Having a desk of one’s own was once a staple of American office culture, an opportunity to indulge in a modicum of decorative self-expression in the otherwise monotonous workplace setting. But for the 3,300 employees of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), personal workspaces have become a relic of the past after an “innovative” cost-cutting measure replaced them with an office-wide desk-sharing program known as “hoteling.”Employees now must reserve a workspace on a weekly or daily basis in advance through an online booking system. Employees can also book shared spaces for meetings and group projects, and a new instant-messaging system helps displaced workers stay in touch with former cubicle-mates.Proponents say that the change could save the federal government millions in real estate costs and boost productivity by encouraging more employees to work from home.But not everyone is thrilled with the change. The New York Times reports: Some employees—none of whom wanted to be identified complaining about the changes imposed by their superiors—said they found the new system inconvenient, cumbersome or bad for morale. Without a permanent desk, they said, they feel less connected to the agency and their co-workers.For the moment the jury is still out on the program’s success, but other federal agencies are watching closely, according to the Times. The Department of Homeland Security, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Department of Agriculture and the Fish and Wildlife Service all have similar pilot programs or are considering implementing desk-sharing themselves.
Ethan Corey is a writer and researcher based in New York. His work has appeared in The Nation, Rolling Stone and MEL magazine.