What Is Desk Booking Software (And How to Implement It Successfully)

Joe Du Bey
July 28, 2021

A hybrid work strategy has become increasingly popular for companies over the past several years, with a recent boost from the changes in work norms related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This flexible work model is widely seen as the best option to resolve the great tension of 85% of office workers noting that they are looking forward to a return to the office despite 29% of the workforce threatening to quit if forced to abandon remote work entirely. This trend towards flexibility was already underway prior to COVID-19, buffeted by forces such as globalization of the workforce and the development of enabling technology.

For companies considering a hybrid model, it is critical to have the right processes and tools in place to enable successful implementation. From the consideration of factors such as whether office attendance on certain days should be mandatory or optional to whether you enable different policies by geography, there is much to determine from a policy perspective. From the technology side, no tool will be more important to your successful rollout of a flexible strategy than Desk Booking software.   

Desk Booking software, also commonly known as hot desking or hoteling software, enables teams to easily book a spot in the office on days that they plan to come in. This visual product works by showing your team a map of the office and making it simple for them to choose the right desk based on their work needs and the location of their colleagues. 

This guide will explain in more detail what Desk Booking software does, how to most effectively implement it at your company, tips for successfully gaining adoption from your team, and more!

What is Desk Booking software?

Desk Booking is a software tool that makes it easy for your team to select a seat in an office. This tool does so by laying out the maps of the locations, providing filtering so people can choose a spot with the right amenities such as a standing desk or a double monitor, and enabling coordination among teammates.

Such software is often accessible via a native or web application, or even as an integration to a messaging tool such as Slack, making it easy for your team to select a seat on the go. 

A rose by any other name: Desk Booking vs. Hot Desking vs. Hoteling vs. Free Addressing

There are a number of names that people use largely synonymously with Desk Booking. While these refer to similar approaches to a hybrid work system, there are a few particularities: 

  • Desk Booking –– Reserving a seat in workspaces that often do not have a permanent occupant 
  • Hot Desking –– Hot desking is sometimes used in reference to a first-come, first-serve system where employees select their desk upon arrival
  • Hoteling –– Hoteling allows employees to reserve desks in advance for a specific duration of time. This option may be higher-touch with a central administrator to help with check-in, wayfinding, and check-out.
  • Free Addressing –– Roughly analogous to Desk Booking, the Free Addressing moniker is sometimes used instead, particularly outside of the United States

Despite the small differences that can exist between these offerings, most people use these terms interchangeably to represent a process by which unassigned workspaces can be reserved and used. 

Who uses Desk Booking software?

The companies that use Desk Booking tools

Desk Booking or Hot Desking software is typically used by any company that is pursuing a hybrid strategy and has any of the following characteristics:

  • Any seats available for reservation that are not permanently assigned
  • Multiple offices or sufficiently large offices that companies would like to provide a visual map / floor plan to their teams for easy navigation
  • Companies that wish to provide an app for employees to improve their experience, with Desk Booking being among the functionality offered in the employee experience app

The roles that purchase Desk Booking tools

The primary purchaser of Desk Booking tools within most companies is the leader or senior team member from the Human Resources or People Operations function. This trend has increased over the last 5 years, with HR taking on more ownership around all elements of a holistic employee experience, far beyond the traditional scope of the function.

Other functions that often are involved in vetting or leading this purchasing decision include IT, Employee Experience, Facilities Management, and Office Management. We have also seen a trend towards the creation of a Workplace team, which can often include a number of these functions under its umbrella.

Benefits of Desk Booking software

Using Desk Booking tools has several key benefits for companies.

Improves employee experience by enabling a hybrid strategy

Desk Booking is the great enabler of the popular hybrid workplace policy. Since COVID-19 changed our work norms and gave a majority of the information economy its first true taste of remote work, there has been a desire to retain the flexibility of some work from home (WFH) while getting back to seeing colleagues in real life (IRL). Thus, the greatest benefit of Desk Booking is not really the software at all, it is the lifestyle it enables.

Saves money by enabling reduced office footprint

Hot Desking software can be used in conjunction with a hybrid policy that enables real estate / office rent savings. With potentially the creation of a staggered employee schedule or A/B days, and certain employees perhaps going entirely remote, companies can suddenly find themselves needing less space for their full team on any given day. By making some or even all of your offices have desks that can be booked, you can enable rent savings and a more flexible outcome.

Getting started with Desk Booking

Desk booking strategy considerations

Implementing desk booking successfully requires forethought and planning. It’s important to think through the key factors that will influence the placement of desks, the grouping of teams, and the movement of workers. 

Here are four key considerations to help you effectively plan a desk booking process:

  • Capacity –– Ask yourself what capacity is comfortable for now and how this will increase as you continue to grow. 
  • Strategy –– Which employees may need to have permanent desks? Will certain departments need particular kinds of workstations (ie. privacy vs. collaboration). Try to understand the unique needs of various employees before deciding on a layout.
  • Floor plan –– This is the blueprint for your system, so this is a great place to invest significant time working through a preferred layout. Find a solution that allows for easy edits so you can update the floor plan as things inevitably change.
  • Movement patterns –– Visualize the paths people take around the office. Where do they congregate, where is it louder or quieter, where is it easier to focus and where is the social center? Doing this helps you identify any general issues with the layout and optimize around movement patterns.

Once you answer the questions above, you can categorize spaces for ease of use when booking a desk. Indicate which desks and other spaces will be available for reservation and which will be permanently spoken for. Be clear about which desks are reserved for a specific department or type of worker. 

While it’s important to think ahead, don’t fret about getting it perfect on the first try. There’s no single way to plan an office layout, and the best modern tools make it easy to iterate and make adjustments on an ongoing basis. Leverage the following three tips to help you continually iterate and evolve:

  • Get input. Regularly ask your employees to share feedback on the layout and process. 
  • Check your data. Don’t make decisions blindly – identify key measures of success to understand what’s working and what is not. Pro tip: Many desk booking solutions provide analytics about patterns and trends, including which desks get the most occupants, which days and times are busiest, and which employees might need a permanent desk. 
  • Iterate. Continue to update and evolve your system based on the feedback and data you collect. 

Key features in Desk Booking software

Desk booking software options range from simple to complex. What is right for a given office depends on the type and complexity of the space management needed as well as the projection for future growth. 

When evaluating desk booking software, these are a few key features to look for:

  • Floor plan. –– Some desk booking software allows users to upload a floor plan, while others include an editing tool that the admin can use to create a floor plan within the software. Consider which will work best for your needs.
  • Neighborhoods –– This feature allows administrators to set up clusters based on specific teams, categories, or job functions.
  • Integrations –– Look for the ability to connect your desk booking software with other important tools that employees use in the flow of work.
  • Desk selection –– Give team members the option to choose which desk they want to reserve and for how long.
  • Filter for Assets / Amenities –– See which locations have standing desks, dual monitors, etc.
  • Social elements –– Make it easy for your team to see where their colleagues are sitting and even coordinate with them in the software as desired.
  • Wayfinding –– Employees can see the desk they are assigned without needing verbal instructions from a receptionist or guide and find each other in the office.
  • Reporting –– Metrics around how desks and other workspaces are being used can help you make the space as delightful and productive as possible.
  • Implementation –– Ask the vendor how long it will take to get up and running. Implementation times can vary significantly for Desk Booking by vendor, ranging from same day to months.
  • Comprehensiveness –– Is the vendor you are considering able to provide other workplace products that you may need immediately or down the road? 
  • Price –– A major area of differentiation among vendors, both in terms of duration of contract and magnitude of cost. 
  • Design / UX –– Depending on how much you wish for your team to use the software, you may choose a different vendor. The most modern Desk Booking vendors have a delightful, mobile-friendly interface.

Nailing the employee roll out

Once you’ve chosen your vendor, you are almost there! Now just follow the final steps for a successful roll out.

  1. Create your settings –– You’ll want to update all of the settings to reflect your company. Which team members to give admin rights to, where offices are located, etc.
  2. Upload or create your floor plans –– Enrich the software with your floor plans and indicate in the product which desks are bookable and which, if any, are permanent. 
  3. Create a uniform environment –– Make sure that all of your desks are equally inviting, so your team members aren’t fighting over a coveted few
  4. Connect your integrations –– Work with your Desk Booking vendor to ensure that all of the integrations you care about are ready to go!
  5. Test Internally –– Using just the internal working team that purchased the software, try out the software as an end-user. Ensure you see the right kind of messaging when desks are booked, that your integrations are set up properly, etc.
  6. Share the game plan with your full team clearly –– Before the software goes live, we see the most successful companies clearly explain why the company is using Desk Booking software, how it works, and where to go with any questions
  7. Lead by example –– Make sure you get management buy-in and they are ready to set an example by using the software
  8. Collaborate with your Desk Booking vendor -– If anything is not perfect in the rollout or you just have questions, do not hesitate to reach out to your Desk Booking vendor. They want to make sure you have an amazing experience!

While implementation timing can and should vary for a company with 30 employees vs. one with 30,000 team members, we find that modern offerings should still be implemented in weeks, not months.

More context: Desk Booking is part of the Workplace Software (IWMS) ecosystem

Technically speaking, Desk Booking is one product offered within a suite of workplace software, sometimes referred to as an Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS). An IWMS is a suite of workplace software tools used to enhance employee experience, facilities management, and team productivity. 

IWMS tools are comprehensive and enable a company to manage many or even all key workplace functions from one central platform. Some IWMS vendors are both comprehensive and modular, allowing customers to buy one product like Desk Booking a la carte without requiring customers to pay for all of the other products, too. 

An IWMS typically includes the following key software products:

  • Desk Booking
  • Visitor Management
  • Conference Room Scheduling
  • Move management
  • Internal Ticketing
  • Mail and Deliveries Management

An IWMS might also be used to help with the management of a real estate portfolio, facilities assets, sustainability, and other aspects of modern workplace management

Other products often purchased with Desk Booking software

Desk Booking or Hot Desking solutions can work best when in harmony with one or more additional workplace software products. Since you will be rolling out a Desk Booking native app to your team, why not make it as useful as possible? The following are some of the most popular add ons:

  • Book conference rooms –– A Conference Room Scheduling product is an intuitive add on from your workplace software vendor since employees typically want access to booking both desks and conference rooms within their office
  • Invite visitors –– Visitor Management is a useful addition within the employee native app, as you make it easy for your team to invite guests, share wifi information, and see when their visitors have arrived
  • Wayfind –– Especially for companies with larger spaces or multiple offices, it can be helpful to allow your team to wayfind using an employee app. This way, team members do not get lost trying to locate their colleague, find a conference room, or track down the closest bathroom
  • Take a health questionnaire –– To keep their teams safe from COVID-19, we see companies often purchase our COVID Team Safety product to ensure they can ask each employee basic health questions that determine eligibility to enter the office, set office capacity limits, and perform contact tracing if someone becomes sick

Integrations that are popular with Desk Booking software

You can make your offices run smoother with certain integrations for your Desk Booking technology. Some of the most popular ones include:

  • HRIS –– Make it easier for you to seamlessly have accurate employee information, including role and location, by integrating your Desk Booking tool with your HRIS
  • Access Control –– When someone selects a desk, you can make it so your access control system knows to let that team member enter when they swipe their card. This integration is doubly useful when paired with our COVID Team Safety offering, as it also knows to not allow entry to someone who fails a health questionnaire  
  • Messaging (Slack or Teams) –– If your team is comprised of heavy Slack or Teams users, you will probably want notifications and even core workflows such as booking a desk available through your messaging platform
  • Sensors –– For larger companies, we see significant interest in integrating “people counter” sensors so that you can be as smart as possible about how your spaces are being used

Desk Booking alternatives

Within the universe of companies that make Desk Booking software, there are two main types of vendors when you consider your alternatives: the startups and the established. 

Among the startups, there tends to be greater attention to design / UX, employee experience, and a modern aesthetic. These tools tend to feel more consumerized and are typically available at a relatively affordable price point. Customers for these newer companies can range from an early stage startup to a publicly traded market leader. One example vendor in this category is our company, Eden Workplace. We are the fastest growing Desk Booking provider and IWMS, serving over 1,000 customers today with our offerings. We differentiate ourselves on our product comprehensiveness, competitive and a la carte pricing, useful integrations, and delightful and simple design.

Among the established players, there tends to be greater configurability for the mega-enterprise, which tends to have exacting needs and requires significant implementation services. These solutions tend to come at a higher price point and implementation fees to reflect the greater complexity. One such example would be IBM Trirega, an established and market leading Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS) for the Fortune 100.

Desk Booking in Gartner Magic Quadrant

Desk Booking does not have its own analysis in Gartner today. That said, it technically falls under the Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS) category.

Desk booking paves the way for the future of work

As the hybrid office continues to develop, it’s critical to have the tools in place to support this system at scale. A desk booking solution is the key to maintaining a successful hybrid office. We hope you now feel informed about Desk Booking solutions and ready to empower yourself and your team!

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