Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Office - To Hot Desk, Cold Desk, or not Desk At All?


Can businesses increase their employee productivity if they let them work from anywhere- even from home?



Last week we discussed how businesses can work to keep their employees satisfied- we learnt how features of a job such as a trusting employee-employer relationship, the design of an office space, and a community atmosphere were crucial in keeping employees happy.

But this is not the end of the story- productivity is key, as it is the ultimate result of all the satisfaction and hard work put in by employees. Productivity is arguably the ultimate aim of any firm- it directly determines the overall output.

Like with employee satisfaction, the methods of improving productivity range from massive scale to very small details. The first feature we'll talk about today is

We mentioned last week that the atmosphere and design of an office can have significant psychological effects on those working in it. But the design of an office is equally crucial in determining productivity.

The traditional office that we are perhaps accustomed to is one that is desk-based, perhaps in cubicles or small sections, with each employee assigned their own desk to keep. However, a recent trend has emerged of what is called 'hot-desking'- where no employee actually has their own desk, but they are instead expected to come into work, unpack their things onto any open desk, and pack everything back up at the end of the day.

Could empty desks be part and parcel of the office
of the future?
On the plus side, hot-desking is argued to save employers rather significant amounts of money. A study from Vodafone UK, whose Newbury HQ is entirely hot-desk based, £5,746 could be saved per desk per year if an office is hot-desked. What's more, many argue that the nomadic behaviour brought on by hot-desking increases the opportunity for employees in a business to work with and get to know more people in the company, improving office relations.

However, hot-desking has a number of reasons to be unpopular for. Some employees see their desk as a 'home away from home', often adorning it with photos, decorations, and also organisational aids, like a whiteboard. The lack of their own desk also reduces the potential for employees to store their items at work- instead they have to take things home each day. Hot desking removes this possibility, due to the fact that employees have to clear their desks at the end of every day. From a direct productivity standpoint, there are time savings to be had from a traditional assigned desk policy, particularly when accounting for the time each employee must spend setting and packing up each day, which may be small on a daily basis but add up over time.

What's more, many argue that hot-desking doesn't always open the door for more relationships to be built. On the contrary, sitting next to new colleagues each day for some can make every day feel like their first, especially when considered that people in the office are not always so free as to get to know new people every day.

Some argue that no desk at all is the way forward- ie., the office is a thing of the past, and benefits can be enjoyed by letting employees work from home. Though one can envisage issues with this proposal- notably the lowered opportunities of communication between teams, and the potential for employee distraction- there are well-defined benefits to enabling employees to work from home. Firstly, by allowing employees to work from home, businesses can hire the best talent, regardless of any other commitments potential employees may have (most notably, having kids to drop and pick up from school). Employees can enjoy a better work-life balance, improving their satisfaction with their job and opening potential for increased productivity. Employees save time and money on commuting, too.

Businesses stand to save even more on office space and maintenance by allowing employees to work from home, and the wealth of video conferencing and document sharing platforms mean that employees can maintain communication wherever they are. Fewer sick days are expected to be taken by employees, and the lack of a trudge to the office every day may also reduce the employees' demand for leave days. And employees can use that hour or two spent commuting daily to do more work.

All this adds up to improved productivity caused by allowing employees to work from home- as much as 13.5%, according to a study by Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University.

So, what should businesses do? The answer, as it so often does, depends largely on the individual circumstances of a business. Businesses whose work is done entirely digitally, like many modern tech firms, stand to benefit perhaps most from allowing employees to work from home, while of course working from home is not such a viable option for businesses involved in face to face sales. Whatever the business, the future of the office seems to be becoming far more dynamic and less building-based. Particularly due to its cost and productivity benefits, more and more businesses appear to be shifting focus from their physical offices to alternative workplaces.
Mohammad Lone Editor