Where’s your desk and other problems

The main point of telework is to locate your desk somewhere close to where you live that doesn’t require you to use a car to get there. One of my main goals in 1973 was to reduce the energy needed to commute to and from work. The automobile is the most used form of commute transportation in the US and other countries. It also creates a lot of greenhouse gases, thereby contributing to global warming. So, where’s your desk? At/near your home or somewhere that necessitates car use?

Early times

In the 1970s we assumed that most teleworkers’ desks were in satellite offices associated with the workers’ employers. In the 1980s and 90s, as personal computers gained power and popularity, the trend shifted toward teleworkers working at home. Then, in the early 1990s and the 21st century, corporate facilities managers got the idea that they could save lots of facilities space by encouraging telecommuting and ‘hot desking’, where telecommuters could find a desk out of a pool of available desks when they come in to the main office for meetings. Without some arrangement like this the organization would have too much unused and costly space.

In fact, in the 1990s we worked on designing teleworker-friendly office spaces. They differed from ‘normal’ offices in that they had more space for conference rooms and less space for individual workstations, the hot-desking spaces. The reasoning was that the telecommuters were there primarily for face-to-face meetings. The hot-desks were for work related to the meetings.

That was the plan.

Reality

The problem is that the best laid plans in the real world often don’t observe the details that made them function well. We envisioned hot-desks that included wall space for personal items, such as family photos, and locker spaces with carts for job-specific items that could be brought in when the telecommuter was there.

Apparently those niceties are not observed often enough. A column by Pilita Clark in the 29 July 2019 Financial Times is titled “The hidden hell of hot-desking is much worse than you think.” A key quote from the article is: “People doomed to sharing a desk waste an average of two weeks a year just looking for a place to sit.” Not what we had in mind. After all, one of the main benefits of teleworking is elimination of wasted time. Let’s not waste that by poor office design (don’t get me started on open-plan offices).

So if/when you’re planning spaces that effectively accommodate teleworkers and tradition workers remember: the devil is in the details!

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