Two People Sitting in Hot Desk Office

Desk Management Strategies For The Return To Office

Many cities are still in the grips of the pandemic with multi-wave resurgence in cases. However, some cities have decided to loosen the rules on stay home notices and are encouraging the economy by opening up the offices for work.

With the pandemic still raging, offices will begin opening up to welcome staff but with many measures and controls in place. Since human-to-human interaction increases the likelihood of the virus spreading, it is important to ensure that visitors to the office feel safe, secure and confident. Management need to ensure that they are not unduly exposed to any contagion.

Office spaces such as desks and meeting rooms become a focal point of attention as they can cause the spreading of infection if not properly managed. As a result, a solid plan is needed to ensure how desks are managed and used.

We wanted to find out about the different desk management strategies that offices are planning when they allow staff to return to work.

Based on our interactions, there are three broad strategies for zoning and managing desks in the office.

Fixed Desk Zones

This is a very popular plan among small and medium sized offices where users are encouraged to sit at specific desks throughout. By fixing a desk to a user, it becomes very clear on who is seated next to someone, how long are they seated and when do their timings overlap. Control of office visits becomes easier by managing the scheduling of the staff. Management is confident that the staff who comes to office is expected to be located at a fixed desk.

Free Seating Zones

This is the least popular plan among offices. Unfortunately, with the rise in co-working spaces, this has somewhat become a norm in such offices where desk occupation is on a first-come-first-served basis. In a free for all space, closely monitoring and tracking of user movement becomes very imperative. A solid solution to ensure that tracing of user movement and their interactions can be put together is a necessity.

Individual Desk Zones

This seems to be the pragmatic plan among large offices with multiple floors and multiple department within floors. In this case, desks are zoned and demarcated and assigned to specific group of users. So, users of a group only have the flexibility to book within their allocated zones. Cross zone booking is prevented through disabling their ability to book other desks through a desk booking software. By zoning, management balances the need to collaborate while keeping safety measures in place. In an Individualized Desk Zone, staff are expected to work without interaction to reduce the chances of contagion.

Group Desk Zones

This plan is used in conjunction with the Individual Desk Zone Plan where certain groups of desks are arranged for closed group work with a fixed limit of users who can occupy those spaces. Naturally, these groups of desks are isolated from the rest, limited in terms of seating capacity and with wider separation between desks. These can also include huddle spaces, private offices and meeting rooms where interaction between multiple users is the primary purpose of occupation. For this group of desks, it is necessary that the frequency of cleaning is more than others.

Non-Use Desk Zones

These are desks that cannot be used under any circumstances. These could be desks that are near the aisle or corridors or at the pantry. Since occupation of such desks can increase the likelihood of the infection spreading, they should be closed off from any reservation.

Factors That Influence Zoning Strategy

While there are many ways to zone and group desks, organizations can use any one or a combination of the above zoning to come up with an optimal desk management plan. The strategy to take depends on several factors such as:

The nature of the business

Business such as auditing and law firms that require isolated work environments can go for 90% Fixed Desk Zones with 10% Group Desk Zones for the occasional interaction. For startups and hi-technology companies that require a lot of interaction a 75% to 25% ratio can be allocated between Fixed desk and Group Desk zones.

The culture

An extremely heirarchical structure of the organization typically has Fixed Desk zoning for senior management while the Group Desk Zoning can happen at the operational level. Further more, within a specific department or section, there can be further sub-classification of zones depending on the team size and interaction level. For example, field agents can be allocated a less number of Free Seating Zones while office professionals are provided with Individual Desk Zones and Group Desk Zones.

The office layout

the office layout plays a very important role on how one can restructure of reorganize the space within the office. If it is an open plan office, then rearrangement of the desks will be fairly simple. However, if the office is very much cubile based, then there is very little that can be done. Having said that cubicle based offices actually have built in seperation between staff which means that not much thought needs to be put in place in zoning the space other than just reshuffling the staff for safe distancing.

Other factors

other factors such as regulatory requirements, building policy, staff strength and demographics can all play a role in the decision making process.

While the number of variables are a lot, it is important to start somewhere with a basic strategy and evolve it based on real-world feedback.


In this article, we have shed some light on how desks are to be organized in the office and what are the basic set of configurations in zoning as well as factors that help you in deciding what kind of combination of zoning that you need to undertake for your organization.