Office hoteling is becoming an increasingly popular method for an office to cut costs and improve collaboration amongst its workforce. Taking a step beyond the open office trend, hoteling, or hot desking, makes office space and desks shareable, opening workspaces to employees on an as-needed basis, rather than for regular use, like cubicles. Desks remain unassigned and are booked through a formal office reservation system each day for a set period of time.
Though hoteling has been around since the 1990s (IBM being one of the first to switch to a desk reservation system) the hoteling trend has recently picked up steam. According to Workforce, many large firms and corporations have moved towards office hoteling in the past couple years. Especially popular with companies that have employees that travel regularly or often work remote, hoteling helps guarantee that office facilities will be well utilized on an as-needed basis.
Efficiency & Flexibility of Workspace
One example of companies making the jump is American Express. Adopting hoteling in early 2012, the company rolled out a program to shift from assigned seating to shared workspace, offering employees storage lockers for their files and office supplies instead of traditional desks. Susan Chapman, a senior vice president at American Express who oversaw the shift, said, “studies show traditional office space has a utilization rate of just 50%, due to sick days, vacations and travel.” Now approximately 20 percent of its 5,000 workers at its New York headquarters are working from unassigned desks a few days a week, which Chapman says is a more efficient use of funds and office space.
Still, other organizations are finding that office hoteling actually provides more variety of workspaces for its workers. The U.S. General Services Administration is using hoteling to reduce federal office space and also increase collaboration. Through hoteling, the GSA has been able to assign 3,400 people to its headquarters, a building that previously only house 2,000. With 80 percent of desks unassigned, GSA chief workplace officer Charles Hardy says hoteling gives workers the option of different employee workspaces.
“If I’m coming into the office one day and I need to do heads-down work, there’s a location for that where I can get away from folks and do heads-down work,” Hardy said. “If I’m coming in and we’re brainstorming or doing teamwork, there’s a place where collaboration can occur.”
Not for Everyone
Although there are clear benefits for hoteling, it is not ideal for every business. Kris Dunn, the chief human resources officer at Kinetix, recognizes that hoteling is a great way to save on real estate costs and accommodate remote workers visiting, but questions the benefits beyond that.
“There are a lot of employees who value a sense of place, of belonging and of ownership of space,” Dunn said. “…But when [hoteling] impacts employees who spend 50 percent or more of their time in the office, it usually becomes a burden.”
Companies that require employees to be in the office every day of the week will not benefit from hoteling. It is also suggested that hoteling doesn’t work when employees are required to handle confidential documents, as moving consistently or working remotely could cause security issues.
Tips for Success
If an office is to be converted to a hoteling system, it must be easy to use and convenient for employees; otherwise, it simply will not work. Consider these best practices prior to embarking in office hoteling:
- Introduce hoteling as part of a broader goal: When implemented as being a part of a broader goal, hoteling is more likely to be accepted by staff. Those initiatives may be greater productivity and collaboration, enabling working remote or for work-life balance, or possibly improved networking company-wide through face-to-face communication.
- Plan for peak demand: Hoteling is most successful when there are well organized procedures for when capacity fills. Be sure to have flexible areas that you can convert into offices on peak demand days. Also, perform more walk-about checks those days to be sure that reservations are actually being used. Having a plan for busy days will reduce the urge for workers to make “just in case” reservations.
- Use a reservation system and assign a keeper: It is important that employees have a way to reserve a workspace and be sure that they have a place to work for the day. Consider adopting a convenient, online tool that centralizes reservations for an office, especially when dealing with a large number of desks. At the same time, be sure to assign a “keeper” of this system, such as secretarial or administrative staff. They will need to be the overseers to make sure people are following procedures and that desks are being properly reserved and used.
- Organize your office before hoteling: Office hoteling requires workers to move in and out of their desk efficiently, which means not being able to keep an excess of files around. Develop standard methods for prioritizing and labeling files, reviewing records procedures and possibly even reducing paper use. Consider using an online server to store files, or even assigning lockers to staff, like American Express did when they switched their office layout to the hoteling system.
- Accommodate short visits: Often it is necessary for employees to stop by the office for quick work. This is especially true for sales or support staff who may be in the office in between visiting clients. Plan for these by having stations designated for quick usage. Be sure these spaces do not contain amenities suitable for a longer stay to discourage use by those working half or full days.
Above all, remember that hoteling is a service to employees. If the system is perceived to be firmly, fairly, efficiently and professionally run, staff will be more likely to work with the system rather than against it.
Hoteling may not be for every office environment, and businesses should consider the needs of employees before implementing such a system. However, when hoteling makes sense for your staff, it can be highly beneficial by helping to cut real estate costs, promote efficient use of office space and encourage more collaboration. Success is in the design and implementation of the program, so be sure to plan carefully and thoroughly communicate the benefits to your employees before embarking on hoteling.
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