There’s a new trend afoot in academe that sends shudders through the spine of anyone who hoped privacy and intimacy would be preserved for those who dedicate their lives to teaching others. This trend not only threatens the ivy tower. It will soon infect every office in the world. The Scotsman reports Hot-Desking is the newest way to save money by punishing faculty and the students:

It is a room that has always been a true indicator of career advancement – your own office. But a new innovation being tested by Telford College could see the end of the much-loved space. The Edinburgh college is to introduce an innovative “hot-desking” environment at its new campus on the Granton waterfront, which opens this summer. It means that all teachers, lecturers, administration staff and even the college principal, will not be given their own office space on campus.

Instead, they will use the latest wireless technology. The scheme is the first of its kind in Scotland and developers believe it will put the college at the forefront of technological innovation in UK education. Instead of having an office space, each lecturer will instead have a pin code so they can tap into any computer to access their online profile and files. They will also be able to access the internet anywhere on campus through their laptop computers. Instead of having their own desk telephone, they will instead type a code into the nearest handset, or into a wireless handset, meaning any calls to their direct line are transferred to that telephone. Affiniti, the company setting up the network systems, says it expects other colleges and universities to follow Telford’s lead.

Hot-Desking is the sort of incredibly stupid idea that happens when the money people make decisions that adversely direct those who teach. Tear down the offices and make one giant work room. We don’t need cubicles. We only need desks! A giant sea of identical desks as far as the eye can see! One of the hallmarks of belonging in America is the stake of a bit of private land and the right to privacy. Unlike the UK you can own a house and ALSO the land beneath it in America.

The spread of your life is tasted across the acres of the Back Forty. You work hard you win an office with a window. You work even harder and you win a corner office with teasing scads of glass. They key to the American dream — big spaces, the wild blue yonder, the white picket fence — are all brought inside through the work window to tame the wild pioneer spirit with visual cues of the carpet of riches waiting for you just beyond the reach of the glass. Hot-Desking kills any sort of private connection to a space. Hot-Desking is the next step Microsoft made popular where You Are Not Your Office.

Every six months Microsoft moves every employee — except Bill Gates a precious other royal few — to an entirely new office so the workers bees don’t get too comfortable or too attached to once space. I find it funny when I call my friends at Microsoft and they’re either in the midst of moving in or moving out. My friends never complain, though, because that would be seen as not being a team player — can’t get too attached — they squawk, when squeezed for an emotional response to never having an office they can call home.

Microsoft has other workers solely dedicated to moving the worker bees and when it is your time to move you do nothing. Your computers and books and stuff and telephone lines are all cleared out and set up for you in a new office down the hall or across the campus or even off-campus.

I often found that office carousel a cruel philosophy purposefully bent on making people feel unattached and perpetually vulnerable but I guess that helps prime the pump of creative fear that you are expendable and not valuable in the Dot Com World because if we can move you to another office on a regular whim, we can show you the permanent door with the same disconnected aplomb: Don’t let the Hot-Desk hit your bum on the way out! With the advent of Hot-Desking, the Microsofts and the Local Universities, Inc. can give you a new office every day to ensure you’re never really comfortable!

Wait! Not a new office. Offices will be out. You’ll have your own desk every day. Wait! Why a desk?

We’ll give you a chair and a clipboard instead! The four corners of the room, instead of the corner office, will become the new touchstones of power. Wait! No corners! Hot-Desking in-the-round only! Hot-Desking will quickly lead to the demise of the intimate moment and a sense of belonging and connection. You will not be able to hold private review sessions with students or colleagues. Everything spoken over the phone or your VOIP connection will be open to immediate retrieval by any convenient ear.

You will forever be on display. You’ll have to go to the bathroom to pick your nose or let out the tiniest of farts. You become the spectacle and entertainment that is continuously accessible and convenient for interactivity. Your Hot-Desk no longer becomes a safe haven destination like your private office. It becomes the sign you are open for interpretation as one of the nameless herd.

While Hot-Desking may save money in the long run, it is ultimately bad for the business of learning and of making money in America because the perceived loss of individuality and a reciprocal dedication to a private space evaporates any sense of wanting to stay Hot-Desk connected unless absolutely required.

When the Hot-Desk is active, imaginations are working overtime to find the library’s books stacks of solitude before they, too, are replaced with a Hot-Desk library database jammed in a closet while the rest of the library becomes a Hot-Desked Wi-Fi student lounge and you wonder if you can get to your car to eat a private lunch and get back in time for your next Hot-Desk automated check-in — press this button to continue if you are sitting at your Hot-Desk.

Hot-Desking is impersonal and cruel but impersonality and cruelty have always been the primary forces behind the advance of machinery and technology in society. We lose faith in people to believe new means better.

38 Comments

  1. For the past three months at my office at least six people have been moving desks/offices once a month, different people each month. I’ve been at my desk now for about seven or eight months, but I still haven’t unpacked my box of stuff. Why bother?
    I always picture Gary Cole’s character from Office Space: “Yeah, we’re gonna have to ask you to move your desk again.”

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  2. I wonder where they expect professors to put all of their books, files, and other assorted research materials? What about their diplomas hanging on the walls? How will students be able to find their professor’s “office” for office hours? Where will professor store their work (including exams) when they don’t have a permanent office that can be locked?
    Are they going to give professors lockers for their books and files?
    I can’t imagine operating that way.
    I’m on the road almost every day for work, so I’m flexible when I need to be. I ride a circuit across the state line from where my office is, so I’m used to doing a lot of work in hallways and corners of tables that might be available. But, the majority of my work isn’t done on the road.
    When I’m in the office, I need a place where I can work on my files in peace and quiet.
    My personal system wouldn’t work in a hot desk environment. Files on the floor mean something to me. Incoming files to review are on another table. Files I’m working on are on my desk. I like to have a clean desk, so I arrange my files, letters, and other paperwork before I leave for the night.
    I’d never get anything done if I had to move my office from place to place every day.
    People are territorial. I like my office. I like the view I have from my windows. I like it that I can close my door, if I want. I like it that I have family pictures, diplomas, and other things on my walls.
    The hot desk idea will fail.
    People will “claim” their space and it will become an open floor plan office by default. Eventually people won’t be mobile, but will always return to their same space, day after day.

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  3. Carla!
    I thought I cleared your permanently from the moderation queue with your last message but it didn’t take for some reason. Maybe I forgot to save the options or something. Anyway, you’re out of moderation now and forever as far as I can tell.
    I feel for you not knowing if you are going or staying. I think that’s a terrible thing to do to a person who you want to do the best possible work. That must be soul-killing in a way.

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  4. Chris!
    I love your response! I agree people like to have a piece of something that belongs only to them.
    Hot-Desking is itinerant and anything you need — like books or research material — can be called up from your personal computer in electronic form. Diplomas and other trinkets should be left at home where you can enjoy them in true privacy. That the ridiculous argument of Hot-Desking as far as I can tell.
    My feeling is Hot-Desking will work because there will be no other option available.
    Universities LOVE the common desk in a telephone closet that serves as the “Adjunct Office.” All Adjuncts use the same desk and the same computer and “if there’s more than one of you who need to prepare for class, you can use the desk in turns!”
    That has been said often in my career.
    What happens is Adjuncts spend as little time on campus as possible. They arrive one minute before class begins and leave the instant the course is finished and that hurts students. Adjuncts holding regular “Office Hours” are an inside joke that everyone laughs at and no one adheres to or enforces.
    Universities also do not like full time, tenured, faculty. They prefer Adjuncts because they can fire them at will and they do not have to pay health benefits or contribute to pension plans and Adjuncts are considered “work for hire” employees.
    73% of the undergraduate courses at NYU are taught by Adjuncts and 98% of the Freshman year classes are NOT taught by a tenured faculty member.
    Hot-Desking isn’t here yet, but it’s here to stay!
    :mrgreen:

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  5. The Powers That Be at my office aren’t interested in people doing their best or giving them anything they can be proud of. They’re interested in making money.

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  6. I wouldn’t worry overmuch. It’s an idea that’s been around in the corporate computing world for years — the just call it a different name every couple of years — and it hasn’t worked yet. 🙂

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  7. A good friend/mentor of mine is an adjunct professor. Over the past 4 years I have seen him be increasingly marginalized by the university despite the fact that he dedicates himself to the well-being of undergraduate, helping them to navigate the complicated path through a large public university. In many cases adjuncts are better teachers because teaching is their main pursuit and they devote more time to connect with students outside the classroom. Teaching for tenured faculty is a mere nuisance that gets in the way of chasing after money for research and doing research. It is unforunate that
    I assume that hot-desking primarily applies to faculty/grad students in the humanities and the arts. I could alone find evidence of the trend in the UK, what factors there have contributed to the trend? It would be logistically difficult to hot-desk in a wet lab setting ( I have thoughts of wheeling around a cart with solutions 🙂 ). This would be an unfortunate trend as as a physical space and the associated psychological space is important to promote the type of disucssion and interchange of ideas that is the lifeblood of humanities and the arts. I can imagine it would be highly counterproductive and phychologically draining to constantly be uprooted.

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  8. A good friend/mentor of mine is an adjunct professor. Over the past 4 years I have seen him be increasingly marginalized by the university despite the fact that he dedicates himself to the well-being of undergraduate, helping them to navigate the complicated path through a large public university. In many cases adjuncts are better teachers because teaching is their main pursuit and they devote more time to connect with students outside the classroom. Teaching for tenured faculty is a mere nuisance that gets in the way of chasing after money for research and doing research. It is unforunate that
    I assume that hot-desking primarily applies to faculty/grad students in the humanities and the arts. I could alone find evidence of the trend in the UK, what factors there have contributed to the trend? It would be logistically difficult to hot-desk in a wet lab setting ( I have thoughts of wheeling around a cart with solutions 🙂 ). This would be an unfortunate trend as as a physical space and the associated psychological space is important to promote the type of disucssion and interchange of ideas that is the lifeblood of humanities and the arts. I can imagine it would be highly counterproductive and phychologically draining to constantly be uprooted.

    Like

  9. I feel for your adjunct friend, Jonathan. Adjuncts are the soul of the university. The tenured faculty are the bones and the students are the muscle that makes everything move. The administration are the skin. The very thin skin. There is no brain. There is no head or hands or feet. The corpus just sit there lifeless and limp — but seated at a hot-desk.
    I think I directed you to this previous post of mine on “Why Adjuncts Matter” but for those who may be reading us for the first time, I’ll post it again here:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/08/21/why-adjuncts-matter/
    I agree it would be hard to hot-desk a lab setting but everything else would be a fair bet for the hot-desk and that would include beyond the Arts and Humanities… the medical school (non-lab setting), the business school, biomechanics, architecture, the soft sciences, the math department, urban planning, economics, etc.

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  10. I feel for your adjunct friend, Jonathan. Adjuncts are the soul of the university. The tenured faculty are the bones and the students are the muscle that makes everything move. The administration are the skin. The very thin skin. There is no brain. There is no head or hands or feet. The corpus just sit there lifeless and limp — but seated at a hot-desk.
    I think I directed you to this previous post of mine on “Why Adjuncts Matter” but for those who may be reading us for the first time, I’ll post it again here:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/08/21/why-adjuncts-matter/
    I agree it would be hard to hot-desk a lab setting but everything else would be a fair bet for the hot-desk and that would include beyond the Arts and Humanities… the medical school (non-lab setting), the business school, biomechanics, architecture, the soft sciences, the math department, urban planning, economics, etc.

    Like

  11. David, I used to work as an academic in a scientific research group in Oxford. Although we had our own desks, we did not have our own computers! All PCs and workstations were common, all lab equipment by default common (if 3 people need a £100,000 testing machine, they can’t have 1 each), all lab space common and fluid in use.
    To be frank, it was terrific. It taught us a lot of discipline. Only use a PC or workstation when you need it. Only leave debris in the labs if you need to. Plan and allocate time for specific tasks. Personally I would have preferred the desks to be “hot” too, for the same reasons.
    Being blunt, hot-desking (prioritising by need and urgency rather than simple first-come first-served) in a lab setting works just fine, encourages contact and cooperation, leads to stronger and quicker research, and is cheaper.
    In my experience, academics derive no benefit from the masses of papers and books they acquire. I would require all academics on, say, the same floor to pool their libraries. Exams can be kept in a locked file cabinet until needed, then worked on, then locked away again if necessary. This takes moments. If the working day and working practices are so muddle-headed as to require teetering piles of paper everywhere then something has to change. And if you don’t view modern academia as “work” then the modern world is beckoning…
    Practising what I preach, I’m in the process of setting up a hot-desking “hub” for performance and visual arts creatives in central London. Desks by the hour, the day, the week or the year. Shared rehearsal and studio spaces. Buy only what you need.
    We have homes for nesting in. We need to discipline the pack-rats out of our offices and working environments.

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  12. David, I used to work as an academic in a scientific research group in Oxford. Although we had our own desks, we did not have our own computers! All PCs and workstations were common, all lab equipment by default common (if 3 people need a £100,000 testing machine, they can’t have 1 each), all lab space common and fluid in use.
    To be frank, it was terrific. It taught us a lot of discipline. Only use a PC or workstation when you need it. Only leave debris in the labs if you need to. Plan and allocate time for specific tasks. Personally I would have preferred the desks to be “hot” too, for the same reasons.
    Being blunt, hot-desking (prioritising by need and urgency rather than simple first-come first-served) in a lab setting works just fine, encourages contact and cooperation, leads to stronger and quicker research, and is cheaper.
    In my experience, academics derive no benefit from the masses of papers and books they acquire. I would require all academics on, say, the same floor to pool their libraries. Exams can be kept in a locked file cabinet until needed, then worked on, then locked away again if necessary. This takes moments. If the working day and working practices are so muddle-headed as to require teetering piles of paper everywhere then something has to change. And if you don’t view modern academia as “work” then the modern world is beckoning…
    Practising what I preach, I’m in the process of setting up a hot-desking “hub” for performance and visual arts creatives in central London. Desks by the hour, the day, the week or the year. Shared rehearsal and studio spaces. Buy only what you need.
    We have homes for nesting in. We need to discipline the pack-rats out of our offices and working environments.

    Like

  13. Hi David
    Well, my work environment (both now and in my previous academic incarnation) was filled with chance meetings, unintended conversations spawning new ideas, and a rigorous approach to organisation.
    Now, my wife is expecting our first child right now. Do I want my child to grow up in a world where people become more attached to their tottering piles of paper than to the opportunities for human interaction? Err, no!
    Does this mean I think hot-desking is the solution to all ills? Hell, no! For people like Carla I think office mobility is a nightmare. There is no reason for people primarily tied to their desk to be moved “for the sake of it” and hot-desking is pointless for them. For people whose work involves using a range of resources (such as scientific academics, to continue that thread), it can work wonderfully well. What could be more liberating than the ability to log in to all my resources and work from the library, the lab, an office desk, my home, or the top of a mountain? The motivator should be thought, not location.
    Sorry, David, but my working life is a constant joy, and the freedom from a tendency to clutter the immediate work environment with things that (a) should be shared with others, and (b) are simply not used day-to-day is something I treasure rather than resent. The photo of my wife sits on my desktop:-) The hundreds of people interested in joining my new initiative here in London seem to agree.

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  14. Hi David
    Well, my work environment (both now and in my previous academic incarnation) was filled with chance meetings, unintended conversations spawning new ideas, and a rigorous approach to organisation.
    Now, my wife is expecting our first child right now. Do I want my child to grow up in a world where people become more attached to their tottering piles of paper than to the opportunities for human interaction? Err, no!
    Does this mean I think hot-desking is the solution to all ills? Hell, no! For people like Carla I think office mobility is a nightmare. There is no reason for people primarily tied to their desk to be moved “for the sake of it” and hot-desking is pointless for them. For people whose work involves using a range of resources (such as scientific academics, to continue that thread), it can work wonderfully well. What could be more liberating than the ability to log in to all my resources and work from the library, the lab, an office desk, my home, or the top of a mountain? The motivator should be thought, not location.
    Sorry, David, but my working life is a constant joy, and the freedom from a tendency to clutter the immediate work environment with things that (a) should be shared with others, and (b) are simply not used day-to-day is something I treasure rather than resent. The photo of my wife sits on my desktop:-) The hundreds of people interested in joining my new initiative here in London seem to agree.

    Like

  15. Anyone silly enough to think that the hot-desking model is a good idea might like to reflect on the effect it has had on the majority of professionally qualified Microsoft and Cisco instructors at Telford College – they were so sickened by what is happening they have all left for better managed institutions or gone back into industry.
    For other informed views – those made by the staff at Telford College not “management types” with half-witted theories see:
    http://www.quicktopic.com/12/H/b4PrrPKFxxCe
    Fre

    Like

  16. Anyone silly enough to think that the hot-desking model is a good idea might like to reflect on the effect it has had on the majority of professionally qualified Microsoft and Cisco instructors at Telford College – they were so sickened by what is happening they have all left for better managed institutions or gone back into industry.
    For other informed views – those made by the staff at Telford College not “management types” with half-witted theories see:
    http://www.quicktopic.com/12/H/b4PrrPKFxxCe
    Fre

    Like

  17. These Telford College staff who have left havent yet experienced the “hotdesking” as we havent even moved to our new college site yet. I wonder how much bullying, gossiping and bad mouthing goes on behind closed doors. Having been bullied for years (and I am not the only one) I embrace the new regime AND if it doesnt work then Im sure there will be partitions going up all over the place before long. Unfortunately the world is changing and working environments change… I would rather be hotdesking than working down a mine for sure. What are these people so scared of that they would leave before they have tried it?

    Like

  18. These Telford College staff who have left havent yet experienced the “hotdesking” as we havent even moved to our new college site yet. I wonder how much bullying, gossiping and bad mouthing goes on behind closed doors. Having been bullied for years (and I am not the only one) I embrace the new regime AND if it doesnt work then Im sure there will be partitions going up all over the place before long. Unfortunately the world is changing and working environments change… I would rather be hotdesking than working down a mine for sure. What are these people so scared of that they would leave before they have tried it?

    Like

  19. If you are wondering why staff are leaving Telford before sampling the so called delights of Hotdesking its really simple.
    The current management did not listen or trust their very experienced staff members and they are well over original budget of £40 million for the new campus. Much of the budget has been spent on external design and space consultants.
    The management imposed a large restructuring on the staff using external consultants to do the dirty work.The additional £20 – 30 Millions required for the new campus built is being paid for by the saving made during the restructuring.
    Yes bully tactics were used during the restructuring by management to sicken experienced staff.
    Would you like to stay in the same large open plan office as the management who are bullying you? Having to watch your back every day with a management whos sole aim would be to stab you in the back at the earliest opportunity.
    This management has turned a very happy and effective team of staff into a very unhappy team in the space of four years.Telford College’s reputation for being one of the best employers in Further Education has been seriously damaged by this management.
    Much of the college management functions are being influenced by external consultants.Management are chosing ignoring the internal experts and then imposing unworkable solutions on these internal experts and bullying them into making them work.
    Hotdesking is only one of many issues like these.

    Like

  20. If you are wondering why staff are leaving Telford before sampling the so called delights of Hotdesking its really simple.
    The current management did not listen or trust their very experienced staff members and they are well over original budget of £40 million for the new campus. Much of the budget has been spent on external design and space consultants.
    The management imposed a large restructuring on the staff using external consultants to do the dirty work.The additional £20 – 30 Millions required for the new campus built is being paid for by the saving made during the restructuring.
    Yes bully tactics were used during the restructuring by management to sicken experienced staff.
    Would you like to stay in the same large open plan office as the management who are bullying you? Having to watch your back every day with a management whos sole aim would be to stab you in the back at the earliest opportunity.
    This management has turned a very happy and effective team of staff into a very unhappy team in the space of four years.Telford College’s reputation for being one of the best employers in Further Education has been seriously damaged by this management.
    Much of the college management functions are being influenced by external consultants.Management are chosing ignoring the internal experts and then imposing unworkable solutions on these internal experts and bullying them into making them work.
    Hotdesking is only one of many issues like these.

    Like

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