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October 2021
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Hot-desking – enabling staff to work from any desk in the office, at home or on the move – has become an increasingly commonplace feature in the public sector.

However the concept still divides opinion in terms of whether it genuinely facilitates more flexible working, or is simply a cost-cutting measure. Peter Gradwell, managing director of telecoms and internet service provider Gradwell, debates the pros and cons.

Hot-desking has become a buzz-word in the public sector in recent years, with many more management teams adopting the practice and reaping the benefits. In fact, recent research indicates that public sector workforces are working more flexibly than their peers in the private sector. While it is not unreasonable to assume that the shift is at least partly driven by tough efficiency targets and budget cuts, for many organisations and teams, it brings with it significant long-term benefits of a more agile workforce.

In my experience, hot-desking helps to save money, encourages staff to work more closely with colleagues and ensures that expensive office space is being used efficiently. Importantly, it also provides staff with the freedom to work outside of the office, as they can use technology to create their own virtual, portable office, wherever they are.

The decision by management teams to implement hot-desking is often met with mixed reviews, as not everyone prefers this open method of working. The barriers within a team can be organisational, physical, technological and cultural. Some people do not like change, particularly if they have spent their working life at one desk. This mind-set can be difficult to change. They may ask why as they already have a familiar work culture with everything they need to hand.

Many public sector organisations have operated the same culture for decades; if this is the case, it might be difficult for managers to try and introduce a new system, as it’s one that can dramatically change the appearance and set-up of the whole office.

The advances in technology mean that we can now set up anywhere and are no longer dependent on having a fixed work space and landline phone, as we’re more mobile these days. For example, we can use Wi-Fi networks to access emails, or introduce services like Gradwell One into the office network to re-direct calls to the phone of our choice.

We created the Gradwell One service to provide organisations with the flexibility to work from any location and enable them to be available at all times. Users can set their office phone number to react in different ways depending on the status they set, which is particularly useful if they’re hot-desking at a different location and colleagues can’t physically see them. For example, if they set it to ‘Meeting’ it can send calls to voicemail, whereas if it’s set it to ‘On the road’, they can have calls come direct to a mobile without any change in experience for the caller. They can even have their landline number call a mobile first, then, if they don’t answer after 30 seconds, call their desk phone. Also, the statuses help colleagues to see everyone’s availability, so they know whether that person is around to take a call, giving callers the option to talk to someone else rather than being fobbed off to voicemail.

A good place to start when considering hot-desking is whether the current system marries with reality. If workers are predominantly out of the office, they won’t necessarily need to have a designated desk, but if they are office-based, managers should decide whether more flexibility is appropriate. This decision may affect the layout of the office and whether some staff work from home or other offices; these decisions could mean a reduction in the costs of potentially unnecessary desks, the cost of IT and telephony connectivity, parking spaces and equipment.

If hot-desking is right for the working environment, the appropriate technology is vital to support the new system. Hot-desking has moved on from the ability to simply log on at any computer in the office, as a desk phone with a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) connection can also help to pick up calls after setting up your own ‘hot-desk location’. This is something we now offer to our Gradwell customers, following a client request, and is ideal for workers who need to have telephone contact with colleagues, clients and partners, wherever they are located.

Clearly the greatest benefits are felt by truly mobile workers, who might be in the office one day per week for example. However, hot-desking technology is less useful for purely desk-based workers, as these individuals have all the technology they need at their desk; by being ‘set up’ and ready to go, they can come in to the office and start working promptly.

The concept of hot-desking, and flexible working more generally, undoubtedly represents a significant cultural change for many public sector workforces. It is not right for everyone, however it is becoming apparent that for many it can genuinely revolutionise working practices to the advantage of staff, management and citizens alike.

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