Desk Care or Despair? The Psychological Effect of Hot Desking

If you are reading this ‘at work’ right now – whether this is an office, coworking space, home study or a coffee shop - do you have any personal items around you?

In today’s flourishing trend of beautifully designed workspaces, a poster of last year’s holiday is likely to upset the aesthetics, especially as you may not have a dedicated desk to place your photo on.

No longer are workers tied by an invisible umbilical cord to a permanent desk. Instead there are a plethora of agile workplaces offering users hot desks, breakout spaces, comfortable booths and meeting rooms to work in - not to mention the ability to do their 9-5 from home.

However, this freedom may come with a psychological caveat for the employee; a lack of personalisation and a loss of identity. Does having a photograph or favourite mug really affect workers that much? Evidently it does.

Not being able to take ownership of your own working area can actually influence productivity, as a recent study has shown. Highlighted by high-profile media outlets such as the BBC, research by Haddington Knight found that 'employees who put at least one picture or a plant in their cubicle [were] 15% more productive than those who don’t.' And there are bigger benefits for those who personalise their own space however they want.

Employers often view hot desking as a chance to provide flexibility, choice, team collaboration and a clean workspace. But a downside to this is that workers could start to feel like their own sense of self is slowly being eroded. And with that, comes declining productivity.

Personalisation also helps people to communicate, fosters teambuilding and supports a sense of belonging.

"Personal objects are territorial markers used to communicate who we are to co-workers," says The British Psychological Society.

"A certain proportion of personalisation objects – about a third in all – were positioned to only be visible to the owner themselves. These exemplify a final function of personalisation – not to communicate to others, but to remind ourselves of our identity."

Hot desking can also cause other problems, such as a sense of the unknown. Up to 39% of office workers spend as much as 60 minutes every week searching for available desks, conference rooms, or colleagues. Obviously, over the course of a working week, that's time lost.



However, these time vacuums can lead to people developing new relationships with different team members that are constructive and aid cross-collaboration. And let's not forget that time lost by people searching for a suitable space is drastically lower that the time lost by the disruptions an open-plan office can bring.

As with most business decisions, there are pros and cons to office layouts, and hot desking is exactly the same.

Hot desking can considerably reduce overhead expenditure but if the cost turns out to be employee morale due to a sterilised working environment, then this is where work culture and agile working can come in to effect. 

If someone finds a workspace barren and devoid of personality but has freedom to move to a more decorated area, then that's a positive. As too could be allowing people to wear headphones while working.

If you remove one wellness-boosting option, then supplementing it with another is integral to keeping a happy and productive workforce.