Comparing hot desking and desk hotelling
Employee Experience

Comparing hot desking and desk hotelling

When people consider hot desking and desk hotelling, they may appear similar from the outside. In both systems, people are free to sit where they want, to use the office space flexibly, and to take control of their day. In reality, there are several key differences between the experiences.

February 16, 2022

Hot desking has no booking system functionality, and relies on a first-in-best-dressed honor system. In comparison, desk hotelling, where staff have the ability to book a desk, is generally seen as the more modern solution to hybrid working, and the next logical step for offices seeking to be more flexible with their workspaces. Considering the needs of your hybrid workforce will help ensure you find the best workspace solution for your team, maintaining an excellent employee experience, and keeping staff happy and productive.

What is hot desking?

Hot desking is a space sharing organizational workplace model where employees don’t have assigned or dedicated desks, and instead choose any desk on a first-in-best-dressed basis every day, so desks are used by different people at different times, kind of like the business equivalent of musical chairs.

Hot desking was first suggested as a counterpoint to the ‘cubicle farms’ of offices, with businesses trying to shake the ‘boring office’ stigma by getting rid of dedicated workspaces for their workers and granting them greater flexibility to choose where they spent their day at work. Upon arriving at the office, employees would simply locate and claim an available workspace for the day. The intention was to increase the level of collaboration between teams with the removal of ‘walls’ between teams, to give employees a sense of ownership over the office, and to minimize wasted space in offices with hybrid teams, where desks often went unused.

What is desk hotelling?

This desking system is similar to booking a hotel room. It requires employees to reserve a desk in advance and check into it when they arrive. Employees still don’t have a permanent desk with hoteling, but have more control over their experience than they do with traditional hot desking. This still has the same benefits of hot desking, such as requiring fewer desks, whilst the reservation and check-in system ensures that teams will still enjoy a seamless workplace experience.

Desk hotelling takes a similar view of workplace flexibility in the office, but adds a layer of security and control into staff’s days by letting people book workspaces. Some desk booking systems, like Nura Space, go one step further and let people filter available desks to find the right match - without having to wander around the office trying to find what they need. For example, staff can seek standing desks through the filter, and book one for the next day, ensuring they will have a workspace that works for them tomorrow.

How are they managed?

Workspaces transitioning to hot desking or desk hotelling will usually have a large amount of open office style desks, removing ‘pods’ or ‘neighborhood’ and cubicle walls. Many will also dedicate certain spaces to enable private collaboration, or as a quiet zone, to assist in the transition from clumped department seating to the open-space style seating.

Businesses may have sensors on desks that help indicate if a desk is in use, booked, or available. Traditional hot desking does not have a centralized system to help manage the process, apart from potentially offering a locker system for employees to keep personal items throughout the day. Sensor use can be integrated with good desk hoteling software, to assist in managing workplace flow.

Desk booking helps coordinate seating and saves users time, which is important, especially as a study found that an average employee at a traditional hot desking organization spends the equivalent of two weeks every year looking for a desk, around 18-20 minutes a day. This is just one reason why many businesses choose to implement desk hotelling to elevate their employee experience.

What are the benefits of hot desking or desk hotelling?

Accommodate transitional workers

Whether it’s remote workers, freelancers, consultants, part-timers, or interns, these workplace models ensure a space for them, without needing a dedicated desk. They provide the perfect space for them whenever they are in the office, and can ensure they’re located near who they need to be. Desk hotelling offers additional assistance to transitional workers, as live maps and wayfinding capabilities will help them find their spot and navigate the office more confidently.  


These models both offer staff the ability to choose their working environment for the day. On days where focus is essential, they can choose a desk in a quiet spot, or on collaboration heavy days, they can situate themselves near teammates. This flexibility can be great for highly collaborative teams, or for staff who don’t want to feel chained to a desk. Having the ability to confirm their spot through desk hoteling may add an additional layer of ease for staff as they navigate this new flexibility.

Save space

Shared desks help maximize the available space in an office. If only 50% of your workforce will be in on any given day, then you only need half the amount of desks you would have in a full-time in-office team. This can help save on office space, which will reduce rent costs, utility costs, and will help contribute to a smaller carbon footprint for the business.


Even if your monthly rent doesn’t change, you can repurpose the space for other uses, such as additional meeting rooms. Doing more with the same amount of space could save you the cost of expanding in the future, and ensures you get the best financial situation out of a fixed cost you already have. If you do take the opportunity to have a smaller office space, you’ll save on rent, bills, and supply costs.


Hot desking and desk hotelling let’s your team enjoy a scene change if they want it. The ability to jump to different spaces on a whim can help keep people feeling fresh and on their toes, helping them quickly adapt to new challenges. There’s no stagnating and feeling trapped at a desk if you can up and change views whenever you want to.

… and what are the downsides?

It could be bad for team morale

Research has found that due to the insecure nature of the desk free-for-all, hot desking can result in the forming of fewer office friendships, higher levels of distrust, a perceived lack of support from management, and can have a negative effect of concentration. All of these can negatively affect the all-important employee wellbeing experience, leading to low levels of staff retention and a decrease in productivity. One way to prevent this is to choose to use a desk booking system as opposed to the old fashioned hot desking. Knowing where their colleagues or managers are located, and being able to coordinate with their teams easily will help ensure staff can socialize and collaborate happily together, growing and maintaining social bonds.

Adjusting to a new environment every day

There’s a level of routine and security that comes with having a designated space in the office. Sitting in a new spot every day requires adjusting to new desk neighbors, different lighting, and unfamiliar desk setups. Research found that 67% of respondents felt anxious about finding a spot to sit everyday, and 44% were frustrated about the amount of time taken to set up a computer once they finally secured a desk in traditional hot desking environments, but these challenges could be handled successfully by desk hotelling, which offers a structure and overview of where they would be sitting. That security helps remove the uncertainty that was causing anxiety.

It’s potentially bad for our bodies

Dedicated desks are uniquely set up ergonomically for us. Changing seats and desks each day means people may not get the chance to sit somewhere specifically set up for their body's individual needs. Musculoskeletal conditions such as lower back pain as one of the leading causes of work absences, and seat hopping, along with potentially limited access to ergonomic solutions like standing desks, could lead to an increase in ergonomic-related pains and absences. Implementing desk booking technology can help staff find desks that suit how they work, like tracking down a standing desk. Using Nura Space smart analytics could also help indicate if your workspaces need more or less of something - for example, if staff are often searching for those standing desks, you could help staff to look after their physical health by providing more of them.

Time wasting

Those previously mentioned two weeks a year that are spent searching for somewhere to sit is not the only time potentially wasted by traditional hot desking. When taking into account finding somewhere appropriate to sit, nearly a quarter of respondents spent half an hour a day finding the right spot to work from. This time searching isn’t because of a lack of available desks, but rather the difficulties associated with finding an appropriate work space, either in a preferred spot, as people tend to favor the familiar, or in a suitable spot, such as near a window or away from the radio.  

Without an indication of where colleagues are sitting, staff may also waste time walking around trying to locate team members, or waiting for them to respond via email or messaging services.

These can be minimized by choosing desk hoteling over hot desking, as it solves the problems causing that time to be wasted. Unified working platforms like Nura Space have been specifically designed to make your workplace more efficient, and the desk booking function is just one part of the available features that can help streamline the employee experience.  

It can lead to inaccessibility and exclusion

HRM, an Australian HR Institute publication, spoke with Ashlea McKay, an employee with autism, about her experience in a hot desking workplace. She identified that it took her up to an hour to adjust to the new environment, resulting in her working late in order to make up for the lost time in the morning. Ashlea then had to approach the facility manager to organize a dedicated desk for herself, which whilst making her workday easier in the long term, was still a hurdle she should not have had to jump in order to be comfortable and productive at work. This issue could have been solved by a desk booking system, enabling Ashlea to book a dedicated desk long-term.  

Business psychologist Jess Baker believes free-for-all hot desking creates a feeling of competition, with some people arriving earlier each day to try and grab their preferred seat, or tensions arising around unofficial “ownership” of spaces. There’s also an issue with a ‘first in best dressed’ system, in that working parents who may need to drop children at daycare or school will consistently arrive later than employees who don’t need to do so, which leaves them at a disadvantage regarding desk selection. Desk hotelling, in comparison, becomes the great equalizer, giving everyone an equal opportunity to secure their preferred workspace.  

Not knowing who you’ll be sitting next to on any given day can also mean it takes staff longer to feel like they’re part of the team. This can lead to feelings of exclusion and disconnect from the team, which in turn will affect team morale negatively. This can be navigated by transparency around where staff are sitting, such as through the live map provided on good desk booking systems like Nura Space.

The impact hot desking has on the employee experience.

The old style of hot desking tends to have a negative effect on the employee experience. A study found that conversations between staff fell by 70% when transitioning to an open plan hot desking situation, with emails increasing dramatically. Staff at one business sent 56% more emails and were CC’d on 41% more after transitioning to an open plan office with hot desks. However, with 8 out of 10 Gen Z’ers and millennials favoring hybrid working, it’s the right direction for businesses that want to ensure they retain their workforce in the future.

A strong link has been found between employee engagement and workplace satisfaction, with employees who feel they have the most control over their workspace typically reporting the highest levels of engagement. Office hotelling gives people that control.

Desk booking systems also provide people managers a huge amount of insight to help optimise hybrid workplaces, and Nura Space’s smart analytics and centralized dashboard add another level to the ease and insights available through a desk booking system.

How do I know if hot desking or desk hotelling is right for my organization?

Hot desking isn’t for every team or for every industry. In fact, hot desking is unpopular with many workers, mainly because people don’t know where they’ll end up sitting when they come in, or who with.

If you have an incredibly transitional workforce, such as freelance or contractor heavy foot traffic in your business, or a mostly remote team who only occasionally need to come into the office, hot desking may be the solution. If you’re after the best of both worlds, you could combine hot desking and hotelling, offering staff the choice between booking a desk or claiming one in person. This requires you to have the capacity to decide what desks become bookable and which are used as hot desks.

Hotelling takes the best of hot desking, the flexibility, and the best of dedicated desks, the security, and marries them into one workspace solution that works for everyone. In many ways, desk booking is the gold standard of hybrid workplace setups, positioning employee experience at the heart and center of it’s design. It gives employees control over their time at work; those who love a new desk every day can have that, and those who want the security of one spot can book their preferred space.

So what’s the solution? You have a hybrid workplace, with many workers remote for part of the week and you don’t want to waste money paying for desks you aren’t using. How do you offer flexible desk arrangements without the chaos? If hot desking isn’t right for your business, there’s a good chance a desk hotelling solution is. The answer is a good workplace management technology like Nura Space that enables staff to have an overview of their workspaces, and to feel control over their movements whilst at work. Keep staff organised and feeling in control with an intuitive, integrated platform, designed for their use.    

If you’d like to learn more about how Nura Space can help you find the perfect mix of flexibility and security for your hybrid workplace, we’d love to chat to you.


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