Hoteling is a form of "alternative officing" which allows employees who travel on business or work flexible hours to reserve desk space at the employer's offices as needed, rather than maintaining a permanent work space there. This allows the employer to make more efficient use of office space and thus reduce costs. "The concept is to provide an electronic reservation system for available desk space," David T. Wise wrote in the Los Angeles Business Journal. "Where the average ratio for office space is 250 square feet per person, hoteling space can be reduced to as little as 100 square feet per person."
Hoteling was adopted by many consulting and accounting firms in the late 1990s. It had also found proponents among companies with traveling sales forces or large numbers of telecommuters. Basically, hoteling allows employees who spend a great deal of time off-site to return to the home office and plug a laptop computer into a cubicle for a few hours. Hoteling is similar to "free addressing" or "hot desking," in which employees occupy whatever desks or offices are available. All of these strategies make innovative use of office space in order to accommodate the flexible schedules and work habits of employees. "Today's worker spends less and less time in the office, using it chiefly to touch base or to interact for short periods with team members," Sandra M. Paret explained in the Dallas Business Journal. "In a traditional office, up to 50 percent of desks, offices, and workstations are unused at any given point on a typical workday."
THE ALTERNATIVE OFFICING TREND
Hoteling is part of a larger trend known as alternative officing (AO), which encompasses a variety of methods of redesigning office space to reduce costs, improve productivity, adapt to new technology, and accommodate the increased mobility of employees. More and more companies are changing to open office environments with informal meeting rooms, snack areas, project rooms, and focus rooms for individual work. These innovative office designs are intended to foster teamwork and interaction among employees.
The most common complaints about alternative officing setups involve a lack of privacy and problems with technological support. "AO strategies also place greater demands on systems and building infrastructures," Paret noted. "Work stations must be flexible enough to accommodate different workers at different times. Scheduling software must evolve so companies can plan for their workspace usage on a daily basis. Telecommunications systems must take into account that employees and their equipment will not be fixed in one location."
Small business owners who consider redesigning their office space to take advantage of hoteling or other alternative officing setups should first identify their goals. Some companies undertake office redesigns in order to improve teamwork and collaboration, while others need to create private areas to improve employee concentration. It may be helpful to conduct a formal workflow analysis or usage pattern study to determine the best use of space.
It is also important to consider the culture of the organization before undertaking an office redesign. Employees at some companies may like the hierarchy provided by a traditional office setting, in which people's status is tied to their office space. Alternative officing, on the other hand, requires people to operate in non-territorial ways and respect shared space. Small business owners should investigate a variety of possible arrangements and make sure employees support the plan before making radical changes. "An office redesign can do a lot more than provide a face lift," Katherine C. Berg wrote in the Dallas Business Journal. "It can spark productivity, improve employee morale, and ultimately boost the bottom line."