Office 'hoteling' provides desk only as needed

March 5, 2011 

Several weeks ago, KTUU television featured a Wasilla businessman whose home-based business had grown enough that he needed an office outside his home. Rather than rent an office, he started a company that leases a desk for a day or longer. This service is proving popular for workers who occasionally need a brick and mortar office.

This is similar to a concept called "office hoteling," which began in the early '90s. Office hoteling provides a way for employees such as consultants, who are frequently out of the office, to have temporary use of a workspace when needed. This practice has become more popular with mobile communication and telecommuters (particularly in the tech industry) who may work remotely and just occasionally need an office space.

Hoteling can work in different ways, but basically an employee calls the company to reserve a workspace. All the communication connections are in place. Some companies have systems where an employee has an under-desk filing cabinet on wheels that is stored on site. When the worker uses a space, he/she wheels the filing cabinet into the space under the work surface.

Hoteling allows more efficient use of office space and reduces costs by accommodating flexible work schedules and work habits. One study showed that hoteling reduced the average area of office space per person from 250 to 100 square feet. Even a fraction of that reduction can translate into major financial savings for a company with a large number of employees.

But hoteling has some problems. Employees lose a sense of place and privacy, compared with having a permanently assigned workspace or office. There can be problems with technical support when employees are not working from a fixed location. The culture of a company can be affected. In some companies, the hierarchy and status provided by traditional offices may be important.

Maintenance of the shared space also can be a problem. Workspaces can be left in disarray, with garbage cans overflowing, phones disconnected and the last occupant's lunch aroma and remains scattered all over the area. One person described his company's shared space as a rundown motor lodge.

Communication can be more difficult, particularly the informal water cooler-type conversations. With workers being in the office only occasionally, significantly less face-to-face and casual communication occurs.

Changes in technology, which make remote communication faster and easier, along with the high cost of office space will drive more businesses to seek efficiency by providing a place to work on an as-needed basis.


Chris Stephens, CCIM, is a local associate broker specializing in commercial and investment real estate. His opinion column appears every month in the Anchorage Daily News.

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