Hot-desk or hot mess? Will hot-desking survive COVID-19?

NOT SO HOT: Any hot-desking in the workplace post COVID-19 would have to be done in a different way.
NOT SO HOT: Any hot-desking in the workplace post COVID-19 would have to be done in a different way.

Rushing to secure the best desk in the office, the constant packing and unpacking, dealing with other people's rubbish and the scrambling to avoid sitting next to your least-favourite workmate could soon be a thing of the past.

Hot-desking - the practice of multiple workers using a single physical work station or surface during different time periods - reigns supreme in many offices, often to the dismay of employees.

New workplace safety protocols to guide businesses out of the coronavirus pandemic have been released and hot-desking may be on the way out.

In a post-COVID-19 workplace where hygiene will be the top priority, chief medical officer Brendan Murphy has stressed that workplaces would need to look at practices such as hot-desking and consider staggered start and finish times, frequent cleaning and increased employee hygiene awareness.

Having endured nine months of hot-desking at a prior workplace, Tara Trewhella from Albury, NSW, was definitely glad to see the back of it.

"I was a temp for a business that ran a hot-desk office for about nine months," Ms Trewhella said.

"When I started in the office, my manager kind of mumbled something about hot-desking, but said that 'for the most part, we just stick to the desk we like'.

"I took note not to establish too much personal space at my desk, which is a big change - my previous workplaces and my home office are very personalised, and I like that feeling, it makes working a little more pleasant.

"Because the business was statewide, we had people popping in and out all the time, who would just take whatever desk was available in the mornings.

"It does leave you feeling a little displaced - even things like not having the chair you like or the monitors at the right height can be very disruptive, and having to take my laptop and any paperwork home each day (from a temp job!) was overwhelming."

So why are there so many people who dislike hot-desking?

Psychologist Dr Anthony Perrone said people are essentially creatures of habit.

"We like routine, a sense of belonging and ownership, 'this is my space'," Dr Perrone said.

"Hot-desking throws those beliefs into chaos for many people. In an office environment, people make their 'desks' as part of an extension of their homes/lives, often seeing pictures of loved ones, plants, gadgets, nibbles, flowers, particular stationery and so on.

"When an employee has to share a desk that is all taken away.

"This can be somewhat emotional for many. They may lose motivation, they can feel somewhat dehumanised by this process and morale can most certainly decline.

"If a person is an introvert, this can increase anxiety levels as they feel others are invading their space or quiet zone."

For me I had concerns about my health, using the same phone, keyboard and stationary that was being used by a person who seemingly may not be so focused on hygiene or sanitation.

Dr Anthony Perrone

From an employer perspective, Dr Perrone said it comes down to pure economics.

"The servicescape is supposedly enhanced, meaning let's make the space look good. Furthermore, space limitations may be addressed, as well as accommodating employees who wish to job share."

Dr Perrone said, for him, the concept isn't appealing and flagged hygiene concerns as a major drawback.

"I worked in an open office in a community mental health organisation on a part-time basis and had to share a desk. I had no choice per management.

"One reason I did not like this arrangement was that the person who shared the desk was very unorganised/untidy. When I came into work, the desk was dirty, stationery all over the place or missing, drink containers left behind as were food wrappers in the desk drawers etc.

"For me I had concerns about my health, using the same phone, keyboard and stationery that was being used by a person who seemingly may not be so focused on hygiene or sanitation.

"My complaints to management fell on deaf ears therefore each day I arrived to my hot-desk, I basically spent 30 minutes cleaning and sanitising the space."

This story Hot-desk or hot mess? Will hot-desking survive COVID-19? first appeared on The Canberra Times.