Is hot desking bad for productivity?

Employers could be underestimating the business perks of a well-designed workplace.
18 June 2019

Many employees prefer their own space. Source: Shutterstock

Hot desking has become increasingly popular in recent years— among businesses at least.

The use of non-allocated work stations is often touted as a simple way to get workers to interact and collaborate more while saving cash on office space.

While it surely works for many, a common complaint among staff is that hotdesking makes them feel less settled and less focused as a result— with staff required to set up a new work station each day.

Do workers like hot desking?

According to a new survey by Savills of 1000 office workers entitled What Workers Want, 45 percent of host-desking employees said the working style decreases their productivity, and 60 percent said they wanted their own dedicated desk.

Showing a rise in dissatisfaction since its 2016 edition, the survey also discredits the assumption that a new generation of Gen Z or millennial workers would be more accustomed to the working style. Instead, the report found barely any difference between age groups.

The research highlights just how much impact surroundings can have on overall staff morale and business productivity— the importance of individuals’ routine and personal space, and its relationship with performance, shouldn’t be underestimated by employers.

At the same time, the report did indicate that businesses today are paying more mind to office plans, as the stuffy, strip-lit and penned-off interiors of the past have long fallen out of fashion.

Handsome man descending on a toboggan in the office.

Employers need to strike a balance between creating a ‘happy’ space and one where work gets done. Source: Shutterstock

Office space impacts well being

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of office workers in the UK now work in an open plan office, but those that did were more likely to blame office design and surroundings for decreased productivity levels. Noise levels were also a particularly common gripe.  

And while ‘breakout’ space may be available for employees, the fact is, people don’t tend to stray far from their desks. Eighty-two percent of UK office workers still spend over 50 percent of their time at their stations.

For dissatisfied staff members in the survey, the issue lies in a lack of consultation. Just one in three workers claimed that they’d been asked their views on their office environment by their current employee.

Beyond boosts to productivity, though, with workers reporting that their workplace is having a positive impact on their mental health, rewards for employers that listen to workers’ concerns could also be in better staff retention and talent acquisition— with current staff speaking positively of their work-life.

“Overall, employers are heading in the right direction when it comes to the office,” said Steve Lang, Director in Savills Commercial Research team, commenting on the findings. “[…] there’s been a big improvement in physical and mental health in the workplace over the past three years, indicating that employee well-being and health are being taken seriously.

“However, the workplace is yet to nail the productivity issue: a significant minority of workers say their office actively harms their productivity, with many voicing concerns about noise and hot desking.”  

Head of Savills Professional Services, Simon Collett, added that while the impact of how office environments affect productivity remains “major area of review”, employers need to strike a balance between creating a ‘happy’ space and one where work gets done.

“While developers, landlords, and companies are taking steps to improve worker wellbeing, bringing forward intelligent design measures such as increasing natural light and including more plants, we have a conundrum where happier workers aren’t necessarily more productive workers,” said Collett.

“Noise levels have been reported as a major issue […] While we’re never going to return to everyone having a private office, those fitting out open plan spaces need to look at acoustic solutions as a major part of the working environment .”