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Desk for a Day

As hoteling gains traction within the corporate world, designers can help keep productivity and morale high with smart design and some savvy techniques.


As hoteling gains traction within the corporate world, designers can help keep productivity and morale high with smart design and some savvy techniques.

When you only visit a city a handful of times each year, do you own a house there? Unless you can count yourself among the 1 percenters, the answer is most likely no. For the majority of travelers, the occasional visit to a distant city calls for a hotel reservation, and for all intents and purposes, it gets the job done.

Thanks to the high cost of real estate and the threat of watching it sit idle while employees travel or work remotely, a growing number

of corporations have begun adopting a similar outlook in regards to workspace. Known as hoteling, the practice of providing mobile workers with temporary workspaces has taken hold at the corporate level and is filtering down to even small firms, as technology and budgetary pressures push designers and executives to be more flexible.

“The true spirit of hoteling is where you have a type of business where a percentage of your staff is out of the office a certain percentage of the time; that would then warrant consideration of not giving them permanently assigned seats,” explains Jennifer Barnes, RTKL Associates’ vice president of interiors in its Baltimore office.

revisited and refined
After coming into vogue in the ‘90s, hoteling’s popularity dipped before recently becoming more widely accepted again.

“Particularly with the recession and the increasing economic pressure on businesses to be profitable, hoteling has had a bit of a resurgence,” Barnes says. “I think there’s going to be an increase over time, just with the dynamics of the economy and the times we live in. I think businesses will look for strategies that enable them to reduce their costs.”

But implementing hoteling and reducing the amount of dedicated desk space doesn’t automatically equate to shrinking the size of an office or department—it generally means some reduction and some shifting.

“While the overall square footage will come down, the allocation of space will change because you’ll have a greater percentage allocated for support functions,” explains Barnes.

But if hoteling fizzled after the high-flying ‘90s, what makes anyone think that it will remain a viable option moving forward?

According to industry veterans, as the practice has grown up, it has become more refined. Interior designers and corporate administrators have realized that hoteling isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution; certain industries, businesses or even portions of a business may be better suited to hoteling than others.

Designers are also applying the practice with more finesse than ever before. Free-desking, where hoteling employees come into the office, find an empty desk and sit down for the day, is only one method that a company may adopt. This works fine in smaller corporations or in a particular department of a larger company, but larger organizations may choose to take a more formal approach to hoteling.

“In a larger firm, we typically see that they adopt a reservation system that’s online, or employees come in and there’s an area designated to support hotelers—a kiosk with particular software where they can log in, pull up the floorplan, see the unassigned spaces, and pick the office they want to sit at for that day, that week or the time period that they’re going to be in the office,” Barnes explains.

new, non-traditional needs
A hotel room doesn’t offer the same features as your home, so when you look for a hotel, you look for extra amenities to meet your needs—Wi-Fi, a business center or even a hot breakfast can make all the difference. Staying in a bare-bones hotel with no extra services can be a hassle, leading you to dread your stay.

Similarly, hoteling can leave a bad taste in employees’ mouths if it isn’t implemented with care. While their colleagues get their own desks or private offices, some hotelers feel like they are left to fend for themselves; they may feel undervalued, underappreciated or of a lesser-importance than their more traditionally situated co-workers.

To circumvent potential morale issues, companies and designers are now adding extra amenities to their hoteling areas.

“There’s often a person, often called the concierge person, whose sole function is to support the hotelers, to make sure that they’re not feeling like second-class citizens, that their needs are being met, so that employees are functioning smoothly when they’re coming in,” says Barnes. “Providing the concierge is a way that companies say ‘we care about you, you’re valued and we want to make your life easier.’”

Likewise, when hoteling employees come into the office, they often have different needs than their traditional co-workers. Much of their everyday work occurs outside of the corporate office, so their office needs extend beyond everyday work.

“What we’ve found is that when a lot of the people come back to the office, they’re in the office to collaborate, do expense reports or more administrative tasks, so a lot of the times when they’re back, they’re not sitting in a desk full-time while they’re there,” Barnes says.

To maximize the office’s usage potential for hoteling employees, designers should look to incorporate more formal and informal meeting areas, touchdown spaces and lounge areas. These spaces will help meet the needs of both hoteling and traditional employees, mitigating the amount of space that will be left empty and unused on a day-to-day basis.

healthy hoteling
Healthfirst, a not-for-profit insurance agency wanted office space better suited for the company’s needs. TPG Architecture designed the space to allow for more collaboration for employees—both informally at employee desks and in conference/team areas located throughout the facility—and optimized the company’s hoteling program by centralizing the area next to elevators on each floor. In addition, the hoteling spaces are shared between departments instead of being dedicated to one department, and use a benching system instead of cubicles.

“Employees come from other branch offices in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx or Long Island; they are both community outreach staff and salespeople,” says Jim Phillips, founder of TPG Architecture and principal-in-charge of the project. “They bring laptops and use the desks to complete paperwork, pick up their schedules, or as a base where they have meetings in the corporate office. There is a steady stream of staff at these workstations.”

Workspace needs can differ by department, company, industry and even regional location. Create a five-star hoteling strategy by designing non-traditional offices with these unique needs in mind.

“What I see with the design industry as a whole is that those kinds of concepts and solutions are being more finely calibrated to the specific business, demographic and even region,” Barnes says. “From region to region there are different perceptions of what the workplace should be. If it’s not implemented thoughtfully, it can cause frustration and not be very well-received.”


Kylie Wroblaski is a former editor for BUILDINGS magazine, and has written previously about architecture and facilities management.