In the office world, hoteling is one of those terms that’s often used but perhaps not fully understood. Borrowed from the word hotel, it has the same basic meaning: renting a space for a certain period of time. In the office, that means reserving a desk. Not to be confused with hot desking, which is more of a first come, first serve system in specifically zoned areas, hoteling has grown increasingly popular in recent years as a way to better accommodate hybrid workers and use space more efficiently. But in today’s office landscape, where many occupiers are designing offices to bring the best of home to the workplace, is hoteling really what workers want?
Hoteling has been part of the workplace lexicon for years. But since the pandemic, it has nearly become a household name. “It’s significantly more mainstream today than pre-covid,” said Tony Josipovic, Executive Director of Product Management, Work Dynamics at JLL. Reserving desks instead of keeping permanent spaces has been a strategy used by many companies, especially those that have downsized their footprints and implemented hybrid work models. While office experts agree that hoteling in offices has grown since the pandemic, it’s an area that is hard to measure. Data on hoteling are almost non-existent, something that Josipovic says is due to how hard it can be to quantify. “Even in one organization, it’s hard to pin down,” he said, pointing to the different work styles and needs that vary widely between teams and individuals.
For a lot of companies that use it, hoteling tends to be a part of a broader workplace strategy. In hybrid environments, by reducing the number of desks and implementing hoteling it may create a better overall vibe for the office. Instead of a bigger space with a lot of empty desks, a smaller office with more occupied desks creates a more energetic, bustling work environment. It can also make sense from a cost perspective and even from a net zero perspective—why have more space than you need when you can maximize efficiency through hoteling? But it does come with tradeoffs. When a company introduces hoteling, workers are able to have more flexibility in where and when they come into the office, but they trade an assigned desk with personalization for a typically homogeneous space that may not have multiple monitors and other kinds of customizations and comfort. It certainly helps that a lot of companies that are implementing hoteling are also investing more in amenities, said Josopovic. “You can’t take a desk away and not offset it with an amenity,” he said.
That might mean bringing a barista into the office or even an office ambassador, a role that has been popping up in more workplaces recently. An ambassador’s role is not only to welcome workers into the office and other spaces with a smile but also to know staff on a slightly deeper level. For instance, if they know a worker is a soccer fan, they might tell them there’s a soccer game on in the lounge. “They’re adding that human, personal touch,” Josopovic said. Ambassadors can also be tasked with doing preventative, proactive walks around the space and making sure desks are cleaned and ready for the next user.
While it’s easy to see why hoteling is attractive to occupiers, there are criticisms of the work mode, too. One of the biggest ones is that it eliminates any personalization from a workspace. Framed photographs, a special coffee mug, a stylish paperweight, and even an award are some of the things that come to mind when thinking about a typical office desk. But in a hoteling scenario, a desk would mean a clean slate without any personal effects. Not having a permanent desk can also cause a lot of problems for workers who are neurodivergent. The lack of certainty over where you’ll be working and what kind of desk you’ll have can affect those who have sensitivity around noises, colors, and distractions, all things that hoteling doesn’t necessarily take into consideration.
“I can understand and appreciate why companies would consider hoteling if they’re looking to downsize their space,” said David Garten, founder and CEO of Red Oak Street, a strategic consulting firm. “On the other hand, if you’re looking to attract employees back to the office and create a dynamic and compelling environment people feel good about and want to have their own space; hoteling could potentially run counter to creating an inclusive, welcoming environment.” For a lot of workers, hoteling has been and is the ideal work style for them due to the kind of position they have. For instance, those in sales roles who frequently travel to different offices around the country. But for others, reserving a desk as opposed to having a permanent one of their own isn’t as desirable.
There are efforts to personalize hoteling spaces more and to integrate the style more effectively into the office by adding other amenities. Digital signage is increasingly being used in hoteling spaces to make the experience more personal for workers. In a nod to hotels displaying a guest’s name on the TV in their room, some reserved desks have iPads with an employee’s name and reservation on them. Motorized sit/stand desks are being used more in hoteling spaces so users can adjust a workspace to their liking. In some offices, personal rolling storage carts are brought to a worker’s desk by an ambassador, who also makes sure a desk space is cleaned and stocked with supplies. “Hoteling has to be part of a broader focus on employee and workplace experience and has to come with other elements to make it commute-worthy,” said Josopovic.
Hoteling versus traditional office strategies can almost come down to renting versus owning. And as we know, there are those who prefer one over the other and the pros and cons of both positions. But at the root of hoteling is hotels and hospitality, and that’s what companies looking to implement a good hoteling strategy should keep in mind. Though reserving desks within an office has been around for a while, it seems it’s still early on in its evolution as a part of the office landscape. More studies and research around the work mode will help the industry gain more clarity on what works and what doesn’t and how it can be best optimized for different workplaces. A lot of companies are still experimenting with hoteling, and with landlords and tenants anticipating more workers back in the office this fall, it will be interesting to see if more companies test out hoteling in their workforces. Whatever companies decide, there will always be a role for hoteling in the office, but companies will need to take care to make sure it’s something that will help workers be productive while still making them feel welcome and at home.