Hot-desking – Is it bad for your health?

Hot-desking – Is it bad for your health?
February 22, 2015 administrator (roland)
hot-desking - ergonomi - human factors and ergonomics blog

There seems to be a rising trend of hot-desking. An office organisation system which involves multiple workers sharing a single physical work station or surface during different time periods as opposed to each staff member having their own personal desk.

The vision is that we will be able to get up and move to the place that best suits our work for the day, sit with people we need to collaborate with and when we need quiet, we can get up and move to a quiet corner. More movement is better for your health. But what about all these different workspaces, will more workers find themselves perching on bar stools or leaning over their laptops for hours on end?

Business motivation for hot-desking can range from cost reduction through space savings, or in search of improved efficiency and teamwork.

But is this really the case, is hot-desking bad for your health?

Now I’m all for flexible working and even working from home on occasion, the use of technology means many of us don’t need to be permanently based at a company office or have a permanent desk, right?

I have identified some of the impacts of hot-desking can have on the workforce, perhaps you can identify others:

  • Socio-Organisational:
    • Hot-desking is a double edged sword, on the one hand, some people may feel that there is lack of peer support, whilst others feel that it is great having different colleagues around all the time or never having to sit with people that you don’t get on with!
    • It can take longer set up and clear away, wasting time.
    • Harder to arrange meetings if you are on different work patterns, although this can be counter-balanced with use of technology.
  • Physiological:
    • If you hot desk, you are unlikely to spend much time adjusting the work furniture to suit your needs, a desk set-up for a large colleague is unlikely to be suitable for a small one, resulting in the increased adoption of poor postures and increased risk of musculoskeletal issues.
  • Health and Wellbeing:
    • Nine out of 10 social workers currently hot-desking said it has a harmful effect on morale, the same again said it has increased their stress levels and eight out of 10 complained they do not have the same access to peer support [original article].
    • As you share a desk it is unlikely that you would personalise your desk with pictures. Scientists at the University of Exeter have found that allowing employees to display pictures and plants can boost wellbeing by 32 per cent and their productivity by 15 per cent.
    • Some workers may feel devalued when their employer won’t provide them with a desk.
    • If many people are using the same desk, the likelihood of germs spreading might be increased.

Remember not everyone is the same, what is good for one person, won’t be for another, so people are likely to react differently, whilst some might relish the idea of mixing with different colleagues some people just want their own space. As we are creatures of habit, what might happen is that, most people will have their one spot and stick to it.

So how could things be improved?

  • Provide support: Not only the use and adequate support of the IT and communication technologies used to support the worker. But also that management and supervision are available, when required.
  • Provide training and education: To overcome any fear of change, inform your workforce, ensure two-way communications, pilot environments, ongoing training, actively involving employees in the implementation process and sponsorship by leaders.
  • Provide suitable equipment: Provision of a range of suitable ergonomic chairs and a variety of furniture to suit various needs, postures and working styles as well as the range of different users (including consideration of those impaired). If you are using laptops, provide docking stations, stand, additional monitors, keyboard and mouse. Use of networked telephones which you log into so calls are automatically rerouted to your desk.
  • Provide supportive software: Provision of virtual social spaces, virtual meeting spaces, communication systems, hoteling systems where workers can provide information where colleagues are logged on, remotely accessed networks to store work on and so on.
  • Provide a way to personalise the workspace temporarily: Provide plants that can be moved, or even provide a digital photo frame so workers can bring their own memory card with photos on.
  • Provide regular cleaning: As many people might be sharing the same space, regular cleaning provision and cleaning products to allow workers to wipe down surfaces themselves should they wish to.
  • Provide balanced work spaces: Workspaces that balance the requirements of  working styles of the business with possibly divergent preferences and abilities of individuals, need to be carefully considered.
  • Shift accountability: Shift accountability for outcomes to your employees, and not undermine this by monitoring and tracking them.

Conclusion: Hot-desking – Is it bad for your health?

What is your experience of hot-desking? Has it freed you from being shackled to the office? Or does it make you feel disenfranchised from the rest of your organisation, or a worker without a place to call home? How do you think things could be improved? Or are there any other issues I haven’t identified?

Having read through my discussion on hot-desking. Please let me know if you have any other suggestions, thoughts or opinions, based on your experiences? Let me know and I will add them to my post here on ergonomi… and if you like my article then please sign up to my newsletter below, or you can contact me directly on my contact page.

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