Quick Tips: How to Make Desk Sharing Work

By Tamara Sheehan
Director of Business Management
SpaceIQ

The concept of desk sharing can upset the balance of even the happiest workplace. Companies often believe their employees will clash over where, how, and when desks are used. Employees tend to fear the idea of a nomadic office, where they ultimately have no home. Both fears are valid, but easily addressed with the right desk sharing setup.

Yanking the rug out from under employees with a desking shuffle is likely to create panic and chaos. Likewise, being too rigid about desk usage often eliminates the point of a shared desk arrangement. The approach needs to be somewhere in the middle—a happy medium between rigidity and office anarchy.

What is desk sharing?

Desk sharing’s definition is in its name. Instead of coming to work and walking to the same desk every day, employees can choose their workspace. There are many methods of execution. Some involve employees claiming a desk outright, while others rely on desk reservation systems.

Like most new-wave office concepts, the idea is to take employees out of their “silos” and encourage them to comingle homogeneously.

The motivation behind desk sharing is better space utilization and lower costs for the business. For employees, it’s meant to eliminate the droll, repetitious concept of doing the same thing every day. Desk sharing offers the flexibility both sides need to function better, while promoting a positive, healthy workplace culture.

Desk sharing pros and cons

If the line between effective desk sharing at work and total workplace disruption is so thin, why chance it? Simple. The benefits of a successful desk sharing arrangement far outweigh the negatives. Let’s put them in perspective.

Pros

  • Saves space and lower space utilization costs
  • Creates new collaboration opportunities among coworkers
  • Improves workplace culture and employee wellbeing
  • Helps attract and retain talent
  • Increases business flexibility and worker agility
  • Supports a flexible workforce (remote, part-time, contractor)
  • Encourages a social workplace
  • Incentivizes employees to be tidier and cleaner
  • Levels the playing field in an office, creating equality

Cons

  • Lacks personal, private space for employees
  • Results in more disruptions to work
  • Creates challenges for IT and support infrastructure
  • Takes employees longer to get settled and working
  • Promotes formation of cliques and territories

Managed properly, the cons are easily minimized, managed, or eliminated altogether. There’s tremendous incentive to make shared desking arrangements work.

How to make shared desks work

Making shared desks work isn’t a superhuman feat—it just relies on paying attention to the details. Here are a few tips for a proper transition to shared desks:

  • Get buy-in from employees well before the changeover. Explain the benefits and field concerns in an open forum to foster positive sentiment.
  • Actively address employee concerns beyond listening to them. Target pain points with innovative solutions and present them to employees. Responsible oversight can make the change easier.
  • Determine the number of shared desks you’ll need, then budget for more. Consider the number of employees, the shifts they work, and other variables that affect occupancy. It may seem counterintuitive to cost-cutting, but extra desks ensure everyone has one during peak times.
  • Create rules and guidelines to cover shared desk etiquette. This can stop bad habits and friction-inducing problems before they manifest. It’s also a great way to set the tone for what employees can expect from their new desking arrangement.
  • Make the change gradual. Up-ending your entire office in a week won’t allow employees to transition or adapt. Delegate a set number of desks to convert over a period of time and lean into the transition. It’s less abrupt and gives employees time to get familiar.
  • Create a variety of desk types and locations, as well as supplemental workspaces outside of shared desks. Employees shouldn’t feel boxed in by a lack of space. Provide options to improve utilization rates.
  • Delegate authority to an office manager or facility manager. Creating a central authority for disputes and questions gives employees the comfort of having a final word on any uncertainties that may arise.
  • Create a funnel for feedback about the shared desking arrangement. What do employees like or dislike? What isn’t meeting their needs or expectations? How could the arrangement be improved? Make the arrangement an ongoing forum.

These tips can help you avoid everything from workplace friction to the outright rejection of shared desks by your workforce. However, remain cognizant of how your workforce adjusts and adapts to shared desks. Keeping this arrangement successful depends on meeting ongoing challenges as they arise.

Avoid the pitfalls of desk sharing

The pitfalls of shared desks are few, but critical. Poorly executed shared desks can topple major pillars of your workplace—productivity, culture, and comfort. Proper execution is key. Ongoing adaptation is another. Consistent employee sentiment and recognition of relevant trends are the others. Together, they make shared desking work

Shared desking is a proven, positive workplace arrangement that offers measurable benefits. To capitalize on it, make sure you’re laying the right foundation and avoiding some of the common pitfalls that can sink this concept before it has a chance to return value.

Keep reading: what is flexible workspace?