Unassigned Seating at Work A Passing Trend or Here to Stay


Core HR

Unassigned Seating at Work: A Passing Trend or Here to Stay?

Hoteling. Unassigned seating. These may sound like terms you would find on a travel website, but they’re actually part of a new workplace vocabulary. You might also call your informal seating arrangement hot desking, free address or collective use.

Unassigned seating means first-come, first-served. Anyone can sit anywhere they’d like. Major companies have been practicing this since 2012. Employees at American Express, PricewaterhouseCoopers and GlaxoSmithKline put their personal effects in a locker, which allows them to move around freely.

Advantages of Hoteling

I discussed this concept with the IA team. We’ve seen many consulting firms move to this model, and a recent client is considering unassigned seating for a new location it’s building. Company leaders like the idea of bringing teams together to the same physical space.

For project-based work with cross-functional teams, I think it makes sense to co-locate. Teams can work on a project together and have casual conversations throughout the day instead of sitting in long meetings. When the project is over, people can move to the next project without incurring the cost of reconfiguring office space move cost.

Extreme Hoteling

Companies like this trend because it reduces their overhead. Many, if not most, organizations have unused or underused space — especially now that more people are working from home. GlaxoSmithKline saves $10 million a year with its hoteling arrangement, according to The Atlantic.

Some companies are seeking to maximize the potential of hoteling by grouping employees from various organizations together. For example, a 2017 survey by CoreNet Global and Cushman & Wakefield indicated that corporate real estate executives want to cut down on their property costs by offering coworking environments that clients can share. This trend is popular in Asia and the U.K., and is gaining steam in Washington, D.C.

What We Don’t Know

However, most people are creatures of habit, and might not take well to unassigned seating. It’s likely that this approach wouldn’t be a cultural fit for very traditional or hierarchical organizations.

Another concern is whether unassigned seating will really be unassigned. Once people make it a habit of sitting in a certain spot, they may not want to move. We’ve seen offices where seats become claimed, like church pews — no one’s name is on it, but everyone knows who sits there, and no one dares rock the boat by taking the seat.

Unassigned seating provides flexibility — and that’s one perk we know employees love. It might make workers happier, but does it mean they’ll be more productive?

Are you thinking of creating an unassigned seating environment? Why or why not?


Are you considering unassigned seating?
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Jason Carroll is a former Marine, software engineer, and Fidelity Investments business leader. At Fidelity he managed a reporting team, led the upgrade to a new analytics system, and spearheaded the company’s first venture into workplace planning.


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7 thoughts on “Unassigned Seating at Work: A Passing Trend or Here to Stay?”

  1. If a majority of time is not work from home, the home away from home aspect cannot be ignored. Family photos, awards and incidentals a person uses throughout the day are desk items. Put them in a locker and they quickly never come back out. This leaves the workplace sterile and workers less connected.

  2. This isn’t a good idea. It ignornes ADA- Reasonable Accommodation concerns that arise for some employees that include specific equipment that isn’t easily transportable on a daily basis.

    1. I know this is an old comment, but I specifically have that concern about unassigned seating. It’s not just ADA either. If I need a keyboard tray, special chair, or a footrest, I can’t (or can’t easily) transport those. Now the company’s policy is directly causing me discomfort, pain, and possible injury because my desk is not ergonomically customized.

  3. My company is heading that way. As a sales rep I will probably start to work from home since I will lose my cubicle that has my personal items in it. I think we will lose the personal touch of seeing each other in the office and helping new people out.

  4. We recently switched to largely unassigned seating at Salesforce in many offices. It’s awful. The workplace has been completely sterilized and many of us are hopelessly disengaged. Leadership’s response has been “too bad” in spite of heaps of complaints.

    The seating arrangement bears the name “Ohana seating”, using the word Salesforce uses to describe its “family” of customers and employees, which is doubly insulting given that certain parts of the organization are exempt so as to not impact their work. It’s disgusting.

  5. Pingback: The Unassigned Workplace | Finding Freedom and Flexibility within Shared Spaces – CDI BLOG

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