Don’t Have a Desk to Call Your Own?

Have you heard about the Portuguese island that “created” a village entirely for remote workers? If you’re waiting for a punchline, there is none – sadly for the digital nomads from around the world that moved to the island of Madeira, Ponta do Sol has been rife with unfulfilled promises and astronomical costs. And, of course, it came at a cost to those who had been living there before the digital revolution. As a recent Wired article states, “Ponta do Sol is sold as a place you can call home, while ushering in the displacement of the people who have called it home for generations”; the Portuguese settled on Madeira in the 15th century, in fact. But even for the newer residents, the thought of being able to work in the sun every day and enjoy a new community of remote workers living in freedom away from offices has proven elusive. Wired again: “On my visits, I noticed that the desks inside were always claimed first: The ocean views from the outdoor workspace are stunning, but even in the shade, it’s often too bright to see your screen.”

This idea of claiming desks is a hot topic these days as more and more companies move to the model of “hot desking” – in which the majority of employees don’t have assigned offices or desks, but claim one from on a first-come-first-served basis each day, much as you would a table at Starbucks or the library. Even before Covid, it became widespread enough for Forbes to write an article titled “How Hot-Desking [sic] Will Kill Your Company“. Nonetheless, the seismic changes of the pandemic and the work-from-anywhere revolution have led to a huge increase in companies attempting to save on office costs by moving to a hot desking model – or in some cases the similar “hoteling” model, in which employees can reserve a specific desk or room ahead of time.

But if you’ve worked in this model, you’ll know how disconcerting it can be. I’ve had many Zoom calls with clients who’ve lamented about the feeling of being ‘on show’ or needing to dress professionally but needing to carry everything with them in a backpack, without the ability to have personal space of their own, and without any awareness of where their colleagues or direct reports are at any given time, because they have no set offices to drop in on. They also report security concerns, as anything on their screens can be seen by others walking by.

If hot desking or hoteling are part of your worklife these days, or you’re part of the decision making process about whether to institute this change, what should you consider?

This Week’s Tips:

  • If you’re part of the decision making process and considering moving to hot desking, ask yourself these questions (courtesy of Bond Collective) before making any changes:
    • How important is personalization to you and your team? For some, this will be more important than others. Consider hoteling as an option to allow people to use the same space for several days.
    • Do you and they have the ability to control lighting, music, and other environmental factors? The more autonomy they have, the more comfortable they’ll feel.
    • Do you and they find pleasure in displaying personal photos and artwork? Are there other ways to allow people to do this?
  • Put in a request for lockers to keep personal items if there are none already. This allows people to keep personal items on site that they can bring to their desk to personalize their space and make it more comfortable.
  • If you’re in a hot desking or hoteling situation outside of your control, find ways to personalize your space. This might mean putting something out that was made by your kids, or a book you’re reading, or something that represents your culture in some way. Or you may personalize your space a different way – in the clothes you wear, how you wear your hair, or pins on your clothes that represent something personal to you.
  • Be conscious about finding (or building) community when you’re in the office. Use your internal chat channel to find out which team members are also with you, and take time to get together for a non-work 15-minute catch-up over coffee or a pastry.

Try these out this week, and let us know how it goes! We’d love to hear from you.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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