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‘Hoteling’ and ‘Hot Desking’ are Raising Privacy Concerns

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There is a new trend sweeping offices across America. Known as “hoteling,” “hot desking” or “free address,”  it is a workplace design strategy with no assigned desks. Instead, employees arrive and select whatever available type of space suits their needs on that day. In some cases, the employee reserves a spot beforehand. Other organizations simply direct them to a vacant space upon arrival. 

Several factors are likely behind this way of doing things. 

First of all, companies are realizing they can use their expensive real estate more efficiently. Particularly given how many employees are working remotely at least part of the time, does it actually make sense to maintain a dedicated desk for someone who is in the office twice a week? 

This isn’t entirely about companies pinching pennies. Yes, the more efficient use of space can prompt companies to rent less space. But others can choose to simply turn some of those often-vacant desks into meeting spaces, quiet rooms or lounge areas that will improve the overall atmosphere and flexibility of the office.

Most of all, companies are also beginning to understand that people’s needs change depending upon what type of work they are doing. Individual focus work, for example, requires one type of environment, while collaborative work or video calls can be completed better in different types of spaces.

It’s already difficult enough for employees to give up their designated desk… Getting employees to approve of being personally tracked is a greater challenge

So employers are trying to give workers what they want: Access to the type of space they need whenever they need it. But at the same time, hoteling also introduces a new problem: privacy concerns.

To allocate spaces properly, companies are increasingly tracking who is where and which desks, rooms and other areas are vacant at any given time.

How do they do this? Well, one option is camera-based systems that track employees. Desk-level sensors are another solution some firms have broached, while reports suggest others may even be considering wearable tech that tracks workers as they move around the space.

It should go without saying that some employees will find this level of surveillance objectionable. It’s already difficult enough for employees to give up their designated desk and buy in to hoteling. Getting employees to approve of being personally tracked is a greater challenge. In a limited survey, we found 75% of employees don’t want a camera tracking their whereabouts at work.

The takeaway? Be mindful of the potential privacy concerns and stay away from capturing any personally identifiable data. Because while trends come and go, taking the wrong steps on privacy can have lasting effects.