By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing
Well before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) forever changed global markets, many business owners discovered the strategic value of workplace hoteling—a workplace management process that allows employees, visitors, and guests to search for and reserve a workspace (desk, cubicle, phone booth, etc.) for a specified period of time.
COVID-19 forced most business owners to shut down as the pandemic spread. But like most crises, the danger died down enough for office doors to reopen. As employees return to work, employers are enacting guidelines meant to keep workers as safe as possible: social distancing, intense cleaning, and contact tracing.
Add hoteling to that mix. The days of sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at desks are over—for now. Hoteling has gone from a helpful workplace tool to a necessary precaution amid COVID-19. The use of hotel desks—alongside measures such as staggered work shifts and adjusted layouts—allow companies to better manage who sits where and when.
From Office Management to Virus Prevention
Hoteling isn’t a new concept by any means, but it has taken on a new role in 2020 and beyond. For more than 20 years, hotel desks—and the technology that governs them—has been helping companies move from standard to flexible layouts. In an activity-based workplace, employees have the freedom to work in a spot that best suits the task at hand. They can simply reserve a desk at the beginning of the day and have confidence there is a seat with their digital name waiting for them. Since COVID-19 has shifted the way we can safely work in the office, hoteling has morphed into a social distancing strategy.
Hoteling combats the risk of COVID-19 on multiple fronts. One major area it helps control is density. In a pre-COVID world, a density of 200 employees was perfectly normal. Now only half of that is permissible. But do you really want dozens of people back on the first day? The right amount is realistically around 20 people, with incremental increases every week thereafter. Or you might implement shift days with a set number of employees.
This is important as back-to-work waves may be subject to fluctuations. Hoteling is one solution that can be employed to have an accurate headcount in real time. “Facility managers will be reliant on proptech sensors for managing real-time data on the crowds within buildings and alerts that signify if too many people are in one place at one time,” according to an article in Facility Executive.
Hoteling is also being repurposed for practical considerations such as cleaning. Without a booking audit, how do you determine which desks have been occupied and need a deep cleaning every day? The CDC’s guidelines for office buildings state “at least daily, clean and disinfect all surfaces that are frequently touched by multiple people,” including workstations. Hoteling shows at a glance which areas have been reserved and thus require disinfection. Janitorial teams can prioritize which surfaces need attention, especially as sanitizing requires more contact time to kill germs and bacteria.
Organizations can also lean on hoteling to assist with contact tracing. Identifying a COVID-19 case and investigating its possible path of transmission was once the domain of public health departments, but now businesses must fold this process into their operations. The CDC notes that “prompt identification, voluntary isolation or quarantine, and monitoring of a person diagnosed with COVID-19 and their contacts can effectively break the chain of disease transmission and prevent further spread of the virus.” With hoteling, workplace managers have records of exactly where a person sat and who was also in that vicinity.
Technology makes it more efficient for companies to monitor employee movement and enact COVID-19 protocols when needed. For example, SVLive—a SpaceIQ product—converts existing wifi and wired networks into thousands of smart sensors. The system shows what devices are active and who’s logged in and where. This real-time data allows businesses to quickly address possible COVID-19 transmissions within a highly secure network safeguarded by MQTT and HTTPS protocols (both use SSL X.509 certificates).
The Human Side of Hoteling
Having the right technology is critical to managing return-to-work and ensuring the greatest possible safety. But hoteling is far more than a reservation system—it’s actually your secret weapon to preserving productivity during these stressful times. Hoteling empowers employees at all levels to focus on priority tasks.
For example, a space planner can use hoteling to create pre approved zones, which effectively limits where people can work. This approach provides full control over which seats are reservable and which aren’t. Hoteling eliminates possible confusion about which desks are open, thus reinforcing social distancing. Employees will have reassurance that there’s a dedicated seat waiting for them as well as an understanding of where colleagues are booked.
One of the most important benefits of hoteling is that it offers employees a feeling of safety. Remember that a desk reservation is just one piece of essential information they need to process. Hoteling can go a long way toward diminishing anxiety with returning to the office. In fact, that’s imperative, according to the National Safety Council. It advises using respect and transparency to counter employee worry. Hoteling shows that your company is taking active measures to protect their safety.
Keep reading: What is Hoteling and Should You be Using it?