Office Hoteling: Are Reserved Workspaces Right for Your Hybrid Company Needs?

Adam Hamel Headshot
Adam M. Hamel
Director, Litigation Department and Vice Chair, Employment Practice Group
Published: North Shore Chamber's Impact Magazine
April 29, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way Americans work, probably forever. When government quarantine orders required companies to shutter their offices and send employees home, employers soon found out that their workers could be productive away from the office. And while employees tire of endless Zoom meetings, many have not only become accustomed to remote work, but they enjoy the benefits it provides.

The easing of pandemic restrictions has led employers to rethink what the return to the office looks like. Many employers are adopting hybrid work arrangements that allow employees to work parts of their week remotely.

The traditional practice of having dedicated office workspaces for every employee is shifting, and a lot of expensive commercial real estate is going unused as a result.

One solution that employers are implementing is hoteling. In a hoteling arrangement, workspaces are not permanently assigned for the exclusive use of a single employee. Instead, employees reserve unassigned workspaces for those days that they will be in the office.

The hotel workspaces are equipped with standard desks, chairs, phones and laptop docking stations. The spaces are not personalized, and employees take their belongings with them at the end of their reserved time.

The concept isn’t new. Consulting and accounting firms, along with other companies with mobile workforces, have been using hoteling since the 1990s. But as hybrid work arrangements become more commonplace, hoteling is becoming more popular. One study found that about 30% of companies have considered hoteling.

The primary benefit of hoteling is a significant reduction in real estate costs. For most companies, real estate is one of the biggest expenses after salaries and benefits.

Hoteling can also allow employers the flexibility to use their offices in creative ways by allocating more space for collaboration and socialization. The approach helps to keep the workplace vibrant and active, rather than seeming like a ghost town with hallways full of vacant offices.

But hoteling does have its drawbacks. Some of these are mundane practical issues that can be solved relatively easily, but others go deeper and present larger challenges.

One of the first challenges is finding the right ratio of workspaces to employees.  Employers will need to carefully consider how many employees are likely to be in the office on any given day and ensure that there are enough spaces available. Headaches about scheduling can be addressed with software solutions and consistent communication.

Employers also need to have a plan in place to keep hoteling spaces clean and sanitized between users.

Other issues — like the possible negative effects on employee morale or erosion of corporate culture — can be more serious and harder to address. Employers considering hoteling should think carefully about how the change will be received by employees and take proactive steps to ensure that the transition is smooth.

Employers should also be mindful of potential legal issues arising from hoteling. One of these issues is adaptations to workspaces provided as reasonable accommodations for disabled employees, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act or state antidiscrimination statutes. Employers may need to continue to provide dedicated workspaces for certain employees who need specialized furniture or equipment in order to do their jobs.

Another legal issue to consider is the need to protect trade secrets or confidential information or to allow for private spaces for conversations regarding sensitive matters.

A third issue is not just limited to hoteling, but can be a significant concern in any hybrid work arrangement. It involves ensuring compliance with wage and hour laws, including those surrounding timekeeping, payment of wages and payroll tax reporting. These issues become increasingly complex and require more vigilance as workers spend more time working from home and in satellite offices that can be located in various states, which can have different legal requirements.

Hoteling and other hybrid work arrangements may function well for some employers, but they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Before adopting the approach, employers should carefully consider the issues and bring all stakeholders into the conversation.