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HCR Law Events

10 January 2021

The myriad challenges of hot desking and reduced office space

New research, published in our Future Workspaces report, shows that collaborative working is one of the things people are most concerned about missing out on when they work from home.

As Claire Batsford, interim Chief Operating Officer of a Housing Association, says: “Working from home sometimes, gives me the kind of balance in my life that I want and gives me the chance to do the kind of work which needs quiet time without interruption. But remote workers don’t develop at the same pace as people in a main office – they don’t get the benefit of other people’s experience or the chance to bounce ideas off people and get feedback straight away.”

One solution aimed at facilitating opportunities for collaborative working is hot desking. Love it or loathe it, it’s certainly a talking point.

At the time of writing, government guidance actively dissuades us from sharing hot desks in order to limit the spread of Covid-19. As Kate Cooper, head of research, policy and standards at The Institute of Leadership & Management, quoted in Personnel Today, says: “By definition a hot desk environment provides less space than [the total number of] employees, which offers [a] cost saving. Yet there will always be days when there are peaks and more people come in than there is space. Before Covid-19, people shared desks, sat in unusual or shared spaces and managed as best they could. That is no longer a solution.”

Hot desking has always been a matter of much debate in offices up and down the country. When exploring reasons for why people seem to dislike hot desking, David Bellamy, Founder and CEO of Happiness Lab, a business dedicated to helping organisations to establish healthier, more productive cultures, says: “The lack of personal space associated with hot desking reduces our sense of belonging and connection to our workplace. If that’s not enough, because it is normally accompanied with clear desk policies there’s a compounding effect – removing our sense of individuality and lowering our status – from being human to a resource (or something like that). Having our own space with personal items is generally associated with a positive effect. Essentially, we’re helping people create something that feels familiar, maybe a little like home.”

And if this works, and more people begin to visit the office less and co-working spaces more, it will leave employers in a sticky situation. Whatever desk policy they have, they will likely have too many desks for a new hybrid working approach, meaning a surge in companies wanting to get out of their commercial leases to downsize or relocate.

So what can you do if you have a commercial lease you no longer want?

The first thing to do is check whether you have a break clause in your lease. About half the leases we deal with have such a clause. If you have a break clause, this represents your best option for leaving early. The first step is to seek professional legal advice – break clauses are usually complex and there is a very technical process required to execute it. If the break clause is served incorrectly or there’s a mistake on it, your ability to leave early may be lost, leaving you with a property you no longer require.

If you do not have a break clause, your other options for leaving a lease early would be to “assign” the lease to another party, sublet, or try to agree to hand it back to the landlord with a deed of surrender. These have varying advantages to them, especially around how much ongoing liability you may have for the remainder of the lease.

When assessing your options for a lease exit, speak to your advisor as soon as possible, especially if you think you have a break right, as these dates are ones not to miss. We’re here to help.

We would also like to give you access to the full 95-page Future Workspaces report, of which commercial leases are one of many topics discussed and debated. Download your free copy here.

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About the Author
Philip Parkinson, Partner, Head of Real Estate in Worcester and London

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