Life has changed considerably since pre-COVID and that includes the workplace. From lockdowns and remote working through to hybrid working in which employees split their time between the home and the office, the logistics of managing people’s return to the office is considerable. Not least because desk demands have changed, with people requiring a workspace less regularly, and so it’s up to office managers to determine who may need a desk and when. At a time when many offices have reduced their desk numbers in line with social distancing guidelines, this can provide quite the challenge! Charities are no different with many juggling workspaces for office-based/hybrid employees and volunteers. However this task needn’t be stressful as desk booking software can remove the onus of managing hot desking areas. But what is desk booking software exactly? Does your charity really need it and what should you look for in a good desk booking system? Let’s find out.
What is desk booking software?
Desk booking software, also known as a desk booking system, hot desk booking software and a workspace booking app, are used specifically to manage the booking of desks, facilities and other workspaces in offices. This desk booking reservation system allows people to book desks on certain days, providing administrators such as office managers, with the visibility of seeing who is in the office and when. The features will vary from one solution to another, however the overriding purpose is to take away the onus of desk management from office managers, instead putting the responsibility of booking office space onto employees. This reduces administration while providing organisations with more control over the flow of people in and out of their offices, ensuring everyone always has a desk to work at while reducing the risk of overcrowding.
Does my charity need a desk booking system?
Small charities with limited office space and a handful of office-based employees may find that desk booking software is unnecessary. Allocated desks might be most practical or the logistics of managing a hot desk area (in which employees don’t have their own permanent desks), may be deemed simple and hassle-free. However, if you use office space, have over 20 members of staff/volunteers who visit the office, and there are regular fluctuations in who is attending the office and when, even a simple desk booking solution may prove useful.
COVID aside, there are some charities who regularly see massive changes in the number of staff requiring office space. For instance, one London-based aid charity sees staff numbers fluctuate massively throughout the year. As soon as a disaster strikes, the number of office desks diminishes as employees and volunteers are sent to the disaster zone. If your charity also witnesses huge fluctuations in office-based numbers, a desk booking management system could prove a lifeline during the busiest times.
Do your existing software systems have desk booking functionality?
If you’ve decided that desk booking software would be helpful for your charity, you may first look at whether your existing applications have integrated desk booking functionality. Let’s look at a couple of the most common office applications.
Desk booking in Microsoft Office 365
Microsoft Bookings can be used with both Office 365 and Microsoft Teams and integrates with Outlook. It comes standard with Microsoft 365 Business Standard and Microsoft 365 Business Premium. However this app isn’t actually for desk bookings, it’s for managing and scheduling appointments with people, such as colleagues, donors or volunteers, for example, allowing them to schedule time with you on a bookings page.
Having said this, it’s possible to use the platform for desk bookings, and some smart solution architects have figured out how to adapt the solution accordingly. The problem is that this is a work around. Microsoft Bookings was never developed as a desk booking tool and so the office administrator will need more than a basic knowledge of the solution, so that they can adapt it accordingly and then train-up staff on how to use it. Plus, the administrator will need to find ways to plug gaps so that the solution works as smoothly as possible, adding to the administrative burden. For example, there’s no way of showing a floor plan of where each desk is located, and the booking confirmation email will not show which hot desk has been booked, potentially creating confusion and disputes. So use Microsoft Bookings with caution, especially if you don’t have an IT expert you can call on for guidance.
Desk booking in Excel
Some people might look to use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets as a means to manage desk bookings, and a number of templates are available, as well as tutorials on how to create a desk booking spreadsheet. If you have the time and expertise, this may be your preferred tool of choice. However, as many will know, Excel is very time-consuming, prone to error and restrictive. It still requires significant manual work to administer and as such, might not always provide a real-time view of office occupancy. Therefore, unless you’re a small charity with very basic desk booking needs, it’s advisable to avoid Excel as your desk booking software of choice.
How to choose the best desk booking software for your charity
There are a number of specific desk booking systems for offices on the market, with some being more suitable for charities than others. This is what you need to look out for:
Simple is best. Don’t be tempted by all the latest ‘bells and whistles’ as the focus needs to be on ease of use – how can it simply and effectively manage your office desks in a hybrid world? Also consider:
- How easy is it for users to sign-on? Is there a single sign-on option such as by using your Microsoft 365 password, for example, and can users also be sent a link as a quick way to sign-on? If there’s a lengthy sign-in process, the solution simply won’t be used.
- Can staff view floorplans and maps when booking desks?
- Does it allow staff to add bookings to personal calendars?
- Does it provide unlimited bookings of unlimited desks and resources or is there a cap?
- Are there filter options so that employees can book desks by location and facilities? Teammate bookings should also be searchable.
- Is there quick and easy capacity and usage reporting?
The desk booking app must be available for all to use, including field staff/volunteers who may only occasionally make it into the office. This means ensuring it can be used on any device – mobile, tablet, laptop. It should also provide people with the option to book desks and resources to meet their specific needs including desks with disability access, telephones, power points, WiFi, monitors, sit/standing options, plus desks that are near to teammates. Some solutions will also allow car parking spaces to be booked at the same time as desks.
As mentioned, ease of use is a must. The hot desking app must be easy to set-up and administer, and intuitive enough so that no or minimal training is needed.
Charities are clearly cost-conscious and can’t be seen to be frivolous with donor’s money. This is why it’s always smart to consider free desk booking software that ticks all the boxes, such as Juggl Desks, which provides a ‘freemium’ option for charities. Even better when it doesn’t come with frustrating conditions of use such as limited users and desks. Also pay attention to trial periods (if there’s a cost involved you want to try before you buy), and flexible payment plans so you can spread the cost.
Pay as much attention to the supplier as the desk booking software itself. After all, if the supplier goes into administration, the system will be unsupported. So investigate whether the supplier is established or a start-up and how long they have been trading. If you’re a UK charity, for example, check that there is a UK support desk and/or dedicated account manager. It’s also worth finding out where the data will be stored and whether they’re GDPR compliant. The more questions you ask of the supplier, the more confident you’ll feel about whether they are the right provider for you.
A final word
Like all organisations, charities need to look to improve efficiencies and maximise productivity while considering the specific needs of its employees and other stakeholders. With more and more charities managing a hybrid workforce, finding ways to effectively and economically manage desk bookings is key. A plethora of desk booking technology is available, however choosing the best desk booking app for your charity’s needs requires careful consideration, from ease of use and price through to supplier reliability.