What is hot desking and can you refuse to do it?

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It’s entirely possible that with New Year’s resolution season just around the season, your boss or supervisor has suddenly decided to implement new protocols to the office. And it’s also possible that said innovator has decreed that hot-desking is the new future for you and your co-workers.

It sounds like fun, right? Well, to hear the internet tell, hot-desking is the devil’s work and must be avoided at all costs. But first, what the heck is hot-desking anyway?

Hot desking 101

“Hot desking is when a company does away with dedicated seating assignments for its employees. Rather than coming into work and sitting down at an assigned desk, employees are free to grab any free space that’s available, whether that’s a standard desk set-up, a seat in an available conference room, or a spot in a communal area such as on a couch,” explained TopResume career expert Amanda Augustine.

In other words, in many ways, it mimics the work style many of us who do their best work at Starbucks are most comfortable with. Mobility for an agile workforce: Augustine said, “Employers are fans of hot-desking because it reduces overhead costs associated with office space and desk equipment, especially if the company offers its employees flexible working arrangements.  This seating policy has been popular with Millennials, in particular, who grew up with mobile technology and portable workstations.”

Hmm. It sounds like a good idea, right? Well, perhaps not. The Financial Times ran a story back in July titled The Hidden Hell of Hot Desking. You can guess what it was about.

When you hot desk you not only have to stake out a new desk every single day, you have to clear off your desk every single time you leave the office. Heading out for a break? Unplug your phone and hide the pic of your boyfriend. Going out to a meeting? You’ll have to find someplace else to stow your Twizzlers and backup computer. It’s not a productive environment for people who prefer their desks covered with familiar tchotchkes or piled up with necessary paperwork.

Career musical chairs

A few people who complained about the practice preferred to remain off the record for professional reasons. One graphic artist at an ad agency explained that hot desking can be soul-crushing since “it feels like a game of career musical chairs. Also, it makes me paranoid that I’m missing out if I get there late and miss the good desks.” Another person who weighed in said “I have to get to work an hour early just to get a desk these days. Last week I ended up working in the kitchen so I wouldn’t have to sit at the desk closest to the bathroom,” griped P.J. who works for a tech startup. Augustine echoed that reaction. “Not everyone enjoys hot desking. While some embrace hot-desking, others feel uncomfortable hunting for an open workspace or grow anxious from wondering every morning whether they’ll successfully nab a desk for the workday.”

So, if you hate the idea of it, can you tell your boss you refuse to hot desk? Actually, yes you can. And you probably should before it becomes companywide policy. “If hot desking is not your cup of tea, it’s acceptable to share your concerns with your manager and ask if there’s a way to keep your desk,” Augustine advised. That said, if your entire office is adopting such a policy Augustine said “don’t be surprised if such a request is turned down. Truthfully, your boss may have no choice in the matter.”

Meanwhile, if you absolutely can’t hot-desking, Augustine says you should brainstorm other options that will minimize the amount of hot-desking required. “For example, consider requesting to work from home a couple days a week or arriving to and departing from work earlier in the day to secure ‘your’ seat. Also, you can work on rearranging your schedule so that you have a meeting-heavy day one day and the rest are meeting-light, making it easier to keep your seat.”