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Bye-bye cubicles and corner offices: Reserving a desk for the day is new work trend

Dee DePass, Star Tribune on

Published in Business News

Six weeks ago, the public relations firm Bellmont Partners reopened its renovated Edina, Minnesota, office with a catch: Not every employee would have a permanent desk.

Like an increasing number of employers wrestling with work-from-home trends, Bellmont adopted a musical-chairs-like seating system, albeit more high-tech, commonly called "hoteling." Only 12 of Bellmont's office workers have an assigned desk. Fifteen others who work mostly from home now use a new software app to reserve a desk for a day whenever they come into the office, which Bellmont requires only one day a week.

A little more than a month under the new system, and with a few tweaks, it's been working, said Bellmont Partners co-owner Brian Bellmont. Making such a drastic change to the typical office setup, though, took a lot of preparation, including hiring a design consultant, polling staffers about their needs, tearing down walls and weighing various technology options.

More companies are considering switching to a hotel-desk model as they wrestle with hybrid work trends that lead to near-empty offices, wasted space and costly leases. Beyond Bellmont, local companies like law firm Maslon LLP and divisions within Thrivent, Thomson Reuters, Ameriprise and U.S. Bank are among those giving the reserve-a-desk concept a whirl.

Workplace experts caution that hoteling requires careful planning, and a botched transition can sink morale, produce angst and prompt costly turnover. To learn what helps and hurts when it comes to this new workplace trend, here's what several experts have to say about best practices:

Because hoteling often involves space downsizing, packing up personal items and giving up individual turf, expect some backlash, experts warned.

 

"People don't like change, so there will be resistance," said Lisa Pool, a certified change leader and the workplace strategy leader at architecture and design firm Perkins&Will.

Workers will ask: "Where do I put my kid's drawings? Or my partner's picture? Or my favorite pen and pad?" That's common, Pool said, because people enjoy personalizing their space and "like the predictability of sitting in the same place every day."

Many employees worry hoteling means "they will spend all their time just trying to find a seat or trying to find their team," Pool said. She added other concerns involve having to readjust workstations to certain ergonomic needs or individual preferences again and again. Desk hygiene and being stuck in a noisy or high-traffic area were other worries.

For all of those reasons, Pool said to "make sure you have a good variety of options for people to sit or work" and remember "to include them in the process."

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