Why hot-desking backfires

Empowering employees is more important than saving space says PGi’s Mike O’Boyle.

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Despite predictions that the workforce will increasingly consist of flexible workers – teleworkers, freelancers, part-timers, etc. – we are actually witnessing an era where enterprise and major companies are spending more and more money on developing impressive, world-class office space. That is in part because flexibility is much more complex than simply selecting a desk at the office or at home.

About 79% of knowledge workers worldwide telework, yet half of them prefer to telework only two or three days a week. Today employees still rely on a physical office environment in some capacity to get work done, and in considering the vital role office space plays in employee performance, companies need better environments to support the flexible workforce.

However, despite best intentions, yours is probably not only failing to meet the needs of this new breed of employee but possibly even holding back current and potential flexible workers.

Downfall of hot-desking

Achieving better teamwork, collaboration, productivity and efficiency is only a new seating arrangement away, or so the hot-desking story goes. By replacing territorial desks with communal workspace, businesses mix up workers just enough to increase knowledge sharing and cross-functional collaboration and decrease time waste and silos.

Despite all this potential, the business case by most employers for hot-desking focuses on space and cost savings. By eliminating desks and tools for the average number of flexible workers out of the office on any given day, companies significantly cut back on operations and facility costs (by as much as 30%, according to the BBC). In fact, the official definition of hot-desking in the Cambridge English Dictionary is “a way of saving office space.”

This approach to hot-desking backfires for most businesses. Why? Because ripping out excessive workspace alone, instead of simultaneously improving hot desks for the mobile workforce, actually makes many employees less efficient – 80% of workers don’t think hot-desking is conducive to productivity.

Why video rooms are doomed

Video rooms have long sold the promise of transforming workers anywhere – in the office, at home, across the world – into productive engines for businesses. High-end, customized video conferencing room systems offer such high quality and reliability that geographic distance feels nonexistent, and the office becomes more of a portal for virtual collaboration than simply a place to show face.

Over time, though, companies have grown more aware of the technology’s biggest flaw: it is just too daunting, even for the most intelligent knowledge workers. Most video room equipment is never used because employees don’t know how to use it, no matter how many times you train them. However, because the need to communicate and collaborate still exists, workers find easier ways to communicate on their own, often ones that are far less productive and less efficient.

In my conversations with businesses and users, I’m finding that more and more people are actually nervous to even go near the equipment. Yet even companies that know this hang on to that technology indefinitely because it carries such a hefty capex.

The ‘ROI’ link

The reoccurring theme in these scenarios is ‘ROI’. The very first step a company takes before even buying collaboration technology or allowing flexible work is determining what they want to get out of it. Too often, it is simply a matter of shaving off ‘fat’: reducing square feet, clocking time returned and counting cost savings.

The most powerful return on these investments is not about how cost efficient your business can be but more about how you can increase efficiency with the resources that you already have. It is about agility and creating an easy, accessible, truly anywhere environment to unlock the full potential from your tools for your staff.

Workers can use your company’s real estate more powerfully, but first, you have got to rethink collaboration and flexibility as strategies for growth. You cannot just enable connectivity at a desk; you have to create cultures and spaces that foster more meaningful levels of collaboration. You have to invest in seamless, more intuitive technology that integrates your video rooms within larger digital ecosystems.

This fluid, mobile, agile future of work is revolutionary and exciting, but when you come at it from a place of, ‘How much am I going to save?’ it suddenly looks pretty mundane and underestimates its true value potential. To turn it all around, every business needs to make a choice: either to continue business as usual or to reestablish ROI in terms of ‘transformation’, ‘growth’ and ‘innovation’.

Remember – at the end of the day, none of this is really about ringing out every last drop from your office and technology investments. It is about empowering your most powerful assets – your employees – who are happier, more loyal and more productive when they’re surrounded by a space that revolutionizes how they can work.

Mike O'Boyle cprsd

Mike O’Boyle is vice president, collaboration solutions EMEA and India, for PGi.

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