Hot Desking & Desk Booking

Hot desking 101: a complete guide to a flexible workplace strategy

Nick Mason
April 28th, 2022

Thanks to the flexibility that hot desking provides to employees and workplace teams, hot desks are likely to become one of the most common seating strategies we’ll see in hybrid workplaces in the years to come.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at hot desking—what it is, when to use it, and how it can help hybrid companies achieve business goals while providing the level of flexibility and freedom that employees now demand in the era of the Great Resignation.

What is hot desking?

Hot desking is a hybrid workplace system where employees have the ability to use available desks at different times. Companies generally turn to hot desking to maximize space utilization, improve desk efficiency, and reduce real estate costs.

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Why do we call it hot desking?

You might be wondering: Why do we call it hot desking? The term is said to have derived from the term “hot racking”—the practice of sailors with different shifts sharing the same bunk at different times.

hot desking benefits

What are the benefits of hot desking?

Hot desking offers benefits to both team members and employers. However, the success of hot desking strategies depends on how organizations offer hot desks. When implemented properly, hot desking can provide a variety of advantages.

Improved space utilization

Hot desking maximizes office space by reducing the amount of empty desks on the floor plan, and increases the desk sharing ratio above the typical 1:1.

Cost savings

Reducing real estate costs is a primary advantage of hot desking. With hot desks in place, companies can maximize the use of existing office space, limit the number of assigned desks from the floor plan, and reduce their real estate portfolio—or avoid expanding before they need to. Hot desking is especially effective in hybrid workspaces, where space usage can fluctuate significantly.

Better employee relationships

Hot desking gives team members the chance to work alongside colleagues they may not see otherwise. This can help strengthen existing relationships, forge new connections, promote teamwork, and improve cross-departmental rapport. 

Improved collaboration

Hot desks can improve efficiency and collaboration in the workplace. If there are five departments working on a project, having a flexible work environment with a hot desking model can allow projects to be ramped up and down quickly as needs change without having to add more real estate. By meeting in person on occasion, hot desking provides a space to improve communication and develop strong social bonds within teams.

Cross-company cohesion

Hot desking allows for cross-department collaboration, which develops cross-company cohesion. When team members are working around employees they don’t normally work with, they have new access to creative ideas and objective lenses. 

Employee satisfaction

Empowerment in the workplace can have a huge impact on employee satisfaction. Hot desking allows employees to choose where they sit, providing more employee choice and autonomy. Hot desking also streamlines hybrid work, allowing businesses to reduce their real estate footprint and employees to maintain personal flexibility and work-life balance.


Employees don’t need to book hot desks in advance, which makes it easier for them to simply sit down, plug in, and get to work.

Hybrid work flexibility

Hot desking makes hybrid and flexible working easier. By providing unassigned flexible seating on a first-come, first-served basis, employees can show up and get to work without the hassle of booking desks in advance or adhering to set usage schedules. 

Hot desking provides an avenue for employees to navigate any potential challenges they might be experiencing in their chosen work environment (construction noise, visitors, busy coffee shops) safely and reliably. Flexibility helps prevent burnout and maintain employee satisfaction.

Workplace hygiene

Hot desking allows employees to focus on work without the distraction of a cluttered desk space. Not having a dedicated desk requires employees to leave desks clean, as they may not return to the same desk next time they are in the office. Cleanliness expectations are ramped up, creating more hygienic and safer workspaces.

Hot desking office arrangements

Hot desk seating arrangements are applied in different ways and can be adjusted to fit diverse needs. Implementing hot desking is an effective workplace strategy when it is deployed in the right office environment, especially when it is used to support flexible working strategies, collaborative workspaces, or hybrid workplace models.

First-come, first-served

First-come, first-served hot desking allows for someone to walk in and use any open desk or space available. The first-come, first-served model offers employees the flexibility to drop in as needed and prevents them from reserving desks but not utilizing them. 

Reserved desks

Reserved desks allow people to reserve the desks they intend on using. This provides transparency to the employees on where they will be sitting, who they will be around, and what dynamic to expect in the office. While employees can reserve a desk and not use it, using a desk booking system like OfficeSpace provides data and analytics regarding desk allocation and utilization, so any abuse of the reservation system can be flagged and resolved.

Assigned seating

Assigned seating can be a useful hot desking model for companies that don’t require a lot of cross-collaboration. Assigned seating limits the desks that an employee can reserve. However, there is the potential for someone who needs a seat to not have any seats available. With desk booking software like OfficeSpace, this can be avoided by providing transparency to the employee on whether or not the desk is being used.

Office neighborhoods

Office neighborhoods are groups of desks in an office layout that are dedicated to specific functions or departments. Hot desks can be used within each office neighborhood to support individual employee seating needs, such as being with a team or needing specific office amenities. Neighborhoods are ideal for large companies, as they can easily have 60 desks or more in a neighborhood. Check out some office neighborhood examples if you’re new to this work setup. 

Activity-based workspaces

An activity-based workspace (ABW) is a dedicated group of seats or a zone that is set up to support certain types of collaboration in the workplace. Typically focused on a specific activity or type of work—quiet work, private offices, group work, desks to support team-specific tasks, a personal desk for individual-focused work, and more—most activity-based workspace designs can benefit from the flexibility that hot desks provide.

Agile workspaces

An agile workplace gives near-unlimited autonomy to employees. For example, workers are given a task, but they get to choose when, where, and even how to complete it. Agile working often relies directly on hot desks to deliver an extreme level of seating flexibility to employees.

hot desking office space

Hot desking vs. hoteling: What’s the difference?

Hot desking is when employees sit down at any available hot desk for the day without booking, whereas hoteling is when employees book unassigned seating in advance. Many people incorrectly use the terms hot desking and office hoteling interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.

Hot desking vs. free addressing: What’s the difference?

Both hot desking and free addressing offer unassigned seating to employees on a first-come, first-served basis—no booking required. The difference is that free addressing desks use workplace sensors to track when each desk is occupied or empty. In a hot desking environment, an employee casts their eye around the space to figure out which desks are available. With free addressing, employees simply open their company’s workplace management software or app to see which desks are available.

How can employers address hot desking challenges?

Although hot desking work has many perks, it is not without its challenges. For example, without the right tools in place, it can be a hassle to find a hot desk for the day. 

As a result, employees aren’t always enamored with the thought of changing desks each time they come to work, finding a location for their belongings, and dealing with potential distractions. It is also believed that teams don’t always get the chance to connect like they would in a traditional office with permanent desks and private offices on the floor plan. 

Here’s how to resolve the most common hot desking issues that arise in the workplace:

Give employees hot desking tools that make sharing desks easier

Leverage workplace software that makes hot desking quicker and more efficient for employees. A workplace mobile app and real-time office maps can go a long way to removing friction from the hot-desking experience. Having these tools will provide transparency for employees regarding what is occurring in the office and what bookable meeting rooms and desks are available, giving them the data they need to make an informed decision on how to navigate their workday.

Manage hot desks with desk booking software

Use Desk booking software that provides additional insight into how, when, and by whom desks and spaces are being used. This can help your management team track the success of your hot desking strategy in real time and improve the desk booking experience for everyone.

Make sure teams stick together

Post pandemic, it’s common for teams to split their time between remote work and in-office collaboration. To promote better team cohesion and prevent a feeling of isolation from creeping into the remote work experience, hold regular video conference meetings so that teams can interact with one another—even if they’re not physically in the same place. 

For socialization and teamwork, regular team outings or get-togethers can also be effective in bringing new employees, long-time office workers, and remote work team members together.

Manage distractions with a thoughtful floor plan

By using flexible seating arrangements like neighborhoods or activity-based workspaces, there can be a foundational floor plan in place for employees to navigate distractions. For example, if an employee needs a more focused work environment, they can utilize the designated “quiet zones.”

Provide space for personal belongings

Employee preferences are key here, and consulting your employees on how they would like their personal belongings is recommended. Lockers or storage cubes near entrances or along the walls can provide a safe space for employees to store their belongings are some ideas you can share.

Give opportunity for office personalization

Employees used to working in a traditional office might struggle to adjust to a flexible office arrangement due to the lack of a personal desk or private office. Employers can mitigate those struggles by providing alternative ways for employees to personalize shared office spaces. For example, you can set up shared bulletin boards dedicated to personalization or encourage employees to bring items from their home office to use (as long as they understand shared desks are a coworking space, and employees will need to bring personal items home that same day).

effective flexible hybrid workplace

Using data analytics to measure the success of hot desking and manage facility planning

Integrating hot desking isn’t a one-and-done experience. Tracking desk usage and ensuring that available hot desks reflect the needs of your team takes time.

Employers should keep a close eye on the following metrics to track workplace trends, make informed decisions, and keep facility planning up-to-date.

Workplace analytics

Workplace analytics can help companies analyze office desk utilization, facility planning, and other areas that impact the success of an organization. This provides high-level insights that allow companies to make intelligent decisions regarding their workspaces. For example, monitoring hot desk usage will help workplace teams spot usage trends, understand the seating needs of employees, and provide a better seating setup on the floor plan.

Operational reports

Operational reports guide facility management and planning. Preventative and predictive maintenance reports provide insight into facility operations, so you can track when facility updates are needed before they become a costly endeavor. Operational reports can inform implementation needs around building automation systems (BAS) such as security, HVAC, lighting, and more.

Visibility reports

Visibility reports provide transparency on how the space is being utilized by employees. With badges and sensors, you can develop a real-time understanding of your office layout and usage. This data can be leveraged to create a more efficient floor plan and better space utilization. 

Space utilization

This metric shows how space is divvied up and used by employees over time. For example, tracking space utilization can help companies understand where people gather, identify wasted space, improve office design, and optimize which types of desks are made available on the floor plan.

Occupancy data

Tracking and improving occupancy rate is one of the simplest ways companies can create a more efficient office space. And it’s also the best way to ensure that they have the right ratio of hot desks to support the needs of in-office employees. 

Presence data 

Presence data is the trending analytic for desk booking. Combining visibility reports, space utilization, and occupancy data, presence data provides facilities managers with the bigger picture of office usage. Using employee badge data, desk and room bookings, check-ins, cancellations, wifi logs, and sometimes sensors, facilities managers can create a more developed roadmap to space optimization.

Why is desk booking data not enough?

While desk booking data provides valuable insights regarding space utilization, it doesn’t assess the finer details as to how the space is being utilized. 
With the IoT technology that OfficeSpace offers, robust presence data can be paired with the advanced analytics facility managers need to make informed decisions around space optimization.

how to measure the success of hot desking

Why you need hybrid workplace management software to make hot desking work

Hot desking and hybrid work models go hand in hand. From improving space utilization, driving cost savings, and improving employee engagement, hot desking has a range of benefits for companies and team members alike. But it works best when integrated with supporting tools and existing systems.

Workplace management software can streamline every aspect of the experience. For example, it can address everything from setup to day-to-day usage and management, give employees and teams the hybrid working tools they need, and improve many other aspects of the workplace experience for teams and individual employees.

An effective workplace management platform has the following features:

  • Move management tools to plan and manage one-off and large-scale moves.
  • Space management tools to improve utilization and eliminate redundant space.
  • Real-time office maps that support office wayfinding and show employees which desks and meeting rooms are available to use.
  • Desk booking and room booking software to provide a frictionless booking experience for employees and support any type of conference room or desk booking strategy—hot desking, hoteling, free addressing, activity-based working, and neighborhoods.

Scenario planning and stack planning functionality to visually test hypothetical floor plan changes and make quick, effective changes to the company’s portfolio.

How OfficeSpace Software can help you with hot desking

OfficeSpace Software provides everything you need to set up a successful hot desking office space. It’s even in the name! Beyond the basic features of an efficient hybrid management software listed in the previous section, OfficeSpace Software also provides:

Extensive reporting. The ample presence data provided from visibility reports, space utilization, and occupancy data is just one of the ways OfficeSpace Software can forecast the best space optimization for your office. Operational reports also employ a cost-saving measure to preemptively make facility updates, maintaining office functionality.

Technology. BAS and IoT features promote better safety protocols, collect cleaner data, and create a more cohesive environment through office integration. 

Connection. A workplace mobile app that users can access anywhere, anytime is key for employees, especially when integrated with Slack, Microsoft Office 365, Teams, and/or Google Calendar.


Whether you’re considering hot desks for a single office in New York or San Francisco or looking to introduce shared desks across a global portfolio—OfficeSpace makes hot desking and hybrid work easy for everyone. Book a demo today.

Photos: iStock, Uneebo Office Design