Successfully Hot Desking, aka Unassigned Seating and Personal Storage

As the world of work moves toward a “hybrid” style of operations to meet the updated demands and desires of both employees and employers, the physical office will shift to become a more agile work environment centered around “choice”. Team members can decide whether to work remotely or in the office and, when in the office, will have a choice in the selection of the appropriate work setting to conduct the task at hand. This updated office model provides for individually focused and collaborative work, learning and sharing of knowledge, and social interactions. The focus around agility will result in fewer individual workspaces and marks a shift toward a greater number of hot desking/unassigned seating.

EisnerAmper in New York City has lockers interspersed with banquette alcoves adjacent to neighborhood desking. PHOTO: Frank Oudeman

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that we can successfully work without the stored materials that claimed a desk as our own. Lack of access for many months has shown that this material is not as critical as we once thought, hence the argument for keeping it has become increasingly less valid. As a result, the amount of personal material that we require to be stored at the office is minimal. For employees who are used to having an assigned workspace, there is a reasonable, albeit solvable concern about storage with a clean desk policy: “So where do I put all my stuff?” However, this is not a new question. There are several companies that have had either partial or fully unassigned seating for many years and have addressed concerns about personal space and storage successfully. The key to success is incorporating a personal file and storage reduction or purge program with fun incentives into the change management process. We have seen several companies purge as much as 90 percent and equip multiple schools with excess individual and departmental supplies.

With that being said, it is still important that every person assigned to a particular area has individual space for personal storage. From earlier proponents of agile work (dating back 10-plus years), there were experiments for providing personal storage units that individuals could move to their unassigned desk from a central neighborhood location, but these storage units were rarely moved. In practice, providing lockers has been the most effective solution. When it comes to the provision of lockers, there are a number of factors to be considered:

  • Size of Locker: The size of the locker will depend on what is to be stored within it. The locker should, at a minimum, be sized to accommodate a keyboard, a backpack and some personal effects. They do not need to accommodate someone’s gym bag or winter coat.
  • Number of Lockers: Typically, there should be a locker for every individual assigned to a building and an allowance provided for any consultants/interns/visiting employees from other company offices. Less frequently deployed is the provision of unassigned lockers, such as those within a gym, where the lockers are temporarily occupied while the individual is in the office.
  • Locking Mechanism: There are a number of options from keys, digital combination locks and manual tumbler locks to proximity card readers. Digital locks can be battery operated or electrically wired to their locations. Each has its challenges of maintenance: maintaining battery operation and permanently locating lockers with electrical activations. Key locking, while the cheapest to install, presents significant facilities management issues associated with changing locker occupancy and lost keys. Proximity cards are the easiest to manage with costs significantly higher than mechanical locks. Four pin combination locks are the most frequently installed.
GSK in Warren, N.J. features a mixture of individual lockers and communal storage.
PHOTO: Kevin Chu
  • Need for Storage Carrying Bags: When the move to unassigned seating first began, a compartmentalized carry bag was provided for ease of transporting personal items to and from the locker. The ubiquitous rise of the backpack, starting from your first LL Bean backpack in grade school to many companies providing a branded backpack with multiple compartments, has made the need for a storage carrying bag redundant.
  • Provision of Mail Slot: Providing a mail slot in the front door of the locker is a smart decision. Because team members are not always in the office at the same time and often utilize unassigned seating, providing a mail slot gives others a place to leave an individual correspondence or shared documents.
  • Location of Lockers: Banks of lockers should be located in neighborhoods off of central pathways for easy access and not immediately adjacent to individual desks so as not to disturb people working. Workers should be able to see the location of the lockers from a distance, which will put them at ease regarding the safety of their belongings.

Along with these practical solutions, we must also acknowledge that many workers have adopted a perception through years of working that personal space is a reflection of status. It may take these individuals longer to retrain that traditional concept and feel comfortable with the new shared storage options. We encourage those conversations to help emphasize that status was not diminished amidst the pandemic, regardless of the fact that there was no “ownership” of space during that time.

Finally, I’d like to offer an interesting anecdote. As someone who has always had a pile of books and magazines at my desk for reference, the move to a clean desk policy presented an interesting dilemma. I had certain design books that were precious to me and others less so. When I considered the actual number of times I referenced these books or magazines, it was very few. As a result, I took the books I considered precious home, purged many, and placed relevant books/magazines in a central library where everyone would, in fact, benefit from them.

About the Author

John Campbell, AIA, RIBA, LEED AP
John Campbell, AIA, RIBA, LEED AP is president of FCA, Francis Cauffman Architects.

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