11 tips to improve hotdesking for social workers

More than half of social workers have overwhelmingly negative experiences of hotdesking. If you can't reverse the policy, can you improve it?

Photo: Fotolia/Corepics

In a recent survey on the topic, 86% of 2,400 social workers told Community Care they did not believe hotdesking was compatible with their job. More than 60% said their experience of hotdesking had been ‘entirely’ or ‘largely’ negative while 45% said it negatively impacted on their enjoyment and effectiveness at work.

However, hotdesking is often a council-wide policy and despite the high levels of antipathy and stress it creates among social work teams, many social work leaders feel powerless to change the situation.

Community Care has researched hotdesking in other sectors and spoken to workplace experts to find suggestions on how to improve the hotdesking experience for social workers.

  1. Talk to social workers and ask for potential solutions. This will also help provide a more detailed understanding of the problems hotdesking is causing so, even if suggested solutions are not possible, workable alternatives are then easier to devise.
  2. Consider designated team areas. While the hotdesking policy might be universal, investigate whether it is possible to reserve some floors or areas for certain teams, even if they hotdesk within that area. This could help ensure social workers are still surrounded by other social workers or professionals who understand the nature of the work and the support needed at times of high stress.
  3. Focus on improving remote technology. Much of the frustration social workers report with hotdesking is due to poor or unreliable technology infrastructure, which means they spend more time on the phone to IT support desks than completing work.
  4. Consider ‘agile working’ instead of ‘hotdesking’. This means creating and designing spaces for different types of work, such as small rooms for confidential work, team networking spaces with whiteboards and screens, and quiet areas where people can concentrate.
  5. DIY cleaning options. Keep a store of wet wipes or other desk cleaning equipment in a central location that all people are allowed access to. Many social workers report hot desks being filthy. If you can’t limit this then at least help people do something about it.
  6. Improve and enlarge individual storage options. Social workers often need regular access to books and files, and somewhere to store direct work tools such as dolls or craft materials. Ensure each person has access to storage space that is large enough for their needs and could also be personalised with photos or letters from service users for example. Many find these personal touches help their motivation.
  7. Collect data. Consider a desk utilisation survey to monitor those times and days when the scramble for desks is particularly fierce. Make this easily accessible to staff. Provide options for teams and staff members if they cannot find a desk or meeting room. This could include negotiating with a neighbouring/local business or café to secure extra working space or meeting rooms.
  8. Use desk-booking apps. Ask IT departments about the possibility of introducing apps that enable desk booking and room bookings via a mobile phone. Many map where available desks are and some can even pinpoint where other colleagues are sitting. This means social workers can plan their days and weeks better, particularly if joint working is involved or a student and practice educator need to sit together. Some of these apps are even developing similar versions for car-parking.
  9. Create a more homelike atmosphere in the office. If workers have limited ability to personalise their own workspace then try to make surroundings more personalised and inspiring. Pictures on walls, plants on desks and even a coffee machine can make a big difference.
  10. Training and orientation. If social workers are expected to work in a variety of offices, ensure they all know how to use the remote login technology such as accessing phone systems, connecting printers and how to adjust equipment such as chairs and screens quickly.
  11. Boost morale. Research shows that many employees, not just social workers, feel less valued when hotdesking is introduced. Consider what else could be done to boost morale among social work teams and show they are valued by the organisation. Consider reinforcing existing measures or adding more.

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5 Responses to 11 tips to improve hotdesking for social workers

  1. Chris March 27, 2019 at 10:50 am #

    At the risk of being unpopular, I have some sympathy with those who create hotdesking policies: it must be frustrating to maintain enormous offices with only half the desks occupied. However, hotdesking organisations still need to make sure they have enough desks for all the staff (+5/10% error margin) who are present at the busiest times of the year. With all that money spent on consultants, surely they’d have data on this kind of thing…
    Personally I’ve always liked the variety offered by hotdesking, but my experience of it is still negative, due to the fact that in all the ‘hotdesking’ organisations I’ve worked in, the policy was completely subverted by staff. This might be a good thing, but it meant that I was often the only person hotdesking, so I just didn’t have a desk. I soon learned that I used empty ‘hotdesks’ at my peril, or get dirty looks til I left – “that’s Steve’s desk! He’s only been dead for three years: how dare you…” (this is only a slight exaggeration!).

    • Andi March 27, 2019 at 3:51 pm #

      Are you a social worker?

      Point 9 of tips is contradictory to hotdesking – you are not allowed to personalise with ‘a plant’ because the desk isn’t designated to an individual…….

      • Community Care March 28, 2019 at 10:31 am #

        This was a more general point about how managers could help make their social workers feel more ‘at home’ by adding items, such as plants/coffee machines, to the office space rather than an individual social worker personalising a desk.

  2. Sabine March 27, 2019 at 5:10 pm #

    As a person with chronic back issues I was exempt from hot-desking due to having a specially adapted chair for use at work, also risers etc. The idea of needing various workstation assessments and a personal ‘slave’ to help lug my equipment around, soon put a stop to me being expected to hot-desk.

    In our office we had the hot-desking desks clearly marked as such. And people generally respected this.

  3. WinWin March 28, 2019 at 12:05 pm #

    Seriously, hot desking is a WIN, WIN.

    People that actually come to work to work are no longer stuck at a bank of desk with the fields social butterflies, talkative and unprofessional ones. We are no longer regulated to the desk that no one wants and the broken chair. The office bullies no longer have control over our mental health well being as we can sit anyway we choose and most importantly away from their control and coercive behaviour. The unhygienic can be avoided as well as the lazy that you are forced to answer their phone for because they have popped out for the hundredth time to get a coffee or in the middle of the room chatting.