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How COVID-19 has Eased the Introduction of Desk Management

Setting up the concept of bookable desks – otherwise known as ‘hot desking’ – is more than just a case of designating desks and making them ‘bookable’.

A lot more.

Some years back when housing association, Notting Hill Genesis, set up its hot desking scheme as a means of shrinking its office costs, they thought their carefully thought-out and funkily designed new workspace facility, complete with docking stations, VOIP, personal storage lockers and showers, underpinned by a slick booking system, would be enough.

They were wrong.

The housing association’s staff were not initially happy with the new arrangement.

According to Jenny Quigley, Notting Hill Genesis project manager at the time, “Staff were taken aback when we told them they wouldn’t have fixed desks anymore, even though we were trying to provide more flexible facilities. Some even had to speak with management before they got on board with our proposals. In retrospect, the cultural change aspect of the project would have benefitted from some external mediation.”

In the case of Notting Hill Genesis, pointing out benefits of the new regime, including the ability to reduce personal expenses through being able to travel to a nearer office, and being able to work from home where it was possible, smoothed the introduction.

While it’s true, in the past, the resistance to losing one’s own desk space would have been a barrier that needed sensitive handling, Covid-19 has effectively removed this ‘human barrier’.

Safety is the new priority

The over-arching priority for businesses now is to ensure a safe working environment as staff members return to the office.

If your organisation has an office space that enables each member of staff that may potentially come into the office to have their own usual desk, then you’ll be in compliance with Government Guidelines on Working safely in offices during Covid-19, that recommend to avoid the use of hot desks. This guidance, in our opinion (which is based on what organisations are doing in reality) is a pipe-dream.

“The over-arching priority for businesses now is to ensure safely spaced desks as staff members return to the office, which means that the concept of ‘desk ownership’ has had to take a back seat.”

The key priority is to provision desks that are safely spaced, properly cleaned between uses, and bookable in advance.  Only by doing this can they assure staff members coming into the office that they will be accommodated safely.  It also means they can track who’s been sitting where, just in case there’s a reported case of COVID-19 amongst their workforce.”

The future trend

As the pandemic lifts, the writing on the wall* is that the concept of everyone coming into the office on a daily basis will be a thing of the past. Much smaller offices, alternative workspace arrangements (such as work hubs), and monthly team meetings in different hired venues, we be amongst the new trends.

*According to a survey commissioned by Skillcast, 70% of employees across all company sizes, regions, industry sectors, ages and gender, said that they can be as productive working from home as in the office, and 68% said they would like to carry on working this way when the crisis is over.

Another stark reality is that many organisations will need to reduce their rental costs or sell off property in order to survive. This will mean a significant change in the staff to desk ratio – going from the usual 1:1 ratio to 1 desk for every 2 staff members or more.

The savings are highly tangible: When it introduced its desk booking scheme a few years back, Genesis Notting Hill reduced the number of offices it had by 43%, resulting in year on year accommodation savings of 1M.

A more receptive audience to change

The ‘good news’ for organisations having to shrink their available workspace and introduce a booking scheme, is that having experienced the many benefits of home working (there are obviously downsides), staff members will be more receptive to this change.

In short, the trade-off of zero commute time and a better work-life balance will mean that the typical resistance to ‘hot desking’ we’ve seen of staff losing their own desk ‘shrine’, complete with (now wilted) pot plants, favourite chair and drawers full of god knows what, will evaporate.

Not having a fixed desk booking system does bring a whole batch of other challenges, such as how to be near to co-workers in the same team, how to facilitate ‘on the job training’ (especially for new starts), locating work colleagues and having ‘ad-hoc’ meetings, but all these are addressable with the right technology and careful consideration.

“…the typical resistance to ‘hot desking’ we’ve seen of staff losing their own desk ‘shrine’, complete with (now wilted) pot plants, favourite chair and drawers full of god knows what, will evaporate.”