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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.