With COVID-19 vaccination programs underway, many companies are hoping to reopen their offices in the not-too-distant future. Most are looking to a hybrid work model, where employees split their time between working in the office and working at home. Although office reopenings may be put on hold as cases surge throughout the U.S. and elsewhere, it’s not too soon to begin making plans for a safe return for employees.
The office that workers return to will look quite different as companies reconfigure their office space to support safety guidelines around social distancing, cleaning and disinfection, and capacity limits.
The concept that an employee has a permanent desk or office goes out the window if that employee only works in the office two to three times a week, or if the number of workers exceeds the number of available workspaces. To manage this, companies are turning desks and cubicles into common workspaces that anyone in the company can reserve for the day.
That’s where workspace booking software comes in. Hot desk booking software for the office has been around for years, traditionally allowing employees to reserve commonly used spaces such as conference rooms or smaller “huddle room” areas. Several of these software vendors have expanded their offerings to allow for desk booking, along with other features such as visitor management tools that provide a desk and resources for contractors or freelancers to use while visiting.
The current demand for desk booking capabilities has also allowed other enterprise software vendors, such as those that offer facility management software and even IT service management (ITSM) software, into the market, said Juliana Beauvais, a research manager with IDC’s enterprise applications team. “We’re seeing companies that did contact tracing, workplace management, or calendaring get into the space because it’s not that hard to code and set up a reservation system,” she said. “Because there is such a demand for it right now, it’s an in-road for a lot of vendors to sell their other products.”
How does desk booking software work? Key features to look for
Desk booking software assigns employees to a specific workspace for a day or more. In some instances, workers can reserve a desk in advance — a practice known as hoteling. In others, they simply show up at the office and claim an available desk on a first-come, first-served basis; this is known as hot-desking. Although they may use different terminology, most vendors offer customers both of these options, so you could have hotel desks in one area and hot desks in another if you wish.
Most of these platforms allow companies to upload an office floor plan that shows individual workspaces (desks and offices) in addition to meeting rooms and common areas. Managers can designate each desk as available for advance reservation, available as a hot desk, or permanently booked (for fixed spaces where they want the same employee to work every day).
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Employees use the web or mobile apps to search available workspaces for a given day and reserve a desk in advance, or, in a hot-desking scenario, they check in at a physical desk in the office via QR code, RFID tag, or touch-based display. As long as the pandemic continues, employers may want to favor hoteling, since it prevents situations where too many employees show up for the available desks on any given day.
When an employee submits a reservation request, the request is either approved automatically or goes to a manager for approval before it’s finalized. To ensure social distancing, some platforms let managers make adjacent desks unavailable and/or shift employees around as needed, and some platforms can make such adjustments automatically when an employee makes a reservation.