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How to set up hot desks for the flexible workplace

Your office might look a lot like ours right now: clusters of desks arranged across your open floor-plan. Of course, for the past several months, they’ve probably sat empty as your workplace remains closed or at reduced capacity. But even pre-COVID, whether you were tracking desk occupancy or not, you may have observed that as much as 40% of an office’s dedicated desks sat unused on a given day

The offices we return to will look different, and we’ll use them differently than before. And not just as we emerge from the pandemic. Companies are making permanent shifts to the way they use the office. In a recent survey, 78% of our employees said that they want to change how often they go into the office after COVID. The median expectation of how often? Just under 3 days a week. 56% expressed interest in using an alternate office space closer to home to avoid commuting, but only sometimes.

The future looks like a very flexible one, and our workplaces will need to change as well. All of those desks sitting unused? They have to be flexible too. That’s why you need to develop a plan for how to set up hot desking at your workplace.

Step 1 of how to set up hot desking: Plan your socially-distanced office layout

If you’re opening your office soon, or if you’ve already done so, you need to maintain a safe social distance between employees. As health regulations relax in your area, you’ll be able to increase capacity. Your desk apportionment will change as you go. Here are some things to consider.

  • Capacity. What is your capacity now and in each phase of your return? When you’re “fully reopened,” do you expect to have as many people in the office each day? What is your anticipated “new normal” capacity? What will you do if too many people want to come to the office?
  • Assignment strategy. Who needs desks assigned permanently? Do you maintain team/department areas? Do executives and managers need to be treated differently when assigning their desks? Will you allow employees to request a permanent desk, or do managers decide?
  • Furniture changes. Are your desks fixed or movable? Can you remove or rearrange them? What about other furniture? Consider purchasing lightweight movable barriers or even tall plants to create separation areas. Use Teflon furniture sliders like SuperSliders to make heavy furniture mobile, or consider investing in furniture with casters.
  • Activity analysis. What teams or employees perform specialized work that requires a specific location in the office? Are there areas where desks should be removed in favor of additional collaborative space? The mix of activities at the office might look different in the hybrid future, emphasizing the need for collaboration and socialization.

Step 2 of how to set up hot desking: Create your new hot desking floor plan

By the time you finish this process, your updated floor plan might look more complex than it used to. Flexible space will be harder to encode on a map; desk assignments and department areas aren’t going to cut it anymore. Use your space planning tool or even an online editor like Lucidchart to make adjustments. Since these changes may be temporary and change frequently, use a tool that gives you flexibility, too.

  • Start with marking safe social distances. Draw 12-foot diameter circles on your floor plan to help determine which desks can be used to keep a 6’ barrier between employees, like a checkerboard pattern or X-shaped pods. Mark the desks that can’t be used. If you can’t physically move the desks, you can add a sign or a flag on these desks in the real world to match the map. 
  • Identify traffic patterns. Where do people congregate? Where will peoples’ paths intersect? Where do people queue in line? For each, consider closing off these areas, establishing one-way traffic, or add signage. On your floor plan, mark accordingly.
  • Mark your activity zones. Where will employees go to do different types of work throughout the day? You might denote the types of space, such as WeWork’s eight space types, or by type of activity, like these or these. Mark these on the map and be sure that there’s a variety of space types distributed throughout, especially now that some areas may be closed or reconfigured.
  • Classify your desks and other bookable spaces. Which desks will be assigned, and which can be reserved? If some employees will be assigned fixed desks, will those be in one area and flexible desks elsewhere? Will some desks be reserved for a particular department? Consider color-coding desks or areas so that employees know which is which.
  • Upload your new floor plan. With Envoy Desks, you’ll add markers for each desk and specify which ones are assignable and how to allocate them. When employees sign in with Envoy Protect each day, they’ll receive their seat assignment, too.

Step 3 of how to set up hot desking: Iterate and adjust as you reopen

Now more than ever, your workplace can’t remain static. There’s no one answer, and the only way to get it right is to iterate and remain responsive to your employees’ experience. Plan now for the ways you’ll adjust your desk setup as you go.

  • Get input from your employees regularly. Consider sending out a survey (this reopening toolkit has an example) right now, and then reuse that survey to understand changing preferences. It’s hard for someone to predict their preference months into the future, so be prepared for them to change. 
  • Get to know your data. Explore your Desks analytics to understand patterns and trends. Are there specific employees who come in often and would benefit from a permanent desk?  Look at your data sources, like employee sign-in logs, access control data, and, if you have them, occupancy sensors and air quality data. When do employees come to the office and leave, and on what days? How does that compare to pre-pandemic patterns? Are the same individuals coming in every day, and is behavior matching the preferences employees expressed earlier? 
  • Iterate based on these pattern changes. Over the next 12–18 months, plan for these iteration cycles to be much shorter than before—think days or weeks, not months. Use Envoy Desks to adjust desk assignments and keep your floor plan updated.
  • Report back. How frequently will you update your company’s leadership team? When will employees receive updates on changes and requests for feedback? Lay these out on a schedule so everyone knows what to expect and when they can provide input.

Once you have your flexible desk management plan, you’ll need the right technology to support it. With Envoy Desks, you can execute your plan in a matter of minutes. As your plans and space needs change, you can easily adapt your Desks setup too. 

Start your free Desks trial today to set up flexible, safe hot desking in your workplace.