Hot desking vs. Hoteling: What flexible desk strategy is right for your office?

Feb 1, 2023
With flexible work on the rise, many companies are turning to hot desking or hoteling desks. In this article, we look at the differences to help you pick the right fit for your office culture.
Madison Stein
Head of Brand and Content Alumni

The trend towards hybrid work has motivated companies to take a look at how their workspaces are being used. One of the primary shifts is the move away from traditional ‘dedicated’ desk assignments toward a more open, flexible workplace where employees choose where they want to sit each day. Although “open office” layouts sound great in theory (facilitating collaboration and creative teamwork while saving the company money on real estate costs), they bring about new challenges for your employees. Where are they going to sit each day? How do they know where their teammates or collaborators are planning on working? Fortunately, with a little software support and planning, you can mitigate many of these challenges.

Offer choices with flexible working

Two of the most important concepts in a flexible workplace environment—meaning a workplace that gives employees some element of choice in when and where they work—is hot desking or hoteling. We’ll be taking a look at the similarities, differences, pros, and cons of these two desking strategies and how you can use technology to set your employees up for success. So, what’s it to be? Hot desking or hoteling? Let’s find out which one is right for you!

What is hot desking?

Hot desking is a workplace seating system that revolves around open seating. In other words, in a hot desking space, office users can come and go as they please and sit at any available desk or workstation for the duration of their stay. Office users do not have a designated desk and will most likely change where they work each day. The idea is to provide a flexible working space that reduces the wasted or redundant desk space that occurs when employees with assigned desks are working remotely.

Hot desking pros & cons

Pro: Availability at short notice

With hot desking there’s no need to book a workspace. Office users simply show up and pick from any of the available desks on the day. Perfect for short-notice availability and the ultimate in flexible working.

Pro: Reduced costs

With most people working remotely some of the time, moving to hot desking means that you don’t need to have a desk for every employee, all the time. Permanently assigned or ‘dedicated’ desks remain empty if their assignees are working from home. Hot desking eliminates this space wastage, and as a result, office expenditures go down thanks to reduced rent and utilities.

Con: Not finding a desk or wasting time looking

With no booking system, there’s always the possibility that office users won’t be able to find a desk exactly when they need one, or waste time looking for a seat during high-capacity times. Choice in seating may be lacking.

Con: Not being able to sit with your team

Without clear controls for who sits where, employees can easily find themselves isolated in an area of the office away from their team, or uncertain where their team members are planning to sit for the day. This reduces some of the collaborative benefits of an open office space.

Con: Lack of personal storage space

Hot desking is the opposite of a permanent desk space. And while that offers maximum flexibility, it does mean that office users cannot simply set up in one location and leave all of their stuff there. To facilitate a flexible office, they should ensure that they are offering adequate storage solutions.

What is hoteling or hotel desking?

Hoteling is not a drastically different concept. Hoteling is also a workplace seating system based on shared working spaces and open seating. The difference with hoteling is that it’s less of a ‘free for all’. Employees can reserve specific desks or workstations ahead of time according to their specific needs on that day. Employees still won’t have a permanently assigned desk but they will have the guarantee of a workstation once they’ve made their booking. Office users simply choose from the available workspaces for the day–usually via a mobile app. Just like a hotel, employees must make a reservation for their desk using a desk-booking app. Different companies choose to adopt different check-in systems. For example, some may require office users to make reservations 24-hours in advance, others facilitate on-the-spot reservations.

Hoteling pros & cons

Pro: Office users can choose where they work

All users have to do is reserve a spot exactly where and when they want to work from the available spaces.

Pro: Ease of collaboration

Desk hoteling reservation systems will allow users to book workspaces near the colleagues they want to collaborate with.

Pro: Better data on upcoming reservations

With reservation data, workplace teams have a better sense of how many employees are going to be in office so that they can prepare a welcoming workplace.

Con: Potential for reservation/booking flaws

As with any system, there is always the potential for a reservation flaw or discrepancy. The best way to avoid this is to implement a robust office management system.

Con: May be difficult to reserve desks for large teams

For teams that want to collaborate and work alongside each other, it may be difficult to book spaces in close proximity–especially at times when user volume is high.

So, what’s the difference?

Let’s get to the bottom of the hot desking/hoteling! These two workplace seating styles are often used interchangeably. But as you’ve seen above, there is a distinct difference between the two.Both hot desking and hoteling allow for flexible office use by providing desk and workspaces with no prescribed owner. Both hot desking and hoteling allow office users to use workspaces as and when needed.The key difference between hot desking and hoteling is booking.Hot desking requires no booking process. Desks are available on a first-come-first-serve, shift-based, or assignment-based system. Employees can use desks as and when needed (so long as there is a space available). Hot desking is incredibly flexible but always runs the risk of not being able to offer everyone a desk should demand exceed capacity.Hoteling, on the other hand, does require a pre-booking process. That means office users cannot be as spontaneously about their office use as they would in a hot desking space but will have the guarantee of a chosen desk for the duration of their stay.In short, hot desking is more casual and hoteling is more organized. Neither is uniquely better or worse, it’s about finding which one works best for you and your office users.

How to start hot desking/ hoteling

Like what you hear? Ready to implement a flexible working system into your office space? Whether you decide to opt for a hot desking space, hoteling office model, or a bit of both, there are a few things to consider to make sure your implementation process goes off without a hitch.

Vary your spaces

Varying your spaces is a great way to offer optimum office flexibility. Some office managers choose to split their spaces into different zones, offering some dedicated desk spaces, alongside hot desking or hoteling zones. Team members can use the space most appropriate to their position and working arrangements.

Encourage collaboration

The open office is all about collaboration. By getting rid of assigned desks entirely, workplace cultures become less sedentary and more interactive. Both hot desking and hoteling are fantastic opportunities for collaborative working and networking. Whilst many of these exchanges will be organic, it’s never a bad idea to introduce some activities and initiatives in your space.

Make it comfortable…

Ensure that your office space is welcoming and comfortable. Prioritize spacious desks and organic layouts. Incorporate zones for collaboration and encourage your workers to take short breaks by providing zones for a bit of down-time throughout the day.

…and functional

As well as comfort, function is critical. Your office users will need great WiFi throughout (no one wants to sit in the ‘bad’ wifi area), storage spaces, and all the necessary technologies and facilities. Ensure that each desk has the functional tools that employees need like monitors and docking stations. More importantly, make sure these are compatible with the computers your employees are using. These are the tools that will make your open office system work like clockwork.

Pick a desk booking software

In order to access hot desking/ hoteling seamlessly, you’ll need to implement workplace management software. Software solutions like Envoy Desks allow office operators to run safe, hybrid workspaces that give employees the freedom to schedule work in the office or remotely. You’ll be able to guarantee safe entry, facilitate collaborative desk booking, and maximize the usage of your office space with ultra-simple desk reservation tools. With Desks, your employees can schedule their own in-office time and managers can communicate team schedules. You can set flexible office zones for all your hoteling and hot desking needs. Plus, with real-time data and reporting capabilities, you can always stay one step ahead of the curve to meet your workplace needs every time.

Brief your office users

Last, but certainly not least, take a step back and think about your office users. Not everyone will be comfortable with this shift in workplace culture and, for some, open office workflows will take some getting used to. That's why it’s so important to brief your office users before implementing these changes. Make sure to provide opportunities for discussion, training, and feedback. Remember to take on board any suggestions or concerns that your office users may have.At the end of the day, your office has to work for your office users.

With Envoy Desks, employees can easily take advantage of your hoteling policy—start a free trial today.

Which will it be?

So, which will it be? Hot desking, hoteling, or both? The way we work has changed dramatically over the past year and flexible working is top of everyone’s priorities list. Open office spaces are fueling a real demand for hybrid working flexibility, and a shift away from the full-time desk dwelling office workers of the past.

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AUTHOR BIO
Head of Brand and Content Alumni

Madison is a writer, story-teller, and problem-solver at Envoy, where she inspires workplace teams to make the workplace work better. When she's not thinking of clever puns in the office, you can find her on the beach with her dog, planning her next vacation, or exploring new restaurants in San Francisco.

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