Hot-desking: The psychological and physical toll

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Hot-desking: The psychological and physical toll

I am no fan of hot desking. It’s a big part of the reason I suffered a debilitating repetitive strain injury that forced me to give up computer work for several years. Ten years later, I still have to employ a laundry list of techniques to keep my pain under control—making it bearable so that I can continue to use computers—because what else am I going to do? (I love it when people tell me to do something that doesn’t involve computers.)

I had been working at one of those ‘forward-thinking’ consultancies where all of us (except the boss and his PA) shared one big open plan office. Indeed, we shared everything: big tables where we all sat round with our shared bank of laptops. There was no privacy, not even a single desk drawer. There was a wall of open pigeon holes where we were allowed to store any personal items—all in plain view of everyone else’s personal items. Messy co-workers simply stuffed their junk into the pigeon holes of their tidy colleagues when their own pigeon holes became too full to fit anything more.

Each morning, there was a race to the locked cupboard where the laptops were kept—each employee trying to get one of the ones that worked fairly well, rather than being left with the few that looked like they’d been run over before being locked away the previous night.

Then there was the race to get a good spot at one of the tables—the head of the table at the far end of the room was best—so you could see when someone was coming up behind you. Once you got your spot, it was a fight to get your laptop plugged into one of the shared electrical outlets underneath the table. Yes, there we all were crawling on all fours, trying to get our laptops plugged in so that we could get on with work.

Trying to get at least 15 people set up each morning could take up to 30 minutes before any of us were actually doing anything from the time we walked through the door.

We all shared chairs too. This meant that you had to readjust the chair you sat in every morning which actually didn’t make much of a difference since we had no laptop holders so there was no way we were ever going to be working in a safe way.

We had no information on good workstation set up and safe working techniques, and so my pain, and the pain of some of my colleagues, began. Long hours with few breaks meant that very soon my pain went off the charts. I remember taking a week-long holiday, thinking when I returned to work it would be better or at least less painful.

Upon returning to work, as soon as I touched one key, pain shot down my arms and I knew I was in trouble.

The problem is that when companies introduce hot-desking, they forget that it’s a cultural change, and requires all the planning, training and communication that goes into such a fundamental shift. To work well, hot-desking needs good planning led by an expert in workstation set up and every employee needs to be trained in how to work without injuring themselves.

If you are determined to go down the hot-desking route, then there are some fundamentals to consider, and I’ll cover these in my next blog. Otherwise, it’s a fool’s economy as it will end up costing you more in employee sickness.

Safe Hands will help you assess your current situation to uncover possible causes of discomfort or pain. We will suggest adjustments you can make to your behaviour and to all of your computer workspaces – at the office, at home and everywhere in between. Finally, we will talk to you about a range of factors that can contribute to the way you feel physically. Get in touch to find out more.