Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

Hot-desking a hot issue

Edited by Jill Wright,

It was quite a coincidence to discover an article in the online version of the human relations publication HC Magazine, covering some of the areas I touched on yesterday in my post on the psychological implications of physical office space.

HC initially pointed out that hot-desking has positives and negatives, and quoted Keti Malkoski, a research psychologist at Schiavello, who made the point that hot-desking is not appropriate for all situations, advocating instead "a holistic approach which balances the people, technology and space needs as required".

It suggested that IBM had taken that approach, developing hot-desking for its more mobile employees. IBM Australia and New Zealand's diversity and workforce lead Belinda Reynolds, explained that if an employee came into the office five days a week, they would certainly have a permanent desk, while someone who only worked in the office two to three days a week "might utilise the hot-desk policy". I imagine "might utilise" actually means "would be allocated".

In the remainder of the article, both Reynolds and Brian Bissaker, former CEO of Colonial First State, enthuse about their belief that hot-desking enhances team-building and socialising.

I couldn't help but smile, because that was the original justification for the open plan office concept, and too often the reality hasn't quite matched the theory.

How often does one find, for instance, that many workers, particularly younger ones, in open plan environments put up the "Do Not Disturb" sign by wearing ear buds or headphones?

Sydney-based interior designer and organisational psychologist, George Mylonas worked with Jane Carstairs, whom I mentioned in yesterday's post, on a paper which was delivered at the 9th Australian Industrial Organisational Psychology conference and a couple of articles in the Australian Journal of Psychology.

You can listen to George talking on Life Matters a couple of years ago on the topic of hot-desking by clicking on the download link. It's also interesting to read the comments on that link, because they indicate that the experience of people actually in the workplace differs somewhat from the attitude of the enthusiasts.

If you talk to George, you'll discover that having someone like Brian Bissaker settling in to the next-door desk to, as he puts it, "test the culture" could be threatening to some people and could distract them from their work.

As George's research indicates, extroverts might find the opportunity to meet a new person every day quite welcome, but introverts could find it highly challenging.

Any organisation which invests in hot-desking or open plan offices really needs to understand that it's a complex issue, and that they have to consult with people who have looked deeply into the research to help them avoid some of the pitfalls, including a loss of motivation and productivity in the work force, to say nothing of the cost of having to replace staff who move on because they can't stand the environment.

 A little common sense might also help.

About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.