Sharing office desks is likely to be a fixture of the post-pandemic office space. Gartner found that 59 percent of business leaders surveyed said they expect shared office desks for at least a quarter of their employees who return after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“An increase in remote working will meaningfully change office space configurations, which will subsequently affect employees, finances and corporate real estate,” says Tammy Shoham, director in the Gartner Finance practice. “The most obvious consequence is that firms will need less office space per employee. While it is difficult to accurately predict the long-term effects that it will have on property markets, short-term impacts are already being felt. Many more office workers will need to get used to not having a desk of their own. The space this frees can make room for things that are more useful to employees, such as meeting rooms, or collaboration and amenity spaces.”

Most respondents expected that more than 25 percent of the workforce would be using shared desks in the next one to two years, and 36 percent anticipate that the majority of employees will be sharing desks. This is a significant shift from the pre-pandemic workplace, in which 80 percent of those surveyed reported that less than 25 percent of employees were sharing desks. While many had moved teams such as sales functions, which were rarely in the office, into shared desks, most organizations continued to provide dedicated desks prior to the pandemic.

“There’s little doubt that times have changed,” says Shoham. “The challenge for organizations will be to enact this change in a way that employees feel they have gained, not lost.”

Gartner recommends that business leaders consider certain tactics when implementing shared desks in their workplaces. These include “Neighborhooding,” an arrangement whereby employees sit in shared seats within a designated area of the office. Neighborhoods enable team-building and other cultural aspects of an office continue in the new normal.

Gartner also recommends seat reservation technology, which are applications that let employees reserve seating, can help relieve uncertainties associated with when to come into the office and whether they will find space to sit. These applications also reduce the administrative burden of managing shared seating. Also, a clean desk policy, which some offices already had pre-pandemic, will become more strictly enforced. Anything left on the desk at the end of the day should be removed, so that the workplace is kept clean and tidy. This will also ensure the shared seating is in a good state for the next user.

It is likely that workplace hygiene procedures will continue on an ongoing basis, even post-pandemic. Gartner recommends organizations should provide bleach wipes throughout the office space, and require employees to wipe their desk down when they come in and before they leave to promote health and cleanliness in the office. However, organizations should offer employees in shared desks with some space, such as a locker, where they can securely store a limited amount of work materials or personal items.

“The offices for the hybrid workforce of the future will cater to fewer employees at once,” says Shoham. “Shared seating will be the way to avoid having the office feel like a ghost town when employees return. In the long run, transitioning to shared seating is an important first step toward optimizing the use of office space and preserving the many positive aspects of pre-pandemic office life.”