HSBC is scrapping private offices for its top-level management and creating a hot-desk open-plan floor instead, as reported by this financial time's article. It's a move that other firms may soon follow. The bank's top managers previously worked in private offices on the 42nd floor of its Canary Wharf headquarters.
However, its Chief Executive, Noel Quinn, describes this as a "waste of real estate" as the offices are often empty.
Senior executives will now work two floors down among their employees. They won't have a designated desk and will just "turn up and grab one", says the bank's boss.
The move comes as HSBC plans to shrink its office space by up to 40% while capitalising on the new flexible and hybrid working arrangements post-pandemic, which will see employees working partly in the office and partly from home.
A changing workplace dynamic
As we set our sights on returning to the workplace, should more CEOs and directors — especially those in real estate — be open to hot-desking? According to our LinkedIn poll, 73% of people certainly think so.
With 263 votes from many in the industry, 73% agree more CEOs and directors should be open to hot-desking.
Most people agree that as a good example of leadership, CEOs should hot-desk and move around different floors and divisions to build closer relationships with colleagues. Transitioning back to the office is the perfect moment for firms to make robust changes to create a more diverse and flexible workforce. But at the same time, one that is not driven entirely by real estate cost savings.
The real benefit for CEOs and senior directors is that they'll get a better feel for what's going on in their organisations. Not only will employees around them get to hear all the senior team’s conversations, but the CEOs will be able to hear the staff’s too, giving bosses a tangible sense of what's happening in the firm as it unfolds, ensuring they are 100% up to date most of the time.
Hot-desking: The pros and cons for senior staff
Hot-desking is not a new concept. For decades we have often worked from a single desk in a central office. As some professions rarely require being in the office from 9am to 5pm, it doesn't make sense for them to have a permanent desk that would be left vacant for long periods. There are undeniable benefits of hot-desking. But there are also disadvantages to consider.
- Cost: Hot-desking is often a cost-effective solution, especially in organisations with flexible working patterns or in an industry such as real estate where staff spend more time outside the office than in it.
- Increased collaboration: Hot-desking enables greater creativity and collaboration as people work closely together, and allows CEOs to be more involved with those on the front line.
- Improved communications: In an open-plan, hot-desking work environment, staff can have real-time, face-to-face communications with each other, which can help cultivate company culture, boost productivity and encourage more creativity.
- Technology: Hot-desking can present challenges for IT, as different staff may have different needs and access permissions. Look at what your staff need and consider issuing hot-desk staff with laptops.
- Work styles: Not all work lends itself to hot-desking. Small meeting rooms or break-out spaces can enable employees and CEOs to have a quiet space for more sensitive, confidential work when required.
- Distractions: Hot-desking, especially in an open-plan environment, can have its distractions. If employees need to brainstorm or discuss something, ensure there is access to a meeting room space.
Change in real estate demand and acquisition
An increase in remote and hybrid working combined with companies planning to move or decrease their current office spaces is likely to reshape the office sector. While the physical office will remain important for real estate executives, the market will likely fluctuate as we increase vacancy rates while organisations reduce their real estate needs and there continues to be an upsurge in demand for smaller, high-quality rented workspaces.
The combination of hot-desking and a drop in the number of people present in the office will be offset by space requirements due to social distancing measures. Any new real estate acquisitions will likely have to meet more stringent requirements for flexibility, alternative use potential, and digital infrastructure.
Office design and architecture
The rise in hot-desking, hybrid and home working will mean architects have to act fast to find efficient and flexible design solutions to revamp offices and incorporate expanded gathering spaces and few personal workstations.
Employers allowing staff to work remotely will require smaller office spaces, or at least more flexible spaces, and this will see architects push new designs to underpin the transition. But the trend for hot-desking isn't the only one set to shape the design of offices in the future. Increased considerations for office health and safety have become standard, and the concept of social distancing in the workplace to consider and how we can use design and architecture to help prevent or slow down the spread of other diseases in the future.
Hot-desking considerations in a post-pandemic world
While hot-desking by nature comes with a clean desk policy, having multiple staff sharing a desk could be a roadblock to some employees, including CEOs, embracing the idea of working at a desk that others have used. However, it is still possible to push forward with the idea of hot-desking, even in a post-pandemic era.
Given the heightened awareness for hygiene, an obvious solution is to shift from allowing multiple employees to share a desk to just one user per day. Employers should also enforce a clean in and clean out policy for shared spaces. The use of desk booking software will enable people to see which spaces are available, which have been used and which require appropriate cleaning before the next user.
Convincing CEOs of the benefits of forfeiting their desks to sit among staff may take a little persuasion and a certain degree of flexibility on behalf of the employers. But while it may initially be a challenging way for CEOs to present themselves as leaders, when done well, it can go a long way in helping to role-model values and demonstrate to employees how management wants everyone to work across the business.