Yesterday I was in a meeting where people were discussing the setting up of 'hoteling' in their office. Hoteling is the office management strategy that considers certain office resources, such as workspaces and equipment, to be shared assets, rather than assets 'owned' by specific individuals within the company. By sharing assets between employees, an organization can optimize the efficiency of their office, reduce their real estate costs by employing more people in the same space, and increase employee satisfaction and retention by giving them access to workspaces and resources whenever and wherever they need them. Hoteling is typically characterized by reservation and check-in processes, and includes telephone switching functionality.

Hoteling is different from hot desking or free addressing in which the office is considered to be like a parking lot – workspace available on a first come, first serve basis. There is no advance reservation capability, no check-in ability, and phones are typically forwarded instead of switched.

The discussion centered on what protocols should people adopt when working in this way. Things that have come up during the course of the various discussions that I've had on this topic over the last few weeks cover all the following topics as people start to visualize what it will be like moving from a situation in which they 'own' a desk and a certain space around it, to one where they will be using in exactly the same way they would use a hotel room.

  • Maintaining business continuity
  • Managing customer expectations
  • Handling sensitive information in the open areas
  • Storage space usage
  • Supplies (provision and use of)
  • Common use areas
  • Use of wall spaces
  • Use of empty offices
  • Scents and perfumes
  • Food – smells, cooking, spills
  • Radios, headphones
  • Phone rings
  • Conversations
  • Cleaning/sanitizing equipment e.g. phones, chairs
  • Clean desk .i.e. not leaving any papers, empty soda cans, etc.
  • Booking the space (using it when booked, cancelling it if not going to use it, not turning up and just sitting in space someone may have booked)
  • Staying connected with colleagues
  • Printer and copier use (e.g. cover sheets on documents or not)
  • Knowing when someone doesn't want to be interrupted

There is a lot of information available on what the organizational benefits are from instituting hoteling type arrangements. These mainly center on the real estate and carbon emissions savings. There is less on the practicalities of what it is like for individuals to actually work in this way although I did come across a useful white paper from Haworth which does discuss some of the aspects above. The author also makes the suggestion that

"To better support distributed workers, it's important to check the usability of alternative office spaces from the standpoint of someone just arriving for the first time. Are supply cabinets labeled? Is there a map to meeting rooms? Are the rules about check-in and check-out procedures written down? Is it easy to quickly feel at home in the space or is the visiting worker made to feel like an alien?"

Another useful section in the white paper is headed "Assumptions and Realities". This discusses the differing workstyles of people, different views of what 'courtesy' is and the value of social interactions. These aspects also came up in the meeting yesterday. Given that, in the case I am working on, this is all a very different way to work it clearly requires detailed planning, someone (perhaps permanently) in charge of making things run smoothly from both practical and emotional perspectives, and a lot of good will from the people hoteling.

As the Haworth paper notes:

The odds of a first-pass effort at hoteling, or any alternative office concept, being immediately perfect are slim. Evolving work groups and projects may also be forcing changes in the original program, regardless of how successful it may have been.

Watch closely and listen to workers using these experimental workstyles. See where they need them to go. Timely adjustments to officing strategies and spaces are key to productive work amid evolving global markets and continuous change.

Over the next few weeks work groups will be hashing out these issues ready to begin their hoteling experiements before year end. Given the track record of the group I'm working with it will be very successful.