Hot desking is when an employer provides desks that can be shared by any employee who books to come into the office, on any given day. Since the Covid pandemic, more and more people are choosing to work via their computers and phones at home, if their employers allow this. Gone are the days when each employee in office work expected to be assigned their own desk, even if this was in an open plan office.
The desk was then often personalized with the family photo, the souvenir paperweight or penholder, the special items in the top drawer. In many office jobs, there can be fierce awareness of ranking, with the top managers able to command the best rooms, with the largest desks, the plumpest swing-a-round chairs, and huge windows with a view of the local terrain, be that the nearby city sky-scrapers, or just the factory car-park.
Companies need less office space
Hot desking has banished most of that opportunity for territorial competition. Many companies, and public entities, have realised they can now save a lot of money by downsizing on their office building requirements. At London office rental prices, this can be a substantial saving.
They do the calculations, and then supply enough office facilities for say, a third of their employees to be present at the office at any one time, controlled by a booking system. As this practice is growing in the commercial sector, employers have clearly calculated that the saving is worth it, without any loss of productivity.
The saving is probably even higher this year than first anticipated due to the shock of high energy prices. Employees are mostly happy to save the petrol or ticket money of the commute, even though in some jobs they are having to spend long hours at home, in heating they have to pay for.
Ashford refurbished, Sutton Road demolished
In Kent, the use of public buildings is under constant review, as maintenance and utility costs loom large on the spreadsheets.
I was alerted to hot desking by Kent police when I met an officer from Maidstone scoping out the surroundings of the newly refurbished Ashford police station where he would now be working on some days, “hot desking”. The old headquarters of the police in Sutton Road, Maidstone, was relinquished in 2008 and many functions were moved to a new building in Northfleet. Some of the Maidstone buildings, which date from the late 1930s, were under notice in May 2022 for demolition, so presumably the site has been sold for other purposes.
KPS HQ now at Northfleet
The new Northfleet building, costing £30m was opened in 2008, to much acclaim:
“It features a 40-cell custody suite, a vulnerable witness interview room, and a garage where cars can be tested by forensic scientists. The station, built using the private finance initiative, is heated by a geothermal system which reuses rainwater.”BBC News, 28 May 2008
Mark Gilmartin, of Kent Police Authority, said, “The old police stations were no longer fit for purpose and now we have an environmentally friendly station with fantastic equipment.”
That phrase “fit for purpose” reveals how crime and the fight against it changes with technology. In the first 80 years of Kent policing, when the HQ was still at Wren Street, Maidstone, there were no motor cars, so no need of the huge traffic division that was needed by the time the Sutton Street site was developed in the 1930s.
From rattles to whistles to radios to smartphones
From that HQ the police talked to their officers in the field via radio (the wireless mast has just been demolished). Now satellite technology has dispensed with that. No need to be in the office to share wired computer networks either. Police switched to O2 smart phones in 1999.
So now, even someone who has to manage officers in the field, does not need to be in a building under that radio mast. He/she can hotdesk at any convenient station.
Working hours have become more flexible too. The Press officer of Kent police referred to this statement:
126.96.36.199 Flexible working practices that benefit both the organisation and the individual are important in helping the force to successfully achieve its objectives. Parents, carers, disabled and older people may be excluded from employment if the force applies rigid/inflexible working hours and/or locations. Any barriers to the employment and retention of people will impact on the efficiency of the force. Therefore, offering flexible working makes good business sense. As well as providing a better quality of life, flexible working makes the force more attractive as an employee.KPS – Human Resources – Work life balance protocol (L11340) §188.8.131.52
Changes in the working week
This is far cry from Victorian times where the police were expected to work seven days a week. This changed to a day off each fortnight. Then as trade union pressure for better working hours in most other fields improved conditions in most trades during the 20th century, the police also gained better working hours. Police rosters are calculated at eight hour shifts, but these shifts can occur at nights, weekends and public holidays.
All employers have to comply with the 1998 Working Time directive of the EU which specifies no longer than 48 hours work in a week unless the employee has formally opted out. The average should be an 8-hour day, calculated over 17 weeks. Labour rights campaigners in the UK are watching to see if the current “bonfire of regulations” also destroys such worker rights here.
Improved and flexible working conditions help with recruitment at a time of labour shortage in post-Brexit Britain. Kent has needed to recruit police for some time now. Under current plans the total number of officers is expected to increase to over 4,100 by March 2023 giving Kent Police its largest number of officers ever since the force was formed. One hopes that hot-desking increases the appeal of a career in the police force.
How else buildings can be used
Meanwhile, KCC is trying to cut its buildings budget for other services, namely ‘Children’s Centres and Youth Hubs, Public Health Services for Children and Families, Community Services for Adults with Learning Disabilities, Community Learning and Skills (Adult Education), and Gateways.’
Public consultations on this have commenced. The stated reasons for these are to –
- tackle the rising costs of maintaining our many buildings
- find savings, so we can balance the budget
- reduce our carbon footprint to meet our Net-Zero ambitions.
The plan is
- Having fewer permanent buildings, meaning that some of our buildings would close – we want to keep buildings in areas where they are needed the most.
- Co-locating more of our services, meaning more than one service would be available from some of the buildings you might visit.
- Continuing to deliver some services by outreach, which means they do not take place in a dedicated or permanent space, but move around to when and where they are needed.
- Ensuring residents can continue to access services and information online.
So, it sounds as if the KCC plan for these services follows what the police have already been doing with their buildings. However, there needs to be clarity about which jobs have to be done face-to-face, and which can be done by phone interaction. As phone interaction and hot desking increase, we can expect to see fewer or smaller public buildings.