By Ben Clyde
As the long, hot summer draws to a close, a new term dawns. Colleagues are heading back to their offices and trainee educational psychologists will be either starting placements or their first post as a qualified EP. What many will find is quite different from the past, where one part of the induction process would have been an introduction to their own desk. Now hot-desking has become the norm in many services. Research suggests that one of the challenges of hot-desking is that people are no longer able to personalise their the space where they work.
Hot-desking is when multiple workers use a single physical work station at different times of the day. This is a move away from the more traditional fixed office where everyone had their own desk. Hot-desking has become popular as a cost cutting measure, as local government budgets are reduced.
Less clear are the benefits for employees. A recent survey undertaken while I was on placement in an Educational Psychology Service in the West Midlands shows that hot-desking is not always popular with employees. Here only 27% of people preferred hot-desking over having their own workspace.
The main objection to hot-desking was a ban on personalising desks with pictures, plants and other objects. Personalising workspaces is often strictly prohibited under a hot-desking policy, as people are not encouraged to claim a desk as their own.
These objections are not unusual in offices using hot-desking. As Byron & Laurence (2015) note, most people have an urge to personalise the spaces where they work. This seems to be about marking territory and expressing identity. They suggest that we choose items for our desks that show our identity, both to others and to ourselves. This is how we are able to demonstrate that we are not just cogs within a machine, for example churning out reports. Rather we are individuals, with our own personalities. How else might we communicate that we have a slightly worrying obsession with cats? That we are brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and friends? That we support the Seattle Seahawks (Go Hawks!) or have an insatiable love for Winnie the Pooh?
The urge to personalise the spaces where we work can lead to people trying to subvert the hot-desking policy. Brunia & Hatjes-Gosselink (2009) found that individuals employ a number of tactics, including:
- Leaving behind personal items and photographs;
- Leaving clothing in or around the workspace area;
- Unspoken agreements as to who is allowed to sit where; and
- Arriving early to secure a preferred workspace.
All of these strategies can cause conflict in an office where space is limited. So before you find a way to smuggle your favourite Gonk into the office, there are other ways to personalise your work space. You can, for example, change the wallpaper on your laptop/desktop to the picture that you would have on your desk. You could also consider carrying around a desk organiser or items that you can display whilst at the station, and that you can put away when you have finished. As hot-desking is likely to be around for the near future it may be better to embrace these strategies in order to keep the peace with your colleagues.
Ben is a trainee educational psychologist in Year 2 of the training course at the University of Birmingham
Brunia, S., and Hartjes-Gosselink, A. (2009) Personalization in non-territorial offices: a study of a human need. Journal of Corporate Real Estate, Vol.1 1(3), pp.169-182.
Byron, K., and Laurence, G.A. (2015) Diplomas, Photos, and Tchotchkes as Symbolic Self-Representations: understanding employees’ individual use of symbols. Academy of Management Journal Vol. 58 (1), pp.298-323.
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