Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation’

Hot Desk

Posted by Admin on April 24, 2021

Last week, Idiomation took on the hot seat and this week Idiomation has decided to research hot desk and hot desking. It is also occasionally referred to as LIW or location independent working. Hot desking, however, is not to be confused with hoteling which are bookable workstations or desks for staff who need to reserve a workstation or desk when they are actually at work and on the premises.

Hot desking is when desks are used in a work situation where different people use the same desks at different times, and where there is usually no assigned desks. Think of it as a first-come-first-serve concept except for offices.

The practice is meant to maximize space efficiency and reduce what is known as redundant office space. Unfortunately, it also increases distractions, uncooperative behavior, and negative interactions.

If Idiomation took a run at guessing why that might be, the territorial nature of people in general is at the top of the list. But this is a blog devoted to the meaning and history of expressions, idioms, phrases, words, et al, and not a blog dedicated to human psychology so we will stick to what we know and do best.

On 18 April 2021, CNN Business reported that HSBC (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) was getting rid of their executive floor at their headquarters in London in favor of having their executives hot desk in open-plan areas two floors below what used to be their executive floor. The expression was included in the headline.

HSBC’s CEO Is Swapping His Office For A Hot Desk

It’s interesting that a large corporation would opt for that style of work at the office when on 14 May 2008, CBS News referred to hot desking as a ‘short-lived ’80s efficiency fad’ in their news story, “Is Hot Desking A Cool Idea — Or A Catastrophe?

Hot desking was allegedly the brain child of advertising executive Jay Chiat (25 October 1931 – 23 April 2002) of Chiat/Day who believed that private space trumped personal space, and that private space could be accessible anywhere at any time, and there was no need for personal space when private space was always available. He instituted the concept in his offices in 1994, on a day staffers called V-Day.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Bernard De Koven claims to have coined the word coworking in 1999. According to De Koven the word refers to people working together as equals in an office or business environment, and was supposedly inspired by the kind of hot desk workspace Jay Chiat put in place for his business.

On that day, instead of desks and cubbyholes, workers were assigned small lockers to hold their personal possessions, and then headed to the concierge window where they signed out a PowerBook and a cellphone that was to be returned at the end of their work day.

The problems weren’t far behind. The lockers were too small to hold more than a few small items, and employees began to lug around their PowerBooks and cellphones as well as important papers and contracts and story boards and more.

The business “bread lines” started as there were too many employees at certain times to allow for a PowerBook and cellphone per employee during certain hours of the day. Of course, there were the coveted places to sit at the office when an employee was on the premises, which led to employee conflicts and resentments. And at the end of the day, not as much work got done as got done when the office was set up the traditional way with private and personal space for all.

Some even compared to this way of going about their workday as working inside a migraine.

The New York Times reported on this in their 16 October 1994 edition with an article written by American architect critic, Herbert Muschamp (28 November 1947 – 2 October 2007) entitled, “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Ad World.” The subheadline referred to the hot desking offices of Chiat/Day as a ‘new dream factory‘ that was ‘an advertisement for itself.’

By mid-1995, it was understood at Chiat/Day that this concept wasn’t viable at either the LA or the New York offices, and by 1999, the man in charge was president and chief creative director Lee Clow, and hot desking wasn’t a thing at Chiat/Day anymore.

But there are a few years between the 1980s mentioned by CBS News and Chiat/Day’s experiment in 1994.

The article by financial reporter Shane Hickey in the 15 October 2015 edition of The Guardian titled, “The History of the Office: Why Open-Plan Fell Out of Fashion” mentioned hot-desking arriving on the business scene in the 1980s with no source mentioned to support that claim. In fact, a number of article in the 2010s made similar claims with no corroborating proof to back them up.

History indicates that open-plan office designs were the big thing in the 1960s. Personal space was sacred with invisible territories and boundaries marking what was public and what wasn’t quite as public. Everything at a person’s desk — their private personal space — was set up just as the person liked it, and when they arrived at work every morning, everything was expected to be as it was when they left the night before.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: The open-plan office design was the big thing in the 1960s but the idea originated with Frank Lloyd Wright when he designed the Larkin Administration office in Buffalo (NY) in 1906. It even came with built-in office furniture! In 1939, the Frank Lloyd Wright design for the Johnson Wax Headquarters in Racine (WI) opened with the ‘great workroom’ where secretaries worked. The building is still the world headquarters for the company which is now names SC Johnson & Son.

But an open-plan office design isn’t the same thing as a hot desk office environment.

Three years before Jay Chiat’s experiment at Chiat/Day began, Sunday Times reporter Godfrey Golzen (2 February 1930 – 1 August 2001) wrote about the concept in his 5 May 1991 article, “Cut The Office In Half Without Tears.” In this article, hot desking is mentioned so we know that in 1991, hot desking was happening in some business offices.

It should be noted that Derek Harris wrote about hot desking in his article for The Times a year later in an article titled, “Turning Office Desks Into Hot Property.”

In October of 1989, the firm of Ernst & Whinny merged with the firm of Arthur Young to become Ernst & Young. It was reported at the time that they consolidated their respective operations by abandoning three separate Chicago locations and taking up seven floors of the Sears Tower, and revolutionizing their new workplace with hot desking. The new firm was able to decrease its space usage from 250 feet person to 100 feet per person thanks to this new concept where workers were renamed ‘visiting employees.’

On site, ‘visiting employees‘ could use whichever desk or workstation was available instead of having a permanent desk or workstation assigned to them. If they absolutely needed the use of a more permanent office space for a meeting, they could call ahead and reserve the space and time for that meeting.

The term and practice is similar in some regards to the naval practice of hot racking that has been around since the 16th century. Hot racking had low ranking crew members sharing bunks and beds in rotating shifts as a way to maximize space in ships at sea. Hot racking is also known as hot bunking and hot bedding, mostly because as one person vacates the bed, they leave the bed warm for the next person occupying that same bed.

However, that definition doesn’t seem to quite fit with hot desking other than the concept is meant to maximize and reduce space for business ventures. To that end, the connection may be an unintentional red herring.

The earliest reference to hot desking by name is in the 1991 news article with a number of descriptions that fit the definition of hot desking in articles from the latter part of the 1980s.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »