Hot-desking vs. Hoteling: Which is Right for You?



Shared desking practices can enable a more flexible workplace than traditional desks. Both hot-desking and hoteling can support employee productivity while also making more efficient use of space. However, would-be adopters may wonder how to choose between them. For an in-depth look at these typologies, we turned to Melissa Marsh, Managing Director of Occupant Experience at Savills US.

What’s the difference between hot-desking and hoteling?

In both hot-desking and hoteling, users choose from a variety of workspaces based on their needs. In both types, spaces have no dedicated owners. Work spaces are used as and when employees need them. Beyond this, there are some important differences to consider.

In hot-desking, assignments can be rotating, shift-based or first come, first served. These assignments tend to change frequently—perhaps multiple times throughout a day—and may be entirely ad hoc.

In hoteling, workers often reserve the spaces they want to use through a booking app or service. These assignments are often longer in duration and more formalised.

Clerkenwell Road, by Boutique Workplace Company

Provide a diverse range of spaces

Some offices run exclusively on flexible desking, while others offer a blend of fixed seating for some employees and shared desks for others. According to Marsh, you should start by assessing the requirements and working patterns of your employees:

Whether you have hot-desking, hoteling, or another shared desking arrangement, the reason for having it is to be able to give people choice, control, and variety in the work environment they use. It’s not just about the actual desk; it’s about all the other spaces in which people work instead of at a desk—conference rooms, cafes, meeting rooms, etc. When you’re trying to address a large population, offering diversity means there’s a better chance of offering things that work for people, and doing so in a way that supports individual and group wellness.

Maximise the benefits through Activity-Based Working

Consider also implementing Activity-Based Working (ABW), which can complement both hot-desking and hoteling by further encouraging employees to work in spaces they choose. Says Marsh:

It’s important to do some sort of work style or function assessment first. Research shows that shared desking in an ABW environment pairs best with job functions that are themselves varied. If someone’s day-to-day job is desk work, ABW isn’t going to benefit them that much. Consulting roles, managerial roles, or some design and creative roles—those in which people are likely switching back and forth between heads-up collaborative work and heads-down analytical work—are those that will benefit most. That being said, more movement is better for everyone. When you don’t have an assigned desk, it takes away the cultural expectation that being at your desk is being at work. Part of getting away from that is moving around the office instead of remaining sedentary. Active bodies, active minds.

Create a home away from home

Shared desks can be particularly useful for a team that does a lot of traveling. Marsh explains, “You’re doubling the benefit—double-escaping the potential overage of a desk. For people who travel, there are a lot of times they don’t need their desks. They’re sitting on space they don’t need. It can be better to put them in the mix with everyone else, rather than putting them in a visitor’s area or reserving space they don’t need most of the time. Presumably, they’re traveling to interact with people so putting them in the mix increases the benefit of them being there. It’s good for the person visiting and for the people who aren’t traveling since it prevents the feeling of emptiness that might otherwise result. There will be times when the space is very full or empty, so you do need to have a plan for when everyone is there, or everyone is on the road.”

Marsh pointed out an additional benefit for travellers: a shared desk environment forces users to have more of their materials organized digitally. “You spend a lot less time thinking about what you need to take with you or worrying about what you didn’t bring with you.”

Choose technology strategically (or not at all)

Marsh says that, ideally, one wouldn’t need dedicated technology to enable desk sharing: “While I’m usually a supporter of ‘hacking’ things off the shelf, in this case I think the real hack is going low-tech. Enable people, through great physical design, to figure it out themselves. I like to compare it to entering a subway car. The way you find a seat is by looking for one and sitting in it. That’s the ultimate efficiency. You could do it with any number of platforms, but it’s better to design a space so that it’s clear how it’s being used.”

However, in cases where this might not be possible, an investment may be necessary. Marsh advises, “In recent years, there has been a blossoming of standards and technologies that support these typologies. The most obvious tools are space or seat booking apps—it’s just like booking a seat on an airplane. We used to talk to a travel agent to do that. They could see where the seats were on the flight, and they’d describe it over the phone. Now you can just pull up the WYSIWYG interface and pick the one you want. Some of these apps are better than others, but overall the proliferation of them is good.

John Wesley Dobbs Ave NE in Atlanta, by Alkaloid


A few additional pieces of technology to consider:

Docking stations

Users plug their devices in and log on – the docking station then registers the desk as in-use. Other employees can access the docking system and see in real-time which desks are occupied.

PIR Systems

Passive Infrared (PIR) systems add sensors—usually underneath the desk to detect when someone sits down.

Image-based smart sensors

This emerging technology uses ceiling-mounted cameras to determine when desks are in use. They don’t capture or save any images, so they’re still privacy-friendly.

Make sure your people are on board

Marsh cautions that technology doesn’t automatically solve the problem: “If you don’t have that social contract that people should manage their own spaces responsibly, you’re back to departments booking rooms pre-emptively so that no one else can take them. When implementing one of these systems, it must be built to release resources that are booked but not used; otherwise you can have a room that’s full of bookings but not people, which is a different version of inefficiency.”

“The first thing to consider is always whether a change is a good fit for your people—not just good for the bottom line. Getting input and involvement from the community is key. Next, identify whether any building infrastructure or technology needs to be upgraded to enable the change. If a room booking app is what’s called for, does your IT system support it? Lastly, you may need to alter the way the environment is laid out. As we discussed in a recent article about implementing agile work practices, this doesn’t necessarily require moving or making major changes to a space; some clever furniture selections or rearranging things can make a significant impact.

Look for long-term potential

Marsh points out that aggregating usage data provides other benefits: “Sensor systems that are telling us which spaces people are using are also providing data to build better buildings in the future. The true upside is not even the efficiency of the space allocation but the opportunity to use that information to improve the design and provide greater availability—it’s the consumerization of space as a product.”

If you’re interested in finding a shared desk solution or in setting up a brand-new hoteling office, visit Savills Workthere to find the flexible work solution you need.