possible concern is the inevitable distraction that comes with denser seating. But, in informal polling, I’ve found that the biggest concern is not having a feeling of ownership over some space that can be filled with family pictures and other personal items.

While some employees grumble, the prospect of large savings will drive more employers to adopt some form of hoteling.


  1. I have some reservations about this concept, like would there be a Maitre D' to help you find things?

  2. @Big Cajun Man: By "things" do you mean people? I think the idea is that you sit near the people you happen to be working with that day and you locate anyone further away with a phone call or email.

  3. Makes it easier to hide from co-workers who say:
    * Are flatulent
    * Snarf
    * Talk really loud

    As well

  4. I can understand both sides of the coin on this one. In today's dog eat dog world companies need to save where they can, but some positions you just can't do this with. Admin assistants, customer service reps.(phone) and of course the managers.

    As a deskside technician I have seen it all when it comes to cubicle culture and forcing that sixty something matriarch of the company to take down those pics of her grandchildren and their art work...well you might as well dump her on the nearest slab of ice and send her off along with her years of experience. Also, had anyone forced me to take my kids pics down when I was doing phone support and get rid of my binders with all my quick fixes for those rare issues would have led me to run to the nearest company led by managers who hate the idea as well.

    When I was a sales manager on the road I could have managed my office duties from the corner of a counter in the cafeteria. As a matter of fact, had they not given me a full cubicle and all the fixuns I probably would have made a few more sales.

    To reiterate my point: do it where it works and doesn't affect your talent pool (a companies greatest asset) and pay a little extra on the cleaning services. The last thing I would want to do is sit at that desk where someone was sick the day before.

  5. @Johnny: Nice picture! Many people feel the way you do, but many companies aren't following your suggestions. The phone issue is dealt with by having employees log into a phone to make it theirs temporarily. So, admin assistants, customer service reps, and (gasp) even management are being pushed out into the common pool of open seating. Employees who use physical equipment (like IT guys) get a lab to work in, but they are intended to be in the open pool when not working on this equipment. HR and finance people who have to maintain some sensitive paper files are given a locked room for the files, but are expected to use electronic copies as much as possible, and are expected to sit out in the open pool. It's a brave new world.

  6. @Melanie: You make a good point about the difference between company concerns and employee concerns. I happen to work with people who are very concerned about their efficiency, but this isn't universal, which probably explains why lack of personal space seems to be a much bigger concern for employees.

    1. The comment above is a reply to Melanie Samson's comment:

      Sounds like a soul crushing environment for anyone who works semi-independently but I can see it being useful in creative domains where teamwork and brainstorming is part of the daily routine.

      It doesn't surprise me that the employees were more concerned about no longer having a space of their own than needing more time to grab things from a locker. That's the employer's problem since it's reducing efficiency. I'm surprised that hasn't been factored into the equation.

  7. @Melanie: I don't think it's cynical to observe that there are competing interests. I guess the challenge for an employer is whether people will get over their initial worries and find that the new system works well or whether they will remain unhappy. If it's the latter, then the next question is whether the new system will cause key people to leave. The blunt truth is that for many employees, a company isn't very concerned about them leaving. Some employees are easily replaced and others are not. It's the key employees whose concerns are more likely to be addressed.

    1. The comment above is a reply to another of Melanie Samson's comments:

      I didn't mean to be so cynical, but the competing interests really struck me here, especially if the employees weren't consulted before implementing such a change.

      I'm not in a corporate environment and I personally am always willing to go beyond what is required of me, but I do think I'd be sensitive to changes that affect my working conditions.