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?

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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.


    Hot desking can work for more intensive users. i work for IT in a company with Geophysicists, Engineers and Geologists who all use some 3D intensive software. Ideally (and how we do it at the moment) is that those users have specific machines that are higher spec with PCI-E video cards. having said this, we also use Citrix environments for standard computer usage for using internet, Office software and data management. we have just built up a server recently with a few GPUs and lots of RAM and have created a 3D capable virtual environment that can be logged into from any type of Mac or PC, that allow these more intensive tasks to be crunched out on the server. the main issue we had in the beginning wasnt to do with the applications running, but to organise the licensing for the software to work properly. we havnt rolled out it out to everyone yet, but its getting there and looking pretty good. will be exciting to see it in another 6 months and what that means for our company.

    I love getting a second-hand keyboard full of someone else's lint aura.

    The way to go with hot desking is laptops and docking stations, with monitor(s), keyboard, and mouse connected to the docking stations. I have seen a small number of "reserved" desks unavailable for hot desking on the rare occasion someone is using a workstation type PC.

    And second-hand keyboard/mouse issues can be solved by plugging your own keyboard/mouse into your primary desk for the day. For bonus points, plug the keyboard into the USB port in the docking station or monitor, then you only need to undock the laptop and take the mouse for use in any meetings etc.

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