Hotelling (office)

Hotelling is a method of supporting unassigned seating in an office environment. It is similar and is sometimes confused with hot desking, which is another method of supporting unassigned seating. Hotelling (or hoteling) is reservation-based unassigned seating, whereas, hot desking is reservation-less unassigned seating.


Offices generally support three kinds of seating assignment:

  • Shift/Workshop - People take a seat for a given time-shift. The seat is then released to another person on the next time-shift.
  • Assigned - One and only one person is assigned to one or more workstations. Likewise, the workstations are assigned to be used exclusively by one person.
  • Unassigned - A person is not assigned to any particular workstation. Likewise, the workstation is not assigned to any particular person.

"Recent studies of knowledge workers, particularly salespeople, customer representatives, and consultants, indicate they spend only 30% of their time in the office. Teleworking also contributes to less frequent presence in the office. So why have a workstation? Companies are also finding that people may need different kinds of workstations at different times for different tasks (e.g. an enclosed office one day and open space the next and a war room the next - all within the same office.) This means that nomadism is not only inter-office (travellers and teleworkers), but intra-office.

Many companies are beginning to rethink whether Assigned Seating makes the most sense. With the increasing price of commercial real-estate the modern corporation is always looking for ways to maximize office space of an ever growing business. Corporations attempt to divide up their resources in an efficient and effective manner. A new system that companies have begun using is called hotelling. Hotelling is a fairly recent idea which has begun to pop-up in many large corporations with travelling employees. The idea stems from that of a hotel where employees must reserve their spot for a specified period of time.

How it works

Hotelling systems can vary from basic to high tech. The system generally works better when they are merged with the overall technology of the firm. Basically, the company uses a piece of software which keeps track of all of its resources. When employees arrive at work in the morning (or log in from home via the company intranet), they access the hotelling reservation software and log in using their unique user ID and password. They can then either reserve spaces by their name/number or, in some systems, by looking at a blueprint of the office and visually selecting a workspace. Once the reservation process is complete, a number of functions may be performed by the system including the routing of phone service to the workspace, the notification of an office "concierge" who prepares the workspace, etc. With many systems, workers are required to "check in" through a terminal connected to the reservations database when they arrive at the office.

Who uses it

Hotelling started and continues to predominantly appear in customer representative and consultant-based companies. This is because most of these companies' employees spend the majority of their time away from the office; thus, reducing the amount of office resources they need to occupy on a regular basis. This allows large firms to utilize the concept of hotelling.

Although hotelling started in consulting companies this does not mean that it is limited to these companies. According to experts, any company that has knowledge workers is suited for hotelling. Any service-based business can also benefit from hotelling, and more than 50% of the U.S. economy today is service-based.

Hotelling tools

With the emergence of hotelling and the growing amount of technology in the workplace there has been the development of tools to aid the simplicity and efficiency of hotelling. Generally the hotelling system is maintained by a piece of software which integrates with the companies communication systems and is tailored to the office of each individual company. These software systems usually also allow the company to manage many resources such as conference rooms, desks, offices, and projectors and other types of media.

Some of the companies/products in this market include FlexiDesk™ offered by Datacraft Design Ltd, Resource Scheduler and WebEvent offered by PeopleCube, Resource Central from Add-On Products, Condeco from RNM Systems, Agilquest, Businesssolve's Hotdesk Manager, and the EMS Workplace product from Dean Evans and Associates.


The hotelling reservations tool is one of the first considerations, but many more should be taken as a company plans the implementation of hotelling. Here are a few general considerations:

  • Which Method? - Is hotelling really the best method or should hot-desking be used.

Hotelling has some advantages that make the added effort of setting up a reservations system worth it. Hotelling is generally required if there is a significant probability of over-booking. Hotelling can also provide usage reporting that allows facilities managers to better manage the hotelling seats.

Hot-desking is generally easier to implement. Hot-desking does not provide any usage reporting. Also, Hot-desking has one significant problem in large offices: hot-desking is not self-policing, so squatting can become an issue.

  • Policy, Governance and Transformation- Who goes into unassigned seating, who decides and when is that decided?

People who move from assigned to unassigned seating must make changes to their workstyle. These changes require a transformation. As such, companies can expect resistance to such changes and must work to help staff make the transformation.

The resistance also implies that in most cases, the employees must have an incentive system to motivate them to make the change (i.e. give up their assigned seat). This can come in the form of a policy, a service approach, or a charge-back incentive, as well as numerous other approaches and governance models. As this will determine how effectively the company is able to capitalize on unassigned seating, overcoming the resistance is a significant consideration.

Companies have to acknowledge that unassigned seating does not fit every job role or every person and thus, somebody must draw the line. Who draws it, where it is drawn and when it is drawn (i.e. upon hire, upon job change, upon office move...) are perhaps the most important decisions in implementing unassigned seating. The policy itself is frequently referred to in the industry as Flexplace and is the workplace equivalent of the workforce policy of Flextime and Flexbenefits. See wordspy for usage and genesis.

  • Telephony - How will people receive telephone calls?

In a traditional office, the PBX is based on what is known as Circuit Switched or TDM. This architecture necessarily requires that calls are directed to a specific instrument (telephone). If a person moves to another desk, the PBX must be reprogrammed to direct that person's calls to that new telephone. This can make unassigned seating very problematic. There are generally three solutions:

  • Programmatic or Manual Operator Control - Either a human operator or the reservations system can program the PBX on the fly with each reservation. Agilquest's system has this capability for certain makes of PBX. If the reservations system does the reprogramming, then hotelling must be used instead of hot-desking.
  • Mobile Phones or Cell Phones - This is an obvious solution so long as it is acceptable to the user and the caller. This will usually cost more money, but more companies are replacing traditional land-line telephones with mobile phones. Do all of the staff have mobile phones? (Note: in a sufficiently small office, Cordless phones may also be used. These combine the mobility of a cell phone with the cost structure and programmability of a class land-line PBX.)
  • IP Telephony or IPT- This technology allows the user to "log on" to a phone and thus all calls will be received at that desk until they log out. Also, they can implement IP softphones that allow them to have calls delivered to their PC so long as the PC can have connectivity to the VPN or internet.

  • IT Tools & Infrastructure - Is the IT infrastructure capable of supporting nomads?

People in unassigned seating must adapt their tools to support a nomadic workstyle.

  • Do they have a lap-top? If not, can they just work from any PC that has network access?
  • Do they really just work from a PDA most of the time and can use any generic PC when in the office?
  • Can the servers that they need to reach support dynamic IP address assignment or does it rely on static addressing?
  • Can the LAN and VPN support IP Telephony?
  • Can each PC support IP Telephony?
  • Can the switch support IP hardphones?
  • Is WiFi a better in-house solution for PC and telephone connectivity?

  • Furniture and the Nature of Work - What do people need near them when they work? What kind of desk do they need?

People tend to arrange their desk and their files to fit their style of work. If desks have no particular person assigned to them, then the desks must become generically suitable to all potential users. Solutions such as rolling pedestals might be needed for some offices. Also, heavy items such as PC screens and docking stations may need to be standardized and provided. There are also health and safety concerns.

  • Facilities Management Changes - What new responsibilities and roles will the Facilities Managers (FM's) have?

The FM must play new roles that are more common to hotel management.

  • Location and Adjacencies in the Floorplan - Where do people need to work? Can you maintain the adjacencies with unassigned seating?

If people need to be next to a file archive, can you really ensure that they have priority access to the workstations in that area? In a large office, how do you keep teams together. Where should the reservable workstations be in a building? Centralized? Distributed?

  • Reservations System Integration - What can the company do to make the reservations process seamless?

Should the system be linked to the access badges? Should it be linked to the telephone system? Should it be linked to the HRIS?

See also


External Links

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