Flexible vs. Fixed Seating

Cost Effective Trend or Dead-end?

The topic of whether or not to convert from the now standard Cubicle or fixed space system to a more flexible workspace or “Hot Desk” system has been the subject of much debate in the past decade and has only increased in discussion in recent years. This article will outline the pros and cons of each system as well as discuss the costs associated with conversion and the possibility of decreasing office related expenses and increasing workplace productivity with “Hot Desking”. Whether or not you are a fan of either system this article should help you gain an understanding of both models to help you decide which is the right choice for your office.

Fixed Space Seating or The Cubicle System?

The Cubicle as we know it was introduced in the 1960s by designer and inventor Robert Propst as a way to combat the noise and lack of privacy associated with the large, open floor plans of that period’s offices. Propst viewed these open spaces as “wastelands” and thought that they sapped an employee’s vitality and blocked talent and creativity. His solution was to give all employees their own workspace which at the time was a luxury reserved for managers and executives. This style of desking created a place where employees could store their files and materials and create a feeling of belonging. However, over the years several other benefits were noticed as well as some detriments which we shall review.


While a Cubicle provides you with a place to keep your files, computer and other materials it can also limit your ability to work outside the office or access your work from home. This can create problems especially when deadlines are just over the horizon, but this lack of flexibility only becomes an obstacle if working from home is already a factor, which isn’t very common in today’s fixed-space offices. Another arguing point against cubicles is that the increased privacy will distance employees from each other, reducing collaboration and impromptu congregation which can lead to breakthroughs and new ideas. While this may seem like a reasonable concern, there are several easy solutions to this problem such as offering a common area where employees can work as a team outside of their cubicles or using cubicle walls of varied heights to offer privacy only where it is needed. A study conducted by the University of Sydney however, which reviewed data from 42,000 employees in over 300 offices found that there was no real evidence to support the claim that a semi-private or even fully private workspace had any negative effect on the amount of interaction between workers and that those with their own space were generally more satisfied with their work environment. There is one undeniable drawback to giving every employee a cubicle and desk of their own though, the amount of space required to do so, especially in high density offices. Fixed space seating will require there to be a 1:1 ratio of cubicles to employees meaning every employee will have the cost of a cubicle and it’s floor space associated with them which could potentially lead to the need for expansion or relocation. This isn’t to say that cubicles are on their way out as a popular and effective use of office space by any means. Remember, they were originally invented to improve on the open floor plan and have shown their value through decades of successful use.

Hot Desking

“Hot Desking” or “Hotelling” as some call it, is a flexible workspace floor plan which has become popular especially in fast growing companies who may not have the resources or space needed to house all their employees at once. While the obvious benefits associated with this style of seat management may seem alluring to some it can also become a major problem and actually dramatically affect morale and efficiency in negative ways if not implemented properly and gradually under the careful management of strong leaders. There are many costs associated with transitioning to this style of seating and it is often met with vitriol and criticism about whether or not “Hot Desking” is even a productive or profitable endeavor.

A flexible floor plan is often a necessary investment to justify a design that includes mobile employees or those who do any significant amount of work from home, obviously it would be redundant to have a permanent workspace set up in the office for someone who is only on the premises for a few hours a week. Giving employees the ability to work outside the office and from the comfort of home can result in an increase in productivity but without competent management it can also be a catalyst for the exact opposite effect. Also, employees who work from home often have a sense that they are under more scrutiny than those who work in the office, leading to anxiety and feeling as though missing a call or not replying quickly enough to an email could label them as “slackers” among their peers.

Transitioning to flexible seating also has many substantial costs even if a cubicle system has never been implemented. Most companies who utilize flexible seating provide laptops to employees to replace dedicated CPUs which can be an enormous expense especially considering that the cost of a new laptop can easily surpass the cost of a comparable desktop unit. Along with the cost of the laptops themselves is the demand they create for a docking station to charge the units, this by itself can be very costly and often times these units are not truly universally compatible even when labeled and sold as such. Special workplace strategy training might also become a requirement and expense if employees do not immediately take to an open floor plan. The loss of a permanent workspace also eliminates the ability to give employees dedicated phone lines and may require an employer to provide cellular phones and coverage to their employees, again increasing costs and creating a recurring expense.

Many employers who use the “Hot Desking” system also have employees who do a significant amount of work from home, eliminating the need for them to come into the office and creating less employment cost for the employer (ie. Electricity, phone usage, plumbing facilities etc.). However, this does not completely eliminate the cost but rather transfers it to the worker who must now pay for the increased electricity they use at home as well as any other utility or goods that they consume during working hours. Working from home may also create a sense of a domestic prison where a person starts to feel as though they can never truly get away from their work.

Who Reigns Supreme?

In today’s business world the question of which seating system is the right choice for your office can be answered like many others, with more questions. Do you already have a Cubicle system in place? Are you currently expanding or do you plan on doing so in the near future? How much floor space does your office provide? Are you prepared for the costs each system presents? For very small offices I would suggest the more flexible “Hot Desk System” as jamming many cubicles into an already limited space can create claustrophobic feelings among your team and may end up hurting the morale and efficiency that the cubicles are intended to boost. On the other hand, larger areas of any shape often benefit from cubicles and implementing a fixed seating system can improve morale, workplace efficiency and employee collaboration as well as providing the ability to accommodate employees with special physical or technological needs. Before choosing either option though, it is highly recommended that as much research as possible is done to ensure a wise investment in the future of your business. A Skutchi Designs office planning expert can assist you with every step of your project, from concept to completion. Give us a call at 1-888-993-3757 or visit us online at Skutchi.com to browse our inventory of over 2000 high quality office products from America’s most trusted brands in commercial furniture and accessories.

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