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You might not have an assigned desk anymore. Here's how to handle it

Sep 12, 2021

The hybrid workplace is defined as a business model combining remote work with office work. It may look different among organizations, but it typically includes the onsite presence of a skeletal staff, while others are free to come and go as they please, within reason. (Source:

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Workers at the Minneapolis offices of architecture and interior design firm Perkins&Will don't have assigned desks. (Source: CNN)

When employees go back to the office, they may discover that their old desk is no longer waiting for them.

Some companies that are switching to a hybrid workforce, where employees spend some days in the office and some at home, are getting rid of assigned seating noting that they won't need as many individual desks if everyone isn't coming into the office on the same days. Instead, workers will choose a space to work from each day they come into the office.

"You used to have a house that you went to. Now you've got a hotel room that you go to," according to Brian Kropp, chief of research for the Gartner Human Resources Practice. "When you are in your house, you have the pictures that you like, you know what the chair feels like, you know who your neighbors are...When you are in a hotel room, everything is new every single time."

Unassigned seating in the office, sometimes referred to as "hoteling" or "hot desking," isn't a new concept. But the pandemic push toward remote and hybrid work is leading more companies to adopt it.

When employees at electronic signature company DocuSign return to the office, they won't have assigned desks. Even the CEO will need to find a place to work.

According to chief people officer Joan Burke, because so many people will be able to work remotely a good part of the time, the notion of the old office where everyone had their desk is outdated.

Instead, the company, which will allow most workers to choose to spend half of their time working remotely or request to be fully remote once offices fully reopen, is creating "neighborhoods" so teams can sit together in designated areas at flex desks and collaborate.

One of the biggest concerns from employees about the new seating plan is being able to find a spot, according to Burke. But she is of the opinion that the workers will be able to reserve a desk through an app up to a week in advance.

Burke mentioned that the company is waiting to see just how often people come into the offices when they fully reopen and how the space is used before making any major changes to any layouts or designs of its office spaces.


Pare down

Without a regular desk, you'll need to carry everything you need with you.

"Invest in a bag that is lightweight and practical and easy for you to carry every day," according to Dorie Clark, author of "Entrepreneurial You."

And be selective about what to bring.

Since you will be carrying most of your supplies with you, figure out what is essential to being productive and comfortable at work.

Maybe you don't really need a drawer full of plastic utensils or seven pads of Post-It notes or three highlighters that likely ran dry while you were working remotely.

Kropp suggests working from different spots in your home for a day without bringing anything to figure what you actually need. And also "You aren't going to want to carry 10 pictures with you back and forth from work".

At architecture and interior design firm Perkins&Will, which implemented unassigned seating in its Minneapolis offices in 2016, there are conveniently located supply carts filled with things like pens, staplers and scissors.

Find a new routine

Not having a desk that you go to every day can be disruptive, especially if you crave the routine of coming to the same space with the same surroundings that signaled it's time to work.

"If you are the kind of person that really likes may need to make your own," according to Clark. That could mean establishing pre-work rituals, like grabbing a cup of coffee and reviewing your daily to-do list, before you start your workday.

According to Kropp, you want to create a process that helps get you comfortable and into a work flow as quickly as possible. "Figure out what are the things that you need to do that are really important for you to make you productive."

Coming into the office with a plan can help you get going and stay on track. "Start to design your days to look how you want them to look," according to Ariel Lopez, founder of hiring platform Knac. "It's about creating parameters to where you feel comfortable and confident doing your work."

Move around, and pick your spots based on your work

Move around the office and find different spots that you like.

You can spend your mornings by the window and the afternoons at the center table catching up with colleagues on their way to the kitchen.

"People need to experiment," according to Clark. "Often times, you are going to naturally gravitate to certain areas...If there are different zones in the office, you can associate different zones with different types of work."

If your day is filled with work that requires a lot concentration, look for a more isolated and quiet spot. But if you're bouncing in and out of meetings or have more collaborative work, sitting at a shared table with your peers might work better.

Etiquette is important

Sharing desks with your colleagues brings new challenges when it comes to etiquette.

According to Lisa Pool, global planning and strategies practice leader at Perkins&Will, that she avoids eating at her desk since the spaces are close together and shared.

Also workers need to be aware of their surroundings and move to a different area if there's going to be a long or loud conversation.

According to Lisa, It's just about being courteous.

And just because you have a favorite spot that you like to reserve, it doesn't mean you are entitled to it.

"If somebody is occupying the place that you typically like to go, be gracious and find someplace else," according to Clark. "This is not the hill to die on. These are the times to over index on being gracious as everyone is figuring things out."



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