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If you’ve opted to adopt a hybrid work model, you might be wondering what the difference is between hoteling vs hot desking.

Both have become more popular as companies look to downsize their office spaces and save costs.

In this guide, I’ll explain the difference between the two to help you decide which option is best for your organization.

What is hot desking?

Hot desking is a workspace arrangement where no employee has a fixed spot. Instead, desks are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Hot desking helps make efficient use of office space and minimizes real estate risk. The flexibility inherent to hot-desking also encourages employee innovation and collaboration among employees with different specializations.

However, one downside is that, sometimes, employees might not get a desk. Or they get a desk in an undesirable spot, such as a noisy one.

That being said, the arrangement can work excellently when implemented the right way. 

For instance, Telenor (a Norwegian telecommunications company) implemented a hot-desking arrangement back in 2003. The company’s CEO, Jon Fredrik Baksaas, credits their implementation of hot-desking as a key contributor in the company's growth.

Hot desking certainly has its advantages but, as touched upon, there are a few considerations. 

Advantages of hot desking

advantages and disadvantages of hot desking infographic

1. Cost-effectiveness

Hot desking reduces your cost per workstation because a workstation can be used by more than one employee (usually several employees per day). It’s also easy to implement and offers a lot of flexibility.

2. Available on short notice

Hot desking is excellent for employees who usually work from home but need a change of scenery. Or for when team members want to collaborate in person. They can just walk into the office and get to work.

3. Offers autonomy to employees

Employees value the freedom of working remotely. Hot desking gives employees room for working on their own terms, which shows you trust them to complete projects successfully without a lot of oversight.

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4. Encourages innovation and creativity

Working from a different spot every day can be an excellent stimulant for creativity. Working from the same spot can feel stagnant after a while, and hot desking can provide the perfect solution. 

It allows getting a fresh perspective on things by breaking a repetitive thought pattern. You can also exchange ideas with members from other teams in your company who might be able to offer a different point of view on a problem.

Disadvantages of hot desking

1. You might not find a desk

Hot desking comes with an inherent limitation. On some days, you might find that none of the desks are available. You’ll either need to find a different workspace or wait until someone frees up a desk. This can cause loss of time and frustration.

2. Lack of options

Even when you do find a desk, it’s possible that all the good spots are already taken and you’re left with noisy areas where it’s hard to concentrate. If you’re going to be distracted by people passing by your desk all the time, you won’t be your most productive self.

3. Health issues

Several people may use the same desk on a daily basis, which means there’s a greater chance of someone with a disease or illness contaminating the desk. You’ll need to spend extra on educating employees about health risks and safety measures, provide sanitizers, and employ more people for cleaning desks after they’re used when you implement hot desking.

What is hoteling?

Hoteling works similarly to hotels. Most people can't walk into a hotel and enter a room of their choice. You need to book the room in advance, check-in at the reception, and then access the room.

Desk hoteling works the same way. An employee must book a desk, usually with desk hoteling software. When they visit the workspace, they can only access the spot they booked even if other desks are unoccupied.

Hoteling is helpful when you need to collaborate with others on a task at a certain time and day. The right desk hoteling system lets you search for an employee’s reserved desk and time so you can book a spot close by and easily collaborate with them.

Advantages of hoteling

advantages and disadvantages of hoteling infographic

1. Efficient utilization of workspace

Since hoteling involves allocating desks beforehand, it allows utilizing the space more effectively. The workspace will have greater occupancy because hoteling removes the uncertainty associated with the possible unavailability of desks.

2. More control and convenience for employees

The ability to reserve desks based on their preference offers employees more control. For instance, if your workspace has clusters of desks with a designated purpose, hoteling can allow employees to book desks closer to employees of a certain department for collaboration.

Hoteling also offers more control over the workspace without assigning any manager. Most companies use desk booking software to put workplace management on autopilot. There’s little need for a manager to oversee workspace allocation when an office hoteling system is in place.

3. Supports remote workers

Remote workers may not like the idea of not having a desk to put their laptop on when they visit the office. Hoteling can give them certainty about getting a desk, encouraging them to visit the office more frequently.

4. Improves employee satisfaction

A hybrid work model provides a balance between working in your own space and making connections at the office, consequently improving employee satisfaction. 

Making connections at the workplace isn’t very convenient with hot desking since it can be a little disorderly. You can never tell who will occupy the adjacent desk. Hoteling allows employees to pick desks closer to members they want to build a stronger connection with.

Disadvantages of hoteling

1. Demands more work to set up

You’ll need to create a virtual floor plan for your workspace and load it into your hoteling software. This is the bare minimum of what you’ll need to implement hoteling. It’s not much, but it’s still more work than hot desking.

2. Security concerns

If you’re handling confidential information, sharing desks can be risky. Others may be able to view your screen, or even access documents if you leave them unattended. 

You can protect confidential information by requiring employees, especially ones that handle confidential information, to clean up the desk before they leave and to not leave documents unattended. 

However, implementing this solution requires resources, and may be impractical in some cases.

3. Not emergency-friendly

When desks are booked for longer periods, you might not be able to arrange a workspace for an emergency meeting. For instance, if you need to arrange a work area for a business associate who’s in town unexpectedly, a lack of seating availability could become a complex issue to solve.

Difference between hoteling and hot desking

The primary difference between hoteling and hot-desking is in the way employees can access desks in a workspace. Hot desking gives employees access to desks on a first-come-first-serve basis, while hoteling requires employees to reserve desks in advance.

Companies may choose to use a variation of hot desking by assigning desks on rotations or based on shifts. The frequency of assignments will still typically be higher than with hoteling because employees have the option of reserving desks for a longer time.

Hot desking and hoteling also share some similarities. For instance, neither of them involve assigned seating common to a traditional workspace. And both rely on desk availability, so seating isn't guaranteed.

Hot desking and hoteling tools make things easy

Selecting the best hot desking or hoteling software can address many issues that are inherent to both arrangements. And in fact, many hot desk booking systems also handle hoteling arrangements as well.

Even though there may be no desks available at a given time, at least employees won’t have to visit the office only to find out about the unavailability. Instead, they can find out in advance and plan their trip to the office accordingly.

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By Kim Behnke

Kim Behnke is an HR Tool Expert & Writer for People Managing People. She draws on her 9 years of human resources experience and her keen eye for systematic processes to support her analyses of the top HR tools on the market. She is passionate about maximizing efficiencies and streamlining workflows to ensure internal systems run smoothly. Kim's HR experience includes recruitment, onboarding, performance management, training and development, policy development and enforcement, and HR analytics. She also has degrees in psychology, writing, publishing, and technical communication, and recently completed a Certified Digital HR Specialist program through the Academy to Innovate HR. When away from her desk, she can usually be found outside tending to her ever-expanding garden.