Expect everything except room service
I remember explaining to my dad how my company’s open office worked. The importance of the people nested around you. The subtle hierarchical structure established by how close your desk was to a window. The fear of flu season. The need for sound-proof headphones to block out constant distractions.
Unsurprisingly, having worked in a grey cubicle for 20 years, the man was confused.
And the concept of “hoteling” is even harder for him to grasp.
But to me, hoteling makes complete sense.
What is it? Hoteling is essentially the end of assigned office seating.
Before each work day, workers log on to their employer’s online booking system and reserve where they would like to sit tomorrow (or the next day, and the day after that, and … they reserve for weeks in advance).
Or, in a practice known as “beach toweling”, they can come into the office and work wherever they find an open seat.
(Of course, some positions will have to hold assigned seats. Think your receptionists and sound engineers – equipment-dependent positions and niche content studios.)
Your employer’s online booking system will include a map of the office that’s labeled with the different working areas, as well as what’s available, so you can find the perfect space for the work you need to do that day and the number of people you need to work with. From there, you can book directly. It will send your daily reminders and automatically update your calendar with the spaces you’re booked in.
Your employer’s online booking system will work more like a hub. Think of it as an actual hotel’s guest portal. It lets you reserve rooms, request room service, rent bike space, check gym hours and more. Your employee hub will do the same – you can reserve rooms, check benefits, schedule PTO … And with more and more offices decking itself out with amenities, you could be able to rent bike space and check gym hours, too.
Your office will be divided up much like a college campus. There are designated quiet rooms and privacy booths that will function like a library. A coffee bar for more casual meet-ups with clients and coworkers. Small briefing rooms and larger collaborative spaces with whiteboards, desks or comfy couches and chairs. Patios and rooftops to work outside. And, like any campus college, you’ll likely find a keg with free beer.
So, what’s the point of hoteling? It creates a home base for telecommuting employees, freelancers, and temporary contracts – creating a more welcoming atmosphere for them to come in and get to work. It also encourages employees who don’t telecommute, perhaps in fear of leaving of their boss seeing an empty desk, to do so.
The bottom line is, though, that it’s more cost-effective for the company.
The innovator in office hoteling is the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, who initiated the concept as early as 2009 when they realized their staff was quickly outgrowing their space. Yet, there were a ton of empty desks as many of their employees were on travel or telecommuting. Rather than get a larger space, racking up higher rent and energy costs, they found a way to make the most of their space.
Since then many other major companies have followed suit, like IBM, EY, Gerson Lehrman Group, Citrix, and Deloitte. Even the U.S. General Service Administration. The majority of these companies trying out hoteling are ones where their workers frequently travel or already work offsite, which is especially common today. In fact, the Washington Post reports that the average employee only spends about half their professional time at corporate headquarters.
The cost-effectiveness of hoteling is immense. Deloitte reported that a large technology company that they helped implement a migrating employee program is estimated to achieve $25-30 million in recurring savings over 3-5 years.
Another perk: Deloitte themselves was able to qualify for as much as $14.5 million in state incentives by expanding its Connecticut workforce to 1,300 people. With hoteling, they were able to do this and keep a small office. It’s new Clock Tower office space in downtown Stamford is only 120,000 square feet. Using the traditional commercial real estate broker’s calculation that each employee typically needs 250 square feet, this new space only has room for 500 employees.
Sounds cramped? It’s won’t be, at all.
The workforce has gone digital. We don’t need office supply closets filled with pen and paper. Bulky desks to hold big desktop computers and individual telephones. Corner offices for bosses to divvy up work. We’ve got laptops, mobile phones, Slack and Google Hangouts. All we really need is a place to set our computers and plug-in.
But still, companies need a place for their employees to meet, chat and collaborate.
That was the initial intent when the open office concept was invented in the 1950s in Germany. They believed in breaking down the barriers that divided employees would propel creative productivity.
The floorplan was adopted by many tech startups and hip media industries that we know today, but its intent has had the opposite effect. Instead, it’s been discovered that open office spaces can actually hinder our ability to get work done privately and to spontaneously collaborate.
According to the Wall Street Journal, experts estimate that 40 to 60 percent of workers interactions throughout the day are with their immediate office neighbors. The chance of interacting with someone even two rows away drops to 5 to 10 percent.
People aren’t stepping out of their open space to meet other creative minds in the building. Which doesn’t sound much better than a cubicle.
And there’s the issue of noise, constant distractions and a lack of privacy.
And while today’s workers have the option to telecommute from somewhere more quiet and private, some day’s agendas call for you to be onsite.
When I was a copywriter at an advertising agency with an open office, my job role included pitching to my creative directors, grouping to a concept with art directors and directing design teams. My stationary desk in the open space was great for brainstorms and my boss shouting across the room for quick edits. But, between meetings, I’d find myself constantly in search of a private place to think and write.
That’s one of the issues hoteling hopes to solve. Not only will their employees “collide” into a creative collaboration. They’ll be able to complete focused, individual work more efficiently.
So far the companies who’ve adopted the system have found the change successful. So successful that, now, some hoteling offices are aspiring to greater ideals. As today’s demands companies to work more closely with clients, integrate freelancers and work with influencers temporarily on projects, offices are seeing space less as a home base for employees and more as a hospitality center. “These ecosystems have expanded,” Tracy Wymer, Knoll’s workplace vice president, told the Washington Post. “The facility needs to accommodate them. The closest analogy is a hotel lobby experience,” he said, where both hotel guests and the people they need to meet with can congregate together.
So, you’re joining an office where you will hoteling? Embrace it. I understand this can be difficult if you are particularly introverted. But know that every day, everyone is meeting new people. And if you find yourself needing some space, you’re in luck. You can reserve it.
Other tips for hoteling:
- Don’t worry about preparing yourself with any software. Your employer will onboard you onto their system. Most employer hubs will have everything you need all in one – access to seat reservation, along with pay stubs, phonebooks and health benefits.
- Save your office map to your laptop desktop and as a favorite image on your phone. Most employee online systems will update your calendar with the location of your booked. But you might not be too familiar with the office layout, especially if you’re freelancing. It’s safe to have a full map on hand – you’ll be even more thankful if you’re running late.
- Someone’s in your seat? Awkward. But most likely they were beach toweling and thought they found themselves a great spot. As confrontational as it might feel for you, they know they haven’t booked the space and will be happy to move. If there’s some sort of duel booking mishap, contact IT or your project manager and they’ll sort the issue out straightaway.
- Most hoteling offices designate employees a locker or filing cabinet to stash their personal belongings. Here you can store photos and other trinkets to make it feel like home, if that’s something you’re into. My biggest rec is to always stay stocked with Clorox disinfecting wipes. You’ll be thankful come flu season or when the person who booked the desk before you spilled something sticky or greasy or just questionable.
- Each floor will likely have a printing room. Talk to office services and ask that this space be stocked with the supplies you need that you would always have on hand at your desk. (They most likely have all the supplies, they just aren’t setting it out for grabs.) My requests were always tissues, post its, binder clips, tape and a pencil sharpener (this one they had to special order). Knowing you have all the supplies you need within reach will help you not stress or miss your permanent desk.
- Plan your week ahead of time so you know what kind of work you’ll need to be doing each day. That way you can schedule all your meetings and collaborative brainstorms together on certain days, and book your individual work on other days. The whole point of hoteling is being able to get yourself the best space to do your work. Use that to your advantage. Beach toweling is fine and all. But the joy of working in the digital age is being able to trade your long commute for a coffee shop whenever you can.