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22 October 2017
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Is anyone sitting here?

Typically, offices operate from 9 to 5 and analysis reveals that a some workstations are occupied less than 50 per cent of the time – time for FMs to address these ‘cold desks’.

8 April 2010 

The term ‘hot desk’ came about on board Nelson’s fleet where sailors on different watches would share bunks, a sailor getting up would be replaced by one climbing into what was a ‘warm’ or ‘hot’ bunk. The Royal Navy has continued to use this description these days for submarines where a shortage of space means that bunks are shared.

While the term hot desk is fairly well known and understood in the facilities world, the term ‘cold desk’ is not. Analysis of typical offices between 9 till 5 Monday to Friday, reveals that desks have varying occupancy or usage levels. In most cases usage will be around 50 per cent although this figure will often be even lower at the beginning, middle and end of the day.

The term ‘cold desk’ has been adopted to refer to a workstation that has an allocated user but no one sitting at it. There are many reasons why a desk might be ‘cold’. Across a typical year a static worker will be away from their desk for various reasons including annual leave, illness, training or meetings to name just a few reasons.

Typical desk usage levels of only 50 per cent often come as a surprise to senior management, the general perception is that their offices are about 80 per cent full. Until recently it has been an intensive and intrusive procedure for companies to measure desk usage. 

Most organisations have allocated desks for staff and as the organisation grows they start to run out of space. The cold desk system produces trend data that provides advance warning of buildings running out of space. Cold desk is also useful for establishing where space is still needed during downsizing exercises and it can help to resolve space disputes.

The typical method of analysis involved a person with a clipboard walking around an office area, perhaps at hourly intervals. This method isn’t always popular with staff for obvious reasons. The clipboard method also relies on an often unsupervised person carrying out the fairly monotonous task of collecting data over a substantial period of time, typically being about two weeks or more.

Results are subject to seasonal variation and holiday periods such as Christmas, Easter, mid and Summer School holiday periods all need to be avoided. Pandemics or transport problems could affect findings and a brief glimpse once an hour or less fails to provide a truly accurate usage figure. The low volume of readings does mean that someone who has gone to the vending machine or photocopier could be wrongly recorded as away from their desk for as much as a three hour period.

This new data collection system monitors the time that a desk is cold. It has been developed to measure desk usage and establish the really ‘cold’ desks in an organisation without the use of a floor walker with a clipboard. Technology currently utilised in data centres has been adapted and developed and has resulted in the new clipboard free data collection system. 

The cold desk system has several versions and can also have ‘geographical certainty’ (who is where and when) or manage power to the desk (enabling automatic power-down when not in use).  The swipe system accepts standard issue security cards to provide geographical certainty, which provides benefits around charge back, location maps, accurate CAFM data and recognition of embedded teams.

The cold desk system also uses discrete sensors mounted under desks that can collect real time data relating to workstation utilisation. The sensors are quick and easy to install and can be left in place for as long as is needed. The technology collects real time data across a typical working day or over a 24/7 period. Data collected provides an entirely thorough picture rather than the ‘snap shots’ across a day that the clipboard method results in. The system can capture data for any part of an organisation whether this is workstations, meeting rooms or even break-out spaces. The reports generated are in easy to read charts that are available over a secure web portal. The portal creates the possibility of reviewing sites in remote locations providing a truly global picture of space utilisation across an entire organisation.

The introduction of the cold desk system will enable your organisation to move from just having a workplace strategy to having an ‘evolving’ workplace strategy.

Cold desk enables buildings to be run at a greater density, where a well run building might reach as much as 88 per cent density, cold desk enables density levels well into the mid 90s.

Bernard Crouch is a consultant to space planning and move management company BGM Group 



The benefits of new cold desk technology:

• measure space usage remotely without ‘floor walkers’
• measure usage up to ten times per second 24/7
• potential to identify geographically who is where and when
• automatic desk power down when not in use
• easy to read data via a secure web portal equilibrium with your IT resources the normal way even if you are seeking to challenge a rateable value.