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Settlers, vagrants and mutual indifference: unintended consequences of hot‐desking

Alison Hirst (University of Bedfordshire Business School, Bedford, UK)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 18 October 2011




The purpose of this paper is to provide a sociological analysis of emergent sociospatial structures in a hot‐desking office environment, where space is used exchangeably. It considers hot‐desking as part of broader societal shifts in the ownership of space.


This analysis is based on an ethnographically‐oriented investigation, in which data collection methods used were participant‐observation and interviewing. The analysis uses Lefebvre's conceptualisation of the social production of space and draws on the urban sociology literature.


The analysis first indicates that, in hot‐desking environments, there may be an emergent social structure distinguishing employees who settle in one place, and others who have to move constantly. Second, the practice of movement itself generates additional work and a sense of marginalisation for hot‐deskers.

Research limitations/implications

The paper does not provide a generalisable theory, but suggests that loss of everyday ownership of the workspace gives rise to particular practical and social tensions and shifts hot‐deskers' identification with the organisation.

Practical implications

Official requirements for mobility may result in a new social structure distinguishing settlers and hot‐deskers, rather than mobility being spread evenly.


The paper contributes to the literature on organisational spatiality by focusing on the spatial practices entailed in hot‐desking, and by contextualising hot‐desking within the wider spatial configuration of capitalism, in which space is used exchangeability in order to realise greater economic returns. Rather than using the popular “nomadic” metaphor to understand the experience of mobility at work, it uses a metaphor of vagrancy to highlight consequences of the loss of ownership of space.



Hirst, A. (2011), "Settlers, vagrants and mutual indifference: unintended consequences of hot‐desking", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 24 No. 6, pp. 767-788.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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