Hotelling Makes a Comeback

A number of years ago, “hotelling” was all the rage among managers. Companies were going to save money by taking away employees’ assigned desks or cubicles, giving them laptops (or “thin client” computers) and assigning the company’s office space on a temporary basis to whoever needed it.

Ten years ago, the technology wasn’t quite there yet to support this model. But it’s definitely there today. And hotelling is making a comeback. The Globe and Mail this week reported that IBM is moving to a hotelling model for all of its 19,000 employees in Canada – a major change for the 60% of its employees that currently have their own desks.

Although the benefits for companies are clear, there’s a lot of resistance to this from employees, as can be expected. One employee quoted in the article uses a decidedly low-tech method of making sure he doesn’t lose his preferred desk – he just leaves it messy every day.

The comments left below the Globe article are almost unanimously negative about the idea. It seems the common thread among those with positive experiences is that the hotelling model is combined with giving employees the freedom to work from home when appropriate.

It’s possible that most lawyers aren’t out of the office enough for a law firm to benefit from flexible office space arrangements. But it’s easy to think of ways that it could be put to good use – the one thing that comes to mind is a firm running (or renting) a satellite hotelling space in the suburbs for lawyers who could use it to avoid the commute downtown a couple of times a week. A change that’s good for the employee and the environment would be awfully hard to be resistant to.


  1. Companies would need to weigh on one hand, the cost associated with real estate, and on the other hand the cost associated with a reduced employee satisfaction rate. Although on paper this seems to be theoretically very advantageous for companies, it may backfire against them if they’re top talents feel disposable and ultimately take off.

  2. If done correctly, it can be beneficial for both employee and employer. I’m frankly surprised at the resistance; I don’t really think I’d have much of a problem with an arrangement like these. But my comforts are mostly digital: give me access to my personal settings, bookmarks, documents and research trails and I’m happy. Maybe I’m just not old enough to be set in my ways yet.