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Are Businesses Taking 'Collaborative' Workspaces Too Far?

Hot desking might not be all it's cracked up to be.

15/04/2017 5:52 AM AEST | Updated 15/04/2017 7:49 AM AEST
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Workers who desk share report an increase in negative office relationships and feel less appreciated by their supervisors, a new study has shown.

Is desk sharing really the way of the future?

It's been billed by big business as a way to inspire a new generation of networking, productive team-players working side by side (albeit in a smaller office), but a new study shows that desk sharing can have a negative impact on an employee's productivity and make them feel less appreciated.

The study published this month in Science Direct surveyed 1,000 Australian employees who work in shared work environments, ranging from open plan office spaces through to, at the extreme end, staff who hot desk -- where staff have no permanent space, arriving each day and setting up at an available desk.

Another less extreme version of this involves activity-based work, which is described by The Conversation as a workplace which provides different environments for staff depending on the activity they are doing, such as meetings, collaboration, private work, creativity and concentration.

Moving around is meant to encourage networking and innovation -- as well as reduce the need for office space, saving businesses' bottom line. But instead, the study found that the more shared an office space became, the more strained relationships with colleagues were and the less staff felt supported by supervisors.

"As work environments became more shared (with hot-desking being at the extreme end of the continuum), not only were there increases in demands, but co-worker friendships were not improved and perceptions of supervisory support decreased," the paper reads.

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Sharing desks has been shown to increase negative relationships between co-workers.

The set-up was also shown to increase distractions, potentially reducing productivity.

Another study found that hot desking risked creating a new type of office hierarchy, where those who were able to get to work early claimed ownership of office spaces over time, making others feel marginalised.

This phenomenon was described by Alison Hirst, who had hot desked for three years, as creating a feeling of "homelessness" in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

It also creates extra work for the hot-deskers, who have to pack up their belongings at the end of each working day.

While it's unlikely we'll be going back to closed-door offices, where employees could measure their worth by the square meter, any time soon, these new findings might make businesses think twice before engaging their staff in a collective game of musical chairs each day.


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