Hot Desks and Desk Etiquette

Can I book a desk in advance?

As with everything, it depends, but in general it shouldn’t be necessary.  SMART working depends on trust, fairness and flexibility.  Shared workspace is less about people working all day with a computer or pen and paper in a fixed location, and more about diverse activity that centres on essential meetings between colleagues.

If you are able to carry out most of your tasks using a laptop or other mobile device, why spend time and money travelling to a building in the centre of the city, when you could do the same work at home, your local library or your local coffee/tea shop? In addition the question perhaps could be: How would I feel if I came into the office building to find empty workspaces with a ‘reserved’ notice on it/them?

If you are going to have a team workshop, then you will need to book a suitable area, but will it need a fixed workspace?

Any approach that allocates 1:1 desks to most of a team with a handful of hot desks for people working more flexibly should be avoided. Such ‘hotdesking at the margins’ rarely works. This is because people who are mobile and newly formed teams find themselves squeezed for space while allocated spaces remain empty. It will also not achieve the space savings necessary to introduce more innovative and varied ‘activity-based’ settings and can be divisive of the team in terms of perceived fairness.

A key problem with space booking systems is that space is often booked for longer than is needed, so measures need to be taken to ensure that space is released when not needed, and cannot be ‘blocked out’ for long periods. Clear desk thresholds should still apply.

Can I have a desk fan?

In principle yes, provided you can store it somewhere when you vacate a desk.

Can I have a desk lamp?

In principle yes, provided you can store it somewhere when you vacate a desk.

Can I personalise my desk?

If you are designated as an individual with a permanent desk due to the specific role that you have or because of a recognised and agreed workplace adjustment, then you can place personal items on your desk. During periods of extended vacation the clear desk policy will apply so that others can use your desk when you are away.

Can I sit by a window?

Some desks will obviously be sited beside windows so provided the desk is unoccupied then yes, you will be able to sit by a window.

Do I have to book a desk?
  • It is unlikely that it will be necessary to book a desk though if you are coming into work and you know that will need to spend a substantial part of the day (morning, afternoon or whole day) at a desk it may be advisable to book one.

  • Space audits in offices with traditional working practices and a typical mix of work types usually show average desk occupancy levels of 45% or less over the working day.

  • Figures of less than 40% average occupancy are normal for professionals and managers in most “pre-smart” office environments. Because of the impact of meetings, site visits, training, leave and sickness average occupancy for admin and support staff rarely rises above 60%, despite what most managers would expect. Peak occupancy may be around 60% for managers and professionals and around 80% for administrative staff, but are rarely higher. Individual teams will show higher peaks, but these peaks do not occur at the same time: this is the main reason why staff often have a perception of higher occupancy than the measured data reveals. (SmartWorking handbook)

  • Although the aim is to make our work-spaces more efficient, from studies carried out, finding a space to work should not be a problem.  If any of your tasks can be carried out using a laptop computer or other mobile units, there will be different areas within the office building you can use, or you may choose to carry out that task at home and then come into the office building, you could even decide to work in your favourite coffee shop.  Studies carried out at other companies, show that on average most people choose to work at home between 1 and 2 days each week.
If I was to go to a meeting for an hour – can I leave my items on a desk or do I need to clear them and find another desk?

If a desk or other work area is to be left unoccupied for more than 2 hours, the desk should be cleared for use by others. Personal items should be stored in lockers, and only located on desks during periods of active occupation. Work-in-progress should not be stored on desks, but in team storage or project areas.

Staff should use the appropriate space for the activity – e.g. informal meetings should not take place at desks but in break-out areas or meeting rooms. Teams should be advised that exceptions to these protocols should be few, and based on genuine need, e.g. reasonable adjustment for staff with disabilities, or a specialist function that requires a particular location, e.g. receptionist.

Finally employees who are allocated personal desks should still abide by the clear desk policy and expect others to use their desks when they are absent.

Space sharing means that everyone has equal rights to occupy a space not being used by another person.  Perhaps the question we have to ask ourselves is, is it worse to leave our work unattended and come back to find it deleted or changed and our personal belongings removed or destroyed by another user, or take a couple of minutes before our meeting to secure our documents and put our personal belongings into a locker.

But as with all things, there may be exceptions for people with a disability or a very specialist function that requires a particular location.

What if I come in late and there is no desk?

As the number of desks is reduced to align more closely with actual occupancy, desk-sharing solutions will need to be introduced. But it is important to note that sharing space is not all about desks. Many organisations use a mix of desks, shared tables and project tables for regular work in the office. These will be supplemented by touch-down desks and quiet spaces as well as informal spaces that can also be used for regular work for shorter periods.

If you are going to your office building to:

  • Upload or download data,
  • Get photocopies made,

Probably what you need most is good network connection facilities, but you could be sitting in a comfortable non-desk area, and with SMART working this does not have to be done within the 9-5 timeslot.

  • Have an informal meeting with someone

Here you may need connection facilities and power connections, and a small table, but not a desk.

  • Attend a pre-arranged Small or large team meeting

Here you may need a bigger space but not necessarily a desk.

What if I don’t want to hot desk?

Smart Working is ultimately for everyone. Though there are work activities that are inherently less open to be carried out at different times and locations, the University is taking the approach that Smart Working is nonetheless for everyone. It should not be the case that some people are classed as ‘fixed’ workers while others are classed as flexible or smart workers. Smart Working involves changes to the way all people work. It is not a question of saying some roles are eligible and some are not. People with more hands-on, place-specific or time-critical components to the work are likely to be working with other people whose workstyle is changing. The nature of the tools they use and the interactions with colleagues would change as a consequence. It is therefore important to ensure that there is a single framework and culture of Smart Working. The risks of seeing some people as smart workers while others carry on as before are that:

  • Two different work cultures will emerge, and
  • The traditional work culture becomes dominant by default, reducing the benefits of working smarter.

Smart Working does not envisage ‘hot desking’ policies that move people all around the building from one day to the next, dividing people from their teams.Maintaining team cohesion and joint access to nearby resources is important, and space sharing arrangements that are agreed by colleagues in teams are more likely to work well. The Smart Working development process encourages team involvement in the design of new office environments.  Space-sharing needs also to take into account the needs of staff with disabilities for any specialist IT or ergonomic equipment.

Hot-desking may be an unappealing sounding term, but it does give you options to improve your working conditions.  For example:

  • You have the ability to easily move to another area or surface that may be better for carrying out a particular task

  • If you find that a colleague or group activity near to you is disrupting your concentration or ability to complete your work, you have the option to move to a specified quiet area or just another location

  • When you need to redefine or develop ideas and complex systems, being able to change your work location for a period of time could be of help

If you know you work better later on in the day, why travel in the rush hours to sit at a desk early in the morning, when the criteria for advancement/promotion is based on your quality of work and ability to meet agreed deadlines, not how long you’re sitting at a desk

What if someone sits at the same desk every day – how will this be addressed?

When there is extensive desk-sharing and people are working in distributed teams, it can be useful to develop a ‘concierge’ role as part of a reception or administrative support function. The concierge manages the smooth working of the flexible workplace, shared resources such as printers, space booking and release processes, and keeps track of where and when colleagues are working.

It’s going to take some people more time than others to move from the once traditional office culture to the current business thinking of office space usage.  Support and guidance and initially, a degree of enforcement by line managers will probably be needed. SMART working depends on trust, fairness and flexibility, between managers, within teams and between teams across the organization.

Management will be by results rather than presence. Line managers and team members will discuss and determine how changing times and locations for carrying out the separate tasks of a job, can improve the quality and effectiveness of the completed tasks whilst minimising the overall cost to both employee and organization.

Why is there a clear desk policy?
  • To enable any member of staff to make use of a desk space that is unoccupied.
  • Successful space-sharing requires a ‘clear desk policy’. This means that personal items – including ‘personal professional’ items – must be cleared from all desks and tables when vacated. These items should be stored in personal lockers and team storage respectively.
  • As individuals, we all have our own likes and dislikes, what is seen as useful or necessary to complete our own tasks, may be seen as annoying and redundant to the person needing to use the same space we have vacated.
  • The ability for the same area to be used by different people to carry out different tasks, is one of the cornerstones to the University’s SMART working Initiative/programme.
Will people be able to eat food at their desks?
  • Eating at desks is not encouraged. There will be designated shared spaces in all areas where food can be consumed. In circumstances where it is unavoidable that a snack and/or drinks has to be consumed whilst at a desk then it is expected that the user of the desk will ensure the desk is clean when they vacate it.
  • According to a new survey from workspace provider Regus, 41% identified flexible working as a key factor in enabling them to eat more healthily, and 71%stated that they have more free time to get out and meet people – whether professionally or socially.
  • One of the aims of SMART working is that we each get to create a healthier work/life balance for ourselves.  And because with SMART working, the emphasis moves from how long you’re sitting at your desk or present in the building, to the quality of work and deadlines achieved, you don’t need to be eating in a work area, that you will have to clean before you leave it. Also snacking while you sit and work does not make what you eat less fattening food.
Will there be stand up desks?

The university does not provide stand up desks as standard. However it will endeavour to make sure that there are a variety of desks available in any one space/area and this may include some stand-up type or height adjustable desks. In addition if any individual has a specific health related issue that requires them to regularly stand rather than site at a desk this will be considered through the standard process for workplace adjustments.


Can I adjust the desk to fit my needs?

Height adjustable screens, adjustable desks and chairs should be able to accommodate all users. Use of laptop and tablet risers with a separate keyboard and mouse is desirable when people are working with laptops and tablets for longer periods of time. Good training is also needed to ensure everyone is aware of good posture and desk set-up for work.

I have a specially adapted chair – can I keep this?

Yes and perhaps you would need to have it stored somewhere until you need it, so that other people can’t use it. This would be one of the discussions you, your team and your manager would have.

As well as helping to clear the way for more collaborative space, space sharing can help to break down barriers between teams, and help to end ‘silo working’. Space-sharing needs also to take into account the needs of staff with disabilities for any specialist IT or ergonomic equipment.


How will I connect my laptop?

If there is a docking station then via the docking station. If there is no docking station then the university wifi is available and will allow most work to be done..

What if I leave my laptop at home?

You should not leave your laptop at home if you will need it to work when you come to the office. Should for any reason your laptop not be with you when you come to the office there are likely to be desks with PCs on them and you should be able to login to these and access your profile and email and web services.

Will we have docking stations?

Some desks will have docking stations. However you cannot assume that all will therefore you need to ensure that you have the power cable for your laptop with you or stored somewhere in the office where you can retrieve it when you come in.


Where will stationary be kept now?

In common with other organisations, the University is moving to an electronic first ethos. This means that the need for stationary will continue to decline. However any stationery that continues to be required can be expected to be stored in team areas as appropriate.

Personal Possessions

What about my mug?

Your personal mug will be safer in your locker than in a shared space, so you should store it in your personal locker when not being used..

What about my plant and sweet corner?

If you are able to carry out some of your tasks at home you may wish to take your work-area personal items to your home.  You can then use them to create your home workspace comfort zone.   Alternatively, if you do choose to keep these personal items in the shared workplace,  you should put them all into the team storage area or your locker when you leave a shared workspace.

Shared Spaces

Can we have a list of spaces to go to?

A list of all of the shared spaces including their location and nature will be made available.

What will the temperature be like in the new office?

Getting this right for a particular area will initially rely on an accurate space audit and analysis of the work processes and equipment use and on going consultation with the staff that use the space.

It is recognised however that getting the working temperature right is essential for an effective working environment.

In her article “8 Areas that impact brainpower” Karen Plum has Lighting, temperature and scent as number 4 in her list.  In an online- 1132 responses- survey conducted by YouGov, the key issues for workers were comfort, temperature and lighting.  So there is substantial evidence that these are important considerations.(Karen Plum: 8 areas that impact ‘brainpower’ at work, HR Review 12/04/2017)

Where will the photocopiers be now?

All areas will be equipped with printers/photocopiers as necessary. However as the University is moving to an electronic first ethos it can be expected that the need to print/photocopy will gradually reduce.

Will there be dedicated quiet space in the office?

Shared settings for work can be quite noisy, especially in some open plan areas. For this reason wherever possible the University will consider ‘soundscaping’ as a necessary feature of the Smart Working environment. This involves creating an optimal acoustic environment by means of physical features in the workplace, such as sound-absorbing panels and furnishings, and technological solutions such as good headsets and adjustable background noise to counter-balance disruptive noise.

As many more people will be involved in online meetings using their computer or other mobile device, it is important to manage the noise impact of this. Noise cancelling headsets are increasingly part of the standard issue for smart workers. But it is also about having the right behaviours, such as knowing when to take a call in a different setting, e.g. a sound-proof pod.

SMART working areas will also include Spaces for confidential work and phone calls.  In addition the physical construction of the shared workspace will be designed to absorb or counter-balance disruptive noise.

Team Questions

Can I sit with my team?

The aim in moving to Smart Working is to create the context in which teams can operate more dynamically, and have better physical and online spaces in which to interact. Though they may no longer always sit at adjacent desks, Smart Working with new technologies and team protocols should facilitate much more effective sharing of work and enable team members to communicate more effectively than before from anywhere.

SMART working aims to create a work environment in which teams have better physical and online interactions. With SMART working, you and your team can choose where and when to carry out the separate tasks of a project and where and when to meet.

Will we have noticeboards in team areas?

It is unlikely that there will always be totally defined team areas. Therefore it is unlikely that team notice boards would be the norm. In addition the University, like other organisations, is moving much more to electronic means of operating. Any team can have an electronic noticeboard which can be accessed from anywhere.


Can I get my phone use paid for, if I don’t have minutes on my mobile?

If you have a university mobile phone, agreed by your line manager, then there will be minutes of calling time included. However the is moving more towards the use of Skype for Business for voice communications between remote workers.

If I am working from home, can I claim back for electricity and heating used?

At the present time the University’s homeworking policy does not make general allowance for the cost of electricity and heating at a home working location.

There are benefits of working from home that arise by default, ranging from financial advantage, to a better work life balance.  The time factor and cost in not having to commute cannot  be underestimated.  The average daily commute in the UK is 49 minutes each way, or 8 hours each week.  This is equivalent to an extra day working each week.  Aside from the time traveling, and the stress factor, just think about the cost of commuting. Whether petrol or public transport, it’s a cost which is borne by the employee, estimated at an average of over £150 per month.  (Richard Manby, MD of Bodet Ltd/ Pub: 3 August, 2016)

Working from home means not only more time can be devoted to productive activities but is also actually equivalent to a significant pay rise. Working at home means more opportunity for healthier meals and snacks.  No need to pop down to the canteen (or the local café) for a mediocre coffee, unappetizing sandwiches or a mass produced meal.  You can eat what you want, when you want it .  It’s cheaper, more satisfying and much more time efficient to blend a smoothie from your own fridge, have your own blend of coffee or enjoy home-made lunch from your own kitchen. (Richard Manby, MD of Bodet Ltd/ Pub: 3 August, 2016)

What if I don’t have a desk and printer at home, can I claim for this?

A key constraint on the introduction of smarter working is a dependency on paper documents and other physical resources.  While there are some statutory obligations to retain paper documents, the reasons for using and generating paper are becoming less and less compelling in an age of electronic-based working.

SMART working is a way of moving towards a digital-by-default working environment, which would include paperless processes wherever possible.  And if you are able to complete tasks with mobile communication units, this work could be carried out in a local library, your kitchen table or one of the many cafés that provide power and broadband facilities for their customers.

If printed material is an essential part of the process, completing this work at the office building will probably be the better option.


How will I know my staff are working? How will I find them?

Managers will agree with teams the appropriate work systems for the work to be carried out and which online communication systems will be used to show task progression and working periods and location for each member of the team.

SMART working managing means moving away from managing by presence, to managing by outcome.  The changes will include greater sharing of team schedules and ensuring that information is filed in a way that it can be accessed and is suitable for you to assess workloads and accurately measure performance and quality of final product.

Some companies fear losing control if staff don’t come into the office to work, but in reality the opposite is often the case.  Putting trust in employees leads to increased staff engagement which in itself results in increased productivity.   It’s easy to see if anybody is absent due to holiday or sickness when staff are office based, but this is not immediately apparent for those working from home.  This can be overcome very easily by utilising the Office 365 environment properly and ensuring that calendars and out of office messages (both email and instant messaging) are properly maintained.  Staff are able to log in remotely via their smartphone or tablet to inform their managers that they are currently working from home, are out on site, or are absent because of sickness or holiday. The data can be accessed in real time so HR and line management are kept fully up to date with staff attendance.  The same system can also be used to streamline the planning of holiday requests or time off.

How will people know where I am?

You, your team and your manager will agree procedures for accurately recording the team’s working hours and establishing methods and procedures for communicating with each other on a regular basis.It should be remembered that people don’t necessarily need to know where you are. They need to know how to contact you should they need to and your managers need to be assured periodically that you are completing the tasks that make up your job.

What about confidential information – do I get a privacy screen? Where do I keep this?

SMART working  areas have spaces for confidential work and phone calls.

What training is on offer to me so I know how to take part in virtual meetings?

There will be training workshops offered through the University’s training programme. In addition there is a wealth of online training available for staff and experience from other organisations has shown that staff move forward more quickly in circumstances where they do a minimum of training and a maximum of practice.

Will I find it harder to get a meeting room now?

There will be space booking systems, primarily for meeting rooms. Desk booking systems are not required in offices where teams can work out their own arrangements, but may occasionally be appropriate in some high footfall ‘hub’-type settings.

Meetings spaces will include a mixture of bookable and non-bookable spaces, and the default position for smaller, non-confidential meetings should be to use the wide range of breakout and informal spaces that will be provided.  This leaves bookable meeting rooms for the occasions when they are really needed.

A key problem with space booking systems is that space is often booked for longer than is needed, so measures need to be taken to ensure that space is released when not needed, and cannot be ‘blocked out’ for long periods.

In addition, the new ways of working provide an opportunity to replace physical meetings by online interaction and to replace ‘set-piece’ formal meetings by shorter interactions, in person, online or mixed physical/virtual. Virtual meeting approaches can reduce the number of people at a meeting for the whole session, calling people in remotely when needed, or having them primed to respond to questions by instant messaging if needed.

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