We will pay for our hybrid work freedoms with more hot desk


In Spain, this has provoked legal action. In Canada, this has irritated office workers. In Australia, it has shaken civil servants, and in Britain it has angered union leaders.

The reason for this distant disappointment? The constant proliferation of a hotline during a pandemic that threatens to turn a personal, designated desk into an increasingly rare commodity.

Hot or shared desks have been at the top of workers’ hate lists since they began their insidious slide into corporate life more than 20 years ago.

Not surprisingly, people didn’t like the annoyance of competing with their colleagues to find a desk that needed adjustment and made you feel like a useless gear.

Not much has changed. Last week, when a LinkedIn poll asked if people liked to work hot jobs, 75% of respondents clicked “no.”

An even larger proportion of British office workers expressed the same opinion last year in a university survey, which also suggests that the idea that people are starting to like a hot desk over time is rubbish.

Still, the search for “flexible workspaces” is on the way. A report this month by the JLL real estate group says 37% of organizations worldwide have plans to increase the use of collaboration or flexibility after the pandemic.

Some have already started. Envoy, a software group that makes an app you can use to book a hotline, says desk bookings jumped as much as 60 percent last month.

You may ask why employers would introduce such a proven agent of misery during a chronic shortage of workers from San Francisco to Sydney. Yet even a lifelong hatred from the hot desk like me can understand why this is happening.

Before Covid, office space in big cities was so expensive that underused space cost companies around £ 4 billion a year in London alone.

Now these same companies are introducing hybrid work so that people can work a few days at home and some in the office, which is exactly what most employees say they want.

But if much of the workforce comes to the office only two or three days a week, it creates a lot of underused space. Enter the hot desk with predictable results.

A Spanish company that tried to share a desk went to court last year after unions objected to what they claimed was a major change in working conditions.

This claim was rejected, but may not be the last.

Employees in Canada are reportedly unhappy to return to work to find they need to use an app to book a hotline in hybrid operating settings. The same prospect upset Canberra government officials. In London, union leaders say the hot bureau has undermined ministers’ orders for civil servants to return to the office because there are now fewer bureaus than employees.

sympathize. Before the pandemic, too much heat was spent on pointless spending cuts that ignored the cost of expropriating and wasting staff time.

But Covid made me think again. First, because the increase in telecommuting makes the cost of unused office space a bigger problem.

Also, when I went back to my old, Financial Times-appointed office between the blocks, the experience wasn’t always perfect.

My area was sometimes so devoid of bodies that I could stay at home. At times, I volunteered to run a hot desk just to be closer to my colleagues, who were the main reason I was there. Admittedly, my desk is in a particularly distant wing of the building. But in a hybrid setting, I see that this can be a common dilemma.

There is an answer. If shared desks and chairs are easily adjustable, easy to book, close to generous storage space, and generally better organized, a hot desk can become more popular.

But it will not be free. Having your own desk is not just more comfortable and ergonomically sound. This is a sign that you are valued by the organization and that you belong to it. Once it starts, it will become a measure of business loyalty.

At a time when the pandemic has stretched organizational ties to unimaginable lengths, I suspect it would still be best to keep the hotline idea on the ice for as long as possible.

pilita.clark@ft.com

Twitter: @pilitaclark





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