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Max Shepherd-Cross


September 5, 2023

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min read

Desk sharing etiquette: Tips for maintaining a respectful workspace


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The concept of desk sharing has transformed the way we work, but to implement it successfully at your company, you need to ensure effective communication, provide the right resources and technology, and create an environment that supports employee needs and preferences.

Desk sharing etiquette is part of all this, and it means simple things like keeping the workspace tidy, not leaving your stuff behind, respecting others' privacy, and keeping noise down so everyone can work comfortably.

In this article, we'll explore the ins and outs of desk sharing etiquette and provide you with our top tips on how to maintain a respectful workspace where all employees can work together well and have access to the resources they need.

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What is desk sharing?

So, what is desk sharing all about?

Desk sharing, also known as hot desking, is a flexible way of working where employees don't have assigned desks. Instead, they can choose any available desk or workspace when they arrive at the office -- or book them in advance via a desk booking app like Officely.

This approach aims to save space and encourage collaboration by allowing people to sit near different team members each day. But, to make the most of it, you need an efficient desk sharing system that everyone knows how to use.

From the traditional cubicle desks to the nicely decorated shared office spaces of today, the evolution of office space has been remarkable. With the rise of flexible working arrangements and hybrid working models, employees today don't come to the office daily because they have to -- rather, they can choose to come in to the office to do deep work, meet with others, or use your standing desks, for example.

Although many employees still prefer working remotely, hybrid work is now taking the lead, according to a report by Morning Consult. So, desk sharing makes more sense than ever.

What are the benefits of desk sharing?

Desk sharing offers a ton of benefits for you and for your employees, as it:

  • Gives team members the freedom to choose their workspace. Whether they prefer a quiet corner for focused work or a collaborative area for brainstorming sessions, desk sharing allows them to find the perfect spot.
  • Encourages interaction and collaboration among team members. When employees from different teams or departments share a workspace, they can exchange ideas, learn from one another, and build stronger relationships. This can help them come up with new solutions to common problems and be more productive.
  • Maximizes space utilization and reduces real estate costs. Instead of assigning a dedicated desk to each person, shared workspaces enable you to optimize your office layout and accommodate more people in the same space.
  • Enables you to provide additional amenities that enhance the overall work experience. If you have a smaller office space to manage, you'll also be able to redistribute resources and provide a better employee experience. This could be anything from a snack area with healthy snacking options, to more plants or fancier meeting rooms, or even events you organize.

To promote workplace wellbeing, you need a sensible desk sharing policy

Respect is the foundation of a positive shared workspace experience -- and for this, having a sensible desk sharing policy is key.

Make sure there are clear guidelines on your desk sharing system and keep communication open with regular reminders. Provide plenty of storage options for personal belongings to help everyone keep things tidy. Encourage a culture of respect and flexibility, and offer training on best practices to get everyone on the same page. Regularly check in to see how things are going and be ready to tweak the policy based on feedback.

This approach makes the workplace a happier and healthier place for everyone.

Desk sharing etiquette 101: 8 tips to create a positive office environment

If you're looking to implement hot desking in your office, you need to set guidelines and provide your team with the right tools and resources. Here are our eight tips on how to foster supportive work environment in a flexible office:

1. Set clear rules

Provide employees with a brief guide on desk sharing etiquette that covers everything from cleanliness to noise levels and booking a desk ahead of time with the team's desk booking software.

Make the guidelines easy to access; for example, you could upload it on your company's intranet or make it a part of your onboarding process. Ensure everyone knows the rules and is willing to contribute to a better work environment.

2. Lead by example

Make sure you and other leaders respect desk sharing rules. This shows your team that you respect the shared space and encourages team collaboration. Your actions will set a standard and encourage others to follow suit.

3. Provide the right tools

The best way to build a flexible office environment is to have a reliable and easy to use desk reservation app like Officely that employees actually like using. This enables employees to:

  • Easily find and book workspaces and meeting rooms
  • Know when others will be in the office and collaborate better
  • Decide when is the best time for them to come in, based on their preferences for focused work or catching up with others

In addition to that, offer storage solutions for personal items, ensuring desks remain clutter-free, and provide enough supplies for everyone.

4. Communicate regularly

Keep the conversation going to make sure your desk system works for everyone. Make sure you measure and prioritize employee satisfaction and happiness.

Ask employees for feedback during team meetings or with the help of surveys, and, most importantly, act on the feedback you receive. 

5. Create a culture of respect

Promote a work culture where respect for others' space and work styles is paramount -- and make sure the available office space supports this. Some people might prefer to come to the office for deep work, while others might want to chat with others; build different office spaces that allow for such differences and make sure everyone is on the same page and respectful of others' preferences.

Alt text: Three women working on a shared desk
Make sure employees have the spaces they need to work efficiently with others -- or alone, if they need it

Organize team-building activities and social events to strengthen bonds between team members. When people feel connected to their peers, they are more likely to respect shared spaces and each other.

6. Offer training

Conduct brief training sessions to talk about the best practices for using shared workspaces. Cover topics like:

  • How to use your desk system and book a shared desk
  • Whether booking a specific desk is possible (and in what situations)
  • How to make full use of the office
  • How to book meeting rooms
  • How to reset a desk after use

7. Encourage flexibility

Encourage employees to try different workspaces and sit with different coworkers. This can help them exchange ideas, come up with new approaches and solutions to problems they're dealing with, and improve communication within the team.

8. Monitor and adapt

Use workplace analytics and employee feedback to:

  • Improve space utilization
  • Make sure everyone follows proper desk etiquette
  • Spot issues and areas for improvement
  • Evaluate employee sentiment and satisfaction

Obviously, you need to be willing to adjust policies or procedures based on this feedback to keep the system running smoothly.

Officely gives you visibility into office attendance so that you know who's working from where and whether your hybrid work model works well for everyone.

Essential desk sharing etiquette rules

When building a hybrid work policy, you need to establish clear rules around desk sharing. Here are some of the basic rules you should include:

  • Respect others' personal privacy: In a shared workspace, personal space and privacy are precious commodities, so make sure everyone respects others' boundaries and space.
  • Clean up after use: Ensure that employees clean their workspaces after using them, including wiping down surfaces and properly disposing of trash.
  • No storage of personal items on desks: Provide adequate storage solutions and encourage employees to keep their personal items in lockers or take them home. Desks should be left clear for the next person.
  • Use the dedicated desk booking system: Employees must use the desk reservation system to book workspaces in advance, ensuring a fair and organized use of the available space.
  • Be mindful of noise: Make sure employees are aware of acceptable noise levels in different areas and that they avoid interrupting colleagues who are there for deep, focused work. Invest in headsets and noise-cancelling headphones and provide designated areas for team meetings and calls.
  • Respect time limits: If there are high-demand areas, consider implementing time limits to ensure everyone gets a chance to use them.
  • Report issues: Encourage employees to report any issues with desks or equipment for a quick resolution.
  • Follow rules for shared tech use: Ensure all shared tech, like monitors and docking stations, are properly shut down and cared for.
  • Respect booking times: Encourage team members to arrive and leave at the times they chose and respect others' reservations. This ensures a smooth transition between users.

Dealing with conflicts in shared workspaces

Conflicts are an inevitable part of any shared space but by embracing effective communication and compromise, you can turn conflicts into opportunities for growth.

Common issues and solutions

Common conflicts in shared workspaces can range from territorial disputes to differences in work styles. The key is to address these issues promptly and constructively. Here are some ideas:

  • Disputes over desk reservations: Implement a clear and fair desk booking system (with the help of an app like Officely) that allows advance reservations and helps you monitor usage patterns.
  • Inconsistent use of the booking system: Implement a system that integrates seamlessly into your other apps and processes. Officely integrates with Slack and is super easy and intuitive to use.
  • Noise levels and disruptions: Establish designated quiet zones, provide noise-cancelling headphones for deep work, and create soundproof booths for phone calls and meetings.
  • Personal items left on shared desks: Encourage employees to use lockers or storage areas for personal belongings and enforce a clean-desk policy.
  • Hygiene and cleanliness issues: Provide ample cleaning supplies and schedule regular cleaning times, reminding employees of their responsibility to maintain cleanliness.
  • Limited availability of preferred desks: Rotate desk assignments or create a fair-use policy to ensure everyone has access to the most in-demand workspaces.
  • Overcrowded common areas: Designate specific times for different teams to use common areas and create additional flexible spaces if possible.

In short, you need to establish a culture of open communication and compromise. Be open, honest, fair, and willing to listen to everyone's points of view. Seek compromises that balance the needs of everyone involved.

To create a flexible work environment that works for everyone, you need clear shared desk rules

To ensure a respectful and positive workspace culture, you need to implement clear desk sharing policies.

Outline expected behaviors, define boundaries, and establish rules regarding noise levels, cleanliness, and the use of shared facilities. Provide gentle reminders when necessary, and provide your team with the right desk booking software to make the most out of their time in the office.

Officely simplifies hybrid work and makes it easier for employees to reserve desks and know the best days to go into the office. Book a free demo to see how easy it can be to build a strong hybrid work policy with the right software.

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Max Shepherd-Cross

Max Shepherd-Cross

Max is one of the cofounders and CEO of Officely, a flexible work enablement platform. He has helped thousands of businesses not only transition to flexible work but instil it at the core of their culture and brand.

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