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Unassigned workspaces: A growing trend

31047571 - businesswoman addressing meeting around boardroom tableHave you heard about the trend toward unassigned seating in offices nationwide? Nearly one-quarter of employers surveyed by real estate services firm CBRE said they have implemented the concept of unassigned seating, and 52 percent of the rest of the companies surveyed said they plan to do so within the next three years.

Instead of assigned work stations — desks or cubicles for example — unassigned seating focuses on work stations that workers can occupy on a first-come first-served opportunity each day. Employees may work at home one day and find an open workstation on days they are in the office. Or they may work solely in the office, finding an open workstation from day to day. It’s a bit like the concept of a cafe — there’s plenty of wifi, electrical outlets, tables and chairs and perhaps a sofa or two and/or a big table on which multiple people can type away on their laptops.

What’s the appeal of unassigned seating? A number of studies show a range of potential benefits for companies. Research has shown that unassigned seating often fosters increased innovation and collaboration. It also can be a cost-saving move that works well for companies that employ a significant number of employees who work at home part or all of the time.

Of those companies in CBRE’s survey that said they were moving toward unassigned seating, 38 percent said they planned to go with a partially unassigned seating environment, while 14 percent expected to adopt 100 percent unassigned seating for all employees.

There are unique issues to unassigned seating environments, of course. For some employees who have worked decades in a traditional office environment, they may have a difficult time adjusting to not having a specific desk and cubicle to work in each day. Another is privacy and security. Companies such as Citi, which uses unassigned seating in some of its locations, provides lockers for employees to store personal belongings.

Most companies with unassigned seating are also mostly or completely paperless offices, which eliminates or reduces the need for much paper storage. To accommodate private meetings or phone calls, many companies that offer unassigned seating also offer private meeting rooms.