Why hot-desking is a bad idea

Hot-desking (aka hotelling) in open plan offices seems to be growing in popularity, and why not, since it seems to make sense from an financial and collaborative viewpoint. But I am of the belief that it’s actually a bad idea. Here’s why:

It’s unhygienic: Most hot-desk arrangements I have seen involve a thin client PC (eg. Windows Thin PC) on each hot-desk which is used to provide a way for a current user to access their computer session wherever they log in. Since the average keyboard has sixty times more germs than a toilet seat, I actually feel disgusted every time I sit down at a hot-desk and am expecting to use the filthy keyboard all day (much like if someone asked me to set up my computer on a toilet seat).

It’s confusing: Not knowing where someone is each day is particularly confusing, especially for new starters who are getting to know people. Sure, IM solves this situation to some degree, but I’ve spent time roaming the office floors looking for people who I don’t know where they are sitting today.

It doesn’t actually work: Even though organizations have hot-desking so they can cut down on the number of desks and get people to sit together, I have found that people still get established in certain desks as they know they’ll be working there for some time, and they can’t be bothered packing their things up and setting up each day in a new desk. The only time these people seem to get displaced is when they go on leave and someone else has to sit at their ‘hot desk’ amongst the stuff they have left behind. The lack of dedicated space has actually been shown to make employees feel isolated and teamless, amongst other things:

A study released by the University of Sheffield in the UK shows it diminishes the connection between colleagues, and the scattered locations make it difficult for people to communicate with each other.

It continues the obsession with open plan: I seriously don’t like open plan offices and don’t understand why software development workplaces continue to foster them. They encourage constant interruption and distraction which inhibits productivity. Paul Graham explained it best, back in 2004:

After software, the most important tool to a hacker is probably his office. Big companies think the function of office space is to express rank. But hackers use their offices for more than that: they use their office as a place to think in. And if you’re a technology company, their thoughts are your product. So making hackers work in a noisy, distracting environment is like having a paint factory where the air is full of soot.

So what is the answer?

Progressive software companies like Campaign Monitor provide dedicated offices to each team member and a large kitchen table to ensure everyone eats lunch together every day.

I like the idea of providing a dedicated office to each team member to work quietly without disruption, and separate (sound proofed) open areas for team collaboration/socializing. The open areas must be easily booked or can used for an impromptu discussion, and must be clean and connected, to maximise productivity.

As Kelly Executive Recruitment GM Ray Fleming says:

Productivity and motivation are maximised when employees have their own workspace. It helps them to feel part of the organisation and solidifies their position in the team, and businesses need to keep this in mind. Businesses also need to be aware that shifting to hot-desking just to save money may drive some employees to look elsewhere for employment.

Author: Alister Scott

Alister is an Excellence Wrangler for Automattic.

3 thoughts on “Why hot-desking is a bad idea”

  1. Always drop by your blog when you post on Twitter that you’ve got a new post up. This one was particularly helpful, since my current company was looking into hotdesking. Glad they decided against it, and this will show them the bad idea in action.



  2. Wow! I don’t know much about hot-desking but I do think that your supporting image should get some kind of award. It might be one of the funniest images I have seen in a tech article ever. On a serious note that is just disgusting! They should have a huge can of disinfectant spray by each keyboard.


  3. Certainly agree with the evils of hot desking, however i believe the most effective method of development for many groups if to give the group some space to collaborate in, allowing for high accidental communication and high coupling and feedback with a group, which I think is as valuable if not more than private space to think.

    How would you avoid having isolated developers building isolated codebases?


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