To Share or Not to Share (a desk)

What will happen to all those Hoteling and Shared Workstation Programs?

A powerful quote from my favorite Philadelphian

In an effort to maximize density and squeeze every usable square foot of real estate out of their office space, companies have been rolling out different program variations of shared workstations/hoteling/hotdesking. In San Francisco, many companies were faced with this common “problem”: hiring at a rate that was faster than they could acquire and build out office space. One lever to pull was to require (some of) their employees to share desks. Whether these shared desks programs were successful or not highly depended on how the company defined ‘success’. Were employees happy to share desks? Were companies able to reduce their spend on real estate per employee? Was there less overall waste of real estate assigned to employees who were rarely in the office and at their desk?

Regardless of how success was measured, there was one inescapable truth: over the course of a single day, the same workstation could very likely have been used by 5 or more different employees. Now multiply that by the highly densified bench seating across a given floor and you end up with a lot of different people using the same equipment in very close proximity to one another. Not exactly a recipe for a sanitary environment (if these areas were not regularly and consistently cleaned after each use).

As we currently work-from-home and think about returning to work, this inevitable question persists: Once we return to the office post-COVID 19-easing, what will happen to these shared-desk programs? Will companies completely abandon these programs that they have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars to roll out? Should they? Will we return to the office and see rows and rows of workstations collecting dust? I think it is pretty safe to say that (for the most part), no one will be sharing a desk for awhile.

Shared desks in the good ol’ days (aka 3 months ago)

However, I believe that to completely scrap these programs would be an overcorrection. I am not suggesting that companies go back to the status quo prior to the pandemic. But I am questioning the full abandonment of these programs that do reduce waste and increase space utility.

At some point in time, I do believe that offices will become quite dense again (most likely not nearly as dense as pre-COVID-19). However, companies will absolutely need to have systematic programs and approaches to ensure workstations are sterilized and safe to use, such as:

  • Janitorial services will need to be substantially increased with the addition of placing some sort of notification that the workstation has been sanitized (ie. “Clean for your protection”, “This workstation is Good-to-Go”).
  • HR and Workplace teams will need to provide tutorials and demonstrations on how to properly wipe down a workstation prior to using it if relying solely on janitorial services is not an option.
  • Hand sanitizers, anti-bacterial wipes, and the like will need to be strategically placed in abundance throughout the areas that utilize shared workstations.
  • Employers may need to provide and employees may need to use some sort of disposable mat on the desktop.
  • IT teams will have to instruct everyone on the proper and safe ways to sanitize computer equipment and peripherals (if not providing each employee with their own “travel” keyboard, mouse, etc.

There absolutely are ways to make workstation sharing programs safe and successful. The harder part may be to convince employees that they are safe.

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About the Author: Jeff Goldman, COO at BeyondHQ. Jeff brings over 25yrs of leadership experience in workplace operations, real estate management, and law, at DocuSign, Segment, Allianz, United Airlines, and other global organizations.

Helping companies strategize and optimize geographically distributed teams

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