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Hot Desking

How to set up hot desks for the flexible workplace

Envoy’s workplace technology manager Dana Stocking shares his tips on how to set up hot desking to create a more flexible workplace.

Dana Stocking
By Dana Stocking Workplace Technology Manager

To support a hybrid working model, workplaces will need to be hubs for collaboration and community building, not just places we go to get work done. This means that we as workplace leaders need to provide even more activity-based spaces that entice our coworkers away from their home offices.

As the Envoy offices slowly came back to life after almost two years of working from home, it became abundantly clear that we would need a new strategy when thinking about our desk setup. Pre-COVID, we would assign everyone to their own permanent desk. But with most of our employee base coming in on alternate days of the week, we realized we could make better use of our floorplan by implementing hot desking.

As Envoy’s workplace technology manager, I set out with a four-step plan to set up Envoy’s HQ in San Francisco to support hybrid teams. Here’s how my team of workplace managers has been able to create a more flexible workplace with hot desking.

Step 1 of how to set up hot desking: Get desk feedback from stakeholders and employees

Getting feedback from stakeholders early on will help you make the most informed decisions possible when planning your new desk layout. We started our hot desking plan by polling our employees with 1 simple question: “Do you prefer a permanently assigned desk or a hot desk?”

At first glance the results looked pretty split: 43% of our coworkers wanted a permanent desk, 38% were fine with a hot desk, and 19% had no preference at all. One employee that wanted a new hot desk said “I enjoy moving around the office and the ability to sit near someone different on a regular cadence.” Another who opted for a permanent seat explained, “I like to have my set up and things that inspire me around my desk. It’s hard to be creative when you’re on the move all the time.”

When we started to look into what teams those people fell into, it became clear that some teams found it absolutely necessary to sit with one another. We also reached out to team leads and department heads to make sure that we understood their expectations as well. Interestingly, the Marketing and Brand Design teams decided that they always want a desk next to each other versus switching it up with a new hot desk each day they’re in the office.

Key Takeaways

  • Consider sending out a survey (this reopening toolkit has an example) to understand everyone’s individual desking preferences
  • Talk to your department and team heads to find out what their needs are for space and resources

Step 2 of how to set up hot desking: Plan your office layout

Once we understood team requirements, we started to plan out the changes we would make to accommodate our fellow coworkers. This is by far the hardest part of your hot desking plan, so take your time and really write down all of the key factors that play into your seating arrangement. 

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Assignment strategy. Who needs desks assigned permanently? Do you maintain team/department areas? Will you allow employees to request a permanent desk, or do managers decide?
  • Executive preferences. Do executives and managers need to be treated differently when assigning their desks? 
  • Job-specific needs. What teams or employees perform specialized work that requires a specific location in the office or type of desk? Consider creating neighborhoods that allow teammates to book a desk near each other.
  • Capacity. Do you expect to have as many people in the office each day? What is your anticipated “new normal” capacity?
  • Desk arrangements. Are your desks fixed or movable? Can you remove or rearrange them? Are there areas where desks should be removed in favor of additional collaborative space? 
  • Traffic Patterns. Where do people congregate? Where will peoples’ paths intersect? Where do people queue in line? 

Ultimately we ended up dedicating half of our office to hot desking space and half of it to permanent seating. Permanent seating location was based on need, amount of time spent in the office each week, and health comfort level.

Step 3 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. 

I recommend using a space planning tool, or even an online editor like Lucidchart to make adjustments, since these changes may be temporary and change frequently.

  • 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? 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 can add markers for each desk and specify which ones are assignable and how to allocate them. When employees sign in with Envoy each day, they’ll receive their seat assignment, too.

Step 4 of how to set up hot desking: Iterate and adjust (AKA “be flexible”)

Now more than ever, your workplace can’t remain static. As more and more employees expect flexibility with their office schedule, you’ll also need to be flexible with your space. 

There’s no one right way to set up your workplace for hybrid. That’s why you’ll need 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 like this one) 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 and access control data. When do employees come to the office and leave, and on what days? 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. Your employees’ needs will change over time, so your office setup should change too. 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.

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Dana Stocking
Author Bio Dana Stocking

Dana has always been obsessed with computers and technology. He leads the workplace technology team at Envoy where he enables hybrid employees and makes the workplace run smoothly.