Can Workstations Work With Hot Desking?

In a hot desking environment, you grab the first available desk and either plug in your own laptop or log in on a standardised desktop. Can that approach be used if you need to use a more powerful workstation computer?

Coworking picture from Shutterstock

The first argument a typical workstation end-user might offer in a hot desking environment is that the nature of their work doesn’t suit a setup where you never know where you’re going to sit all day. If you’re supposed to concentrate on complex engineering or creative tasks, having familiar surroundings and a machine customised to your specific needs can be very valuable. That goes against the basic hot desking ethos, which is that you should never aim to claim one space as your own.

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On the other hand, consider this description of where hot desking works best from Murdoch University academic Graeme Ditchburn: “Different job roles require different environments. Hot desking works best when there are clearly defined inputs, outputs, and set goals, and in many cases these are unlikely to be sufficiently defined for every employee and team within every organisation.” That description would match many workstation scenarios, where outputs and goals are often very clearly defined.

One obvious solution would be to equip workstation users with a notebook model, rather than a traditional desktop. That allows all the benefits of a customised (electronic) workspace without necessarily requiring that machine to be permanently connected to a specific desk. The biggest challenge here is that workstation users are far more likely to want or require multiple monitors, which are commonplace in design and development tasks.

Relatively few hot desk environments deploy multiple monitors as a matter of course. If you place a bank of multiple monitors in one part of the office, you’re effectively creating a permanent space anyway. If you distribute the multiple-monitor desks throughout the space in a bid to encourage collaboration, you’re likely to end up with disputes when someone without a workstation decides to adopt the multi-screen life.

The problem of trying to strike this balance explains why few businesses ever adopt a 100 per cent hot desking approach (and hence why the issue won’t always emerge as a challenge for workstation users). As Gartner analyst Tom Austin pointed out in a 2012 paper: “Changes in facility design can have a major impact on productivity and employee satisfaction — but the key design parameters are not simple to set.”

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.

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