Making hotelling/hotdesking work for you
December 12, 2017 11:10 PM   Subscribe

What hacks have you developed to make reservation-less unassigned seating work for you in the workplace? I find the whole concept really unpleasant and unsettling.

Our workplace has a hotelling/hotdesking set up where you don't have an assigned desk, you just walk in and work wherever there is space. I find this very unpleasant/unsettling: the fact that I don't know who's going to be sitting next to me on any one day, the fact that I need to allocate an extra 5-10 minutes at the beginning and end of my day to set myself up with my computer and ergonomic requirements in the morning and then put everything away into my locker again at the end of the day; knowing that being even a few minutes late in to work means I'm going to end up with the one desk which is less good than all the others.

There's also a psychological component I find difficult to explain but the feeling of not having a place in the workplace that truly belongs to me is unnerving. I've always liked to be able to personalise my workspace with a favourite mug, stationery, maybe a plant etc - working in a different impersonal space everyday makes me feel... more transient somehow, as though I am a temp worker or someone there on secondment as opposed to a permanent member of the team.

It's been a few months and I'm kind of used to it but not really. I still feel twitchy and unhappy at work. Does anyone have any ideas about how to feel more grounded, and waste less time getting used to a new space every morning? I've never really thought of myself as particularly sensitive, but this has been getting to me. I've spoken about this to my line manager, who also hates the set-up, but can't really do much to change it, as it comes from 'on high'.

Anon because I'm fairly certain a fair few of my co-workers read Metafilter.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Can you find a small but personal item to set up in your workspace every day in the same location no matter what desk you are at (eg to the right of your computer)? It could be a framed photo or a pretty mug you really like. Something that is clearly yours, unique, and functions as the one constant in your workspace.

I feel for you. I would absolutely hate this kind of setup too.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:22 PM on December 12, 2017 [12 favorites]

How far in advance can you make a reservation? If you can reserve a few days in advance, try to reserve the same seat ahead of time. If you can't reserve a few days in advance, you could come in 30 minutes earlier than others to at least get the same spot everyday. If this is doable, you should pick a seat that has good lighting and is near someone who has a permanent seat (like an admin assistant) so you at least have a couple of things grounded.
posted by watrlily at 3:12 AM on December 13, 2017

I worked in a hot-desking / hoteling setup for many many years and also had private offices. At first it was in Europe working for a big four consulting group. Hot-desking was a practicality. But boy was it done well. Convertible sitting / standing workstations (this was ~20 years ago). You could reserve your location online the evening before. They took the view that delivery consultants always had shit work conditions at client sites (8-10 folks gathered around a conference table) working on whatever. So the home office should reward and feel really nice. So really good food service, a canteen that turned into a bar on Friday evenings. Health programs, yoghurts, fruit salads, juices. All on the house.

Later, after being bought by a TLA, the positives faded away and a more stern viewpoint emerged: We'd rather not have you in the office. This became more apparent after the move to AU. The office conditions were totally unergonomic. Show up and hope. No services, no comforts, no pre-booking a desk. No sales or gigs, soon to be no job. If you're in the office as a delivery consultant and not productive at the moment, it's not meant to be comfortable.

I was an industry specialist and practice lead with a few unique and significant technical achievements under my belt. But I never made Partner. That said, in Japan and China, Partners that weren't senior also hot-desked.

So I've dealt with the hoteling a lot with a lot of stuff in tow.

I don't miss it, as it was the worst sort of work environment for me. To do the intense work, I need a closed room with a large white board. The Swiss setup was ok, the Japanese tolerable, Australian unproductive. China wasn't the best, but the cooperation amongst the consultants was always good.

I guess I'm saying a few things: hoteling is a couple of decade's old, worldwide phenomenon. Some countries and companies do it better than others, sometimes because of regulations (won't expand here).

You'll need hacks to make it work: Getting to work early; If you're an 'individual contributor', double down on early arrival. If there's a reservation system, master it. If you're a part of a team, coordinate. It's cliquish and not the best, but create a pattern with the group. Always setup in the same space and talk amongst your teammates. It will bother others trying to concentrate on their own work. Figure out locations that work best for you for your main task on the day: Heads-down writing, calls, analysis might suit one or two locations. A day of expense reports and transactional stuff in a more convivial location. A slow, thoughtful day might be a seat with a view, if it's there. Lastly, have extra office supplies to fiddle with and a couple of small personal things that travel well in a laptop bag.
posted by michswiss at 3:32 AM on December 13, 2017 [13 favorites]

I am in the same situation. A few things that help me are:
  • personal desktop wallpaper
  • my 'desk kit' in my locker - my favourite phone charger, wireless headset, mousemat, stationery etc.
  • using different spaces e.g. meeting rooms for calls
  • mentally acknowledging that it leads to reduced productivity and job satisfaction, not pretending everything is fine
  • being a polite thorn in management's side over the issue, particularly over the dishonesty in claiming this is about anything other than reducing premises costs

posted by Busy Old Fool at 3:41 AM on December 13, 2017 [12 favorites]

I've hot desked for just over a year now. There have been times when it's been tough - there was a period where it really felt like we were playing musical chairs and there was one less desk each day, so finding somewhere to sit was difficult - but I've adjusted to it now.

Things that have helped:

* If the desk-person ratio is not ideal, getting to work 30 minutes before start time to get a good work station.

* Going straight to the desk on arrival, not stopping by the toilet or kitchen first. It's really annoying to plan to sit somewhere and then to miss out because you went to the loo and the person who was in the lift with you got to the desk first!

* Adjustable work stations - desks which can be used for sitting or standing, monitors with arms which allow them to be adjusted in all directions, different chair options. You will have limited control over these, but you may be able to request certain accomodations for ergonomic reasons. There are a couple of people in my office who have different chairs to the rest of the floor, for example.

* Using a tub for items which need to be carried between locker and desk, and cutting back on the number of things which I actually bring to my desk.

But most of all:

* Accepting that I am going to have to hot desk and that there's no point getting attached to sitting in a particular spot!
posted by kinddieserzeit at 3:52 AM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'd add, honestly, getting your resume in order and looking for work elsewhere.
posted by uberchet at 6:33 AM on December 13, 2017 [15 favorites]

I really like to create solid transitions in my workday - between productive mornings and more scattered afternoons. Between tasks that are cognitively different - analysis vs email, planning vs writing, etc.. In addition to getting the reservation and arriving early, getting your stuff right to your spot...I’d add a transition. Once you have moved your stuff to your spot, go slowly to make some tea. Move without haste and be pleasant but neutral to those around you. While the water is heating, use the restroom and really wash your hands and dry them. Don’t rush. If someone you like comes in, offer to make them so tea, too. Basically slow your roll as you transition from outside to desk and you may find that rather than carving out a personal physical space at your desk, you’ve mentally carved out some space just for you.
posted by amanda at 6:38 AM on December 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

From my co-working days - are there any desks that are less desired or never get used? If so - claim one of those as your own, add a plant to it, and you're likely to have it as your own most days. You'll have to, from time to time, share it with someone else, but generally speaking a less desirable spot can be made home with minimal effort.
posted by notorious medium at 7:37 AM on December 13, 2017

This is a double edged sword. I currently have a designated desk in an open plan office and the people in the next table group are noisy and irritating...I'd love to be able to move around to get away from them and it's a good job I have a desk due to seniority, not because I spend much time in the office.

Nthing the suggestion to work out what combination of reservation/arrival time works for you to secure a pleasant spot.

In my job I frequently work in client offices and I am used to carting my stuff around wherever I go. I will say that having gear you like can make all the difference. My purple, wireless, bought by me, mouse makes me happy. My personal, bought by me, headphones that work for me, make me happy. As does my small tube of favourite hand cream and lip balm etc that come with me everywhere. And my personal water bottle and holiday snap wallpaper. You do not have to make do without personal things just because you don't have a desk.
You've just got to work out what stuff really makes a difference to you that is also portable. So challenge what allows you to feel like you. After years of client site based working I can make my space my own with the contents of my laptop bag. My desk at the office reflects that, it is pretty devoid of personal stuff, when I'm not there.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:49 AM on December 13, 2017

We are actually switching to this model in about 3 months. I've experienced it as a visitor as other sites and from watching people there I'm planning:
  • In one office I visited they had been provided with very nice wooden toolbox style totes, with photo frames on the front. Imagine this, where the larger section can take a couple of hanging file folders. I will either find something similar and decorate it, or make/modify my own. Things marketed as mobile office look promising.
  • Stuff in the tote
    • Office tools/supplies: phone charger, headset, trackball, notepad and a couple pens, postits
    • Comfort stuff: fidget toys, water bottle, lip balm, polarized sunglasses for sudden onset migraine aura
    • A small binder where the front and back over are the printed references I currently have taped up behind my monitors, to contain things like the current release notes I'm testing.
  • they are giving us a file tote and I plan to sticker the hell out of that sucker. But I probably will only rarely take it out of the locker because I've been in my current desk 2 years and have only pulled paper out of a file once
  • A kitchen kit: fork/knife/spoon because I hate disposables, my soup bowl, a mug, tea bags. I actually have this already, it's just a canvas bag in my drawer that I pick up whenever I head to the lunchroom.
  • Some stuff I currently keep in my desk will probably live in my rolling backpack and come and go with me. That way it's where I am, and I can have the change to refill it at home without trying to remember
    • A "first aid kit" with the stuff currently in my bottom drawer. Painkillers, antacid, etc.
    • A snack bag, similar to the first aid kit
    • A "go" bag: The bag I grab when headed to the bathroom: nail clipper, tooth stuff, soap that doesn't give me a rash, hygiene supplies. i have three different ones in my desk now that will need to be culled/consolidated
  • Ergonomic stuff: I have a foot stool to keep my bad leg straight, a lumbar cushion and the seat thing that keeps me from pinching a nerve in my hip. They have said they will provide a spot to store my footstool and the other two items fit inside it anyway.

posted by buildmyworld at 9:13 AM on December 13, 2017

There's really only one hack you need to use in this situation, and it's what uberchet suggested: getting the fuck out of there and finding a new job with a company that respects you enough to give you the absolute minimum of "perks".

I don't think there's any job in the world that's worth putting in an extra half hour of unpaid labor just to achieve the bare minimum of comfort.

I would suggest the exact opposite: come in late, complain loudly about not being able to find a usable desk, and then render the desk unusable for the next occupant. Spill coffee on the chair, leave trash strewn about on all surfaces, microwave some fish and leave it in the trash can, adjust the seat to the most uncomfortable position (bonus points for asymmetry), and disconnect cables. After you've done this to enough desks, there will no longer be any "good" desks.

On the less-hostile-but-still-antagonistic side, what would happen if you just staked a permanent claim to a particular desk? Like, you brought in some personal items (photos of kids, World's Greatest Dad coffee mug, plant, etc.), and at the end of the day, you just got up and left, leaving the items behind?
posted by kevinbelt at 4:44 PM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

On the less-hostile-but-still-antagonistic side, what would happen if you just staked a permanent claim to a particular desk? Like, you brought in some personal items (photos of kids, World's Greatest Dad coffee mug, plant, etc.), and at the end of the day, you just got up and left, leaving the items behind?

Caveat: may only work for straight, white men who remind the straight, white, male boss of themselves.
posted by amanda at 8:34 PM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

From what I've read, nobody likes this kind of thing or gets used to it. I'd recommend trying to get all of your coworkers together to try to campaign against it. Also, pass this article along as evidence of why this sucks.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:00 AM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

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