The growth of wireless technology has allowed a lot new office trends to emerge, some good and some bad. With more people working on tablets or laptops instead of a fixed computer and wireless internet allowing you to access the web anywhere in the office, it was only a matter of time until some began challenging the conventional wisdom of fixed desks.
Google, Apple and Facebook are some high profile organizations who have embraced this trend. But like most workplace advice, there is no one size fits all policy and you have to consider several factors before making such a drastic change.
How does it work in practice?
When a company decides to get rid of assigned desks, that doesn’t mean employees can sit anywhere they please. Most companies assign workers to specific ‘neighborhood’ where workers, including upper management, are engaged in a similar task. This is likely where an employee will spend a lot of their time. Still, throughout the day, employees are encouraged to float around, working in different parts of the office and interacting with different people. Staff are assigned a locker to leave their possessions during the day.
The biggest reason proponents of the roaming desk make the switch is because they believe collaboration will increase as a result. They want more spontaneous interactions between staff and hope that chance encounters will spark better ideas compared to when employees are tied to a single space. In industries when ideas matter more than productivity and teamwork is essential, there’s a lot of upside for employers who implement this arrangement.
It can also make employees more efficient at their jobs. Instead of having to send an email or book a formal meeting to talk to someone, employees can simply chat with their fellow workers sitting in their current location. This can be especially useful if decisions need to be made rapidly.
There are also benefits for saving on office space, especially if senior executives give up their corner offices. GlaxoSmithKline reduced their office space by 75% when they implemented a roaming desk policy, allowing for big savings on costly facilities.
This arrangement is not ideal for everyone. Many workers find it stressful as they arrive to work not knowing where they are going to sit each day. As some workers have been in a routine for a long time, such a big disruption can cause a lot of problems for them. Research has also shown that if people are comfortable within their personal office space, they will have greater confidence in their interactions at their desk.
There are practical issues that also need to be considered. If your employees mostly work on desktops, then replacing every computer with a laptop may not be practical. The current layout of your current office space may be an impediment. If you have no plans to move, a roaming desk policy will be difficult to implement.
Ultimately, you need to think about your goals when implementing a policy like this if it is going to be a success. If you are solely interested in cramming more workers into your office space, you might want to evaluate other options rather than dealing with the fallout of dissatisfied workers if your plan fails. But if you want to encourage greater collaboration and flatten office hierarchies, there could be huge benefits for your organization and ultimately your bottom line.