Hot Desking - Flexible Office Concepts

What is Hot Desking and what are the Benefits for Companies and Employees

When new office concepts are developed the keyword »hot desking« comes up quite often. Hot desking (sometimes also referred as desk sharing) means that in a part of an organization there are lesser desks available than employees assigned to that area. A hot desking ratio of 1:1,25 means that for ten employees are only eight desks available.

At first sight this might sound a bit odd. You go to the office and instead of having your personal assigned desk you need to go and have a look for a free space. Of course the most obvious benefit of hot desking for companies is the possibility to realize cost savings through reduced real estate spendings. But there are a lot of other benefits that come up with a flexible workplace concept – even for employees. What these benefits are I want to show with this article.

Rückzugsbereich im Open Space

Reasons for Hot Desking and Benefits from the Usage of Hot Desking

If you take a look at a common work day in any office around the globe you will realize that many desks are not used. Some of them are abandoned because people are on vacation or on sick leave. Additionally people are away for training purposes. And even though we have a lot of technology available in our mobile and globally connected working world we are quite often out of office on a business trip to visit our customers. If you take just 25 days of vacation and sick leave into account this means that a single desk is unused for five working weeks a year. The potential only for real estate savings is apparent.

But what is much more important from my point of view are the benefits of a hot desking concept for the single employee. During a work day or week usually you have different tasks to finish. Some of them require concentration others need exchange with your coworkers to be completed. If you want to finish a project report or read something that requires focus time you will prefer a work place that offers a silent surrounding. On the other hand if you need to develop a creative solution – no matter if you do this alone or in a team – you will need an inspiring surrounding that supports creative work. Great if you do not only have your personal standard workplace available. Of course this needs an individually developed work and office concept for each organization that is adapted to the needs of the employees and offers a variety work possibilities.

Furthermore you have the possibility to sit together with colleagues you are working on a common project. In times where people need to work in different teams with different members an aspect that should not be underestimated. But also if you work rarely in teams it can be very valuable to sit together with different colleagues from time to time. As we know from the theory of “weak ties” the connections to people you rarely have contact with are the ones that give you new impulses1).

What are the Requirements for the Implementation of a Hot Desk Concept?

If you want to implement a flexible workplace concept that is working in everyday life it is inevitable to gain a basic understanding about how work is conducted inside a company. If you have this understanding you can derive the optimal room modules and infrastructures.

Out of the sight of ergonomics it is necessary that all furniture components can be adjusted to the height of the user very quickly, e. g. through the use of height-adjustable tables that should also be adjustable to a standing height range as well. Work should be mostly digital and require only few paper, i. e. that the majority of the information and data needed for the daily work should be available in a digital form.

If notebooks are used they should be connected to larger external monitors via a docking station or a port replicator.

For whom is Hot Desking Suitable?

Our latest research at Fraunhofer IAO shows that – regarding to the success measures motivation, well-being and performance – there is no statistical difference if you work in a fixed or a shared desk concept2).

Assigned desk or hot desking concepts -how do wo work better? Comparison of well-being, motivation and performance in a fixed desk and a hot desking work concept.

Assigned desk or hot desking concept -how do we work better? Comparison of well-being, motivation and performance in a fixed desk and a hot desking work concept.

So – basically most office and knowledge work is suitable for a hot desking concept. Which work really is suitable and to what extent the sharing concept can be implemented should be defined upon a work and task analysis. For practical purposes it is an advantage if central support functions like a secretary have a designated workplace.

Especially managers argue that they need their personal and enclosed office because they have so many confidential conversations. If you take a closer look to the shares of confidential talks from the whole working time (e. g. in a performance review conversation with an employee) a single office is seldom required.

Not to mention the fact that it is getting more and more important for companies to heighten their internal information transparency to be able to react better and faster to today’s volatile markets.

How-to find a Desk in a Hot Desking Concept?

If you continue thinking about hot desking you might conclude that especially in larger offices you need to search for a desk far away from your colleagues so that you will sit together with coworkers from other departments who are strangers to you. What might be a good idea from the point of the weak ties theory practically would lead to dissatisfaction. So for practical reasons it has been approved to apply a hot desking concept with certain limits, i. e. only employees from a department share their desks among each other. This kind of Home Base principle also ensures that employees maintain a feeling of home and affiliation.

Finding a free desk usually is done by a simple view a round the office (“Where is a free desk”) or alternatively based on special booking systems that show free spaces at a glance or – but that is quite seldom in practice – via a booking manager who is taking care of the booking and assignment of workplaces just like a hotel receptionist. In practice – together with the home base principle – the system of visual control is the most common.

Some companies offer special apps that help employees finding a place that is suitable for a specific task. Within these apps you can select if you are planning to work alone or with a group and define what exactly you want to do – e. g. making a phone call or having a meeting. The app then shows you suitable work spaces and where they are located within a building.

What is a Clean Desk Principle?

If work places are being shared it is inevitable that you clean up your desk before leaving the building so that the user is able to begin with his work without any time loss. That’s what is usually called a clean desk policy. This leads to another topic that is being discussed with hot desking: hygiene. Regarding external input devices like mouses and keyboards it is possible to provide each employee with his own set which he or she is taking with them. Alternatively the devices are bound to the desk and are connected via a docking station with the notebook of the user. In that case some cleaning agents (e. g. disinfection spray) should be provided at the desk, for example in a little storage unit under the table. It has shown that providing cleaning agents is the easier and most practicable way.

By the way: At Fraunhofer IAO we support companies with an analysis and conception of future proof work and office concepts (Site is only available in german at the moment): User-oriented development and conception of future-proof work and office surroundings


1) Mark Granovetter: The Strength of Weak Ties. In: American Journal of Sociology 78 (1973), S. 1360–1380.

2) Bauer, W. (Hrsg.), Rief, S., Jurecic, M., Kelter, J., Stolze, D.: Kurzbericht Studie »Office Settings«, 2014 (in German)