What if you had to reserve your desk at work?

modern office space

When you "go to the office" there's an understanding that you'll work at the same desk every day. Your spot ... where you'll sit in your chair and see pictures of your dog and your kids.

But at some companies, there is no assigned seating. Instead, employees must reserve a work space every day -- be it a desk, office, quiet pod or meeting room -- whatever suits the type of work they need to do that day.

It's called hoteling.

A more extreme form of this work-wherever model is called "beach toweling." No reservations accepted. Employees just claim the space they want when they come in. If they're going to be away for a couple of hours, they have to pack their stuff and find a new space when they get back.

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Hoteling and beach toweling aren't new. But they are becoming more prevalent as more companies let employees work remotely.

In fact, they usually function best when at least a quarter of employees will be working elsewhere on any given day -- either at home, at a client's or at a ski chalet.

"I don't see companies moving to hoteling and still expecting everyone to be in five days a week," said Cali Yost, a flexible workplace strategist who runs Work+LifeFit Inc.

Hoteling and beach toweling can save companies money since they don't need to buy or rent as much real estate. "Who wants to pay for all those desks?" Yost said.

And assuming the arrangement is a happy, efficient one for staffers, productivity may improve.

The quid pro quo for employees is the flexibility to work where they want -- on site and off.

What's more, hoteling flattens the power structure. No one "has" an office with a window. Anyone can reserve one.

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Maryella Gockel has worked at global consulting firm EY for 35 years. She said she hasn't had a permanent office for the past decade.

As a member of a global team, Gockel often works from home, in part because she has to be on early morning and late night calls with colleagues in different time zones.

Of course, creatures of habit may not love the "work wherever" arrangement.

What if you want -- or need -- to go to the office every day?

If you work in the office at least three days a week, often you're allowed to make a long-term reservation for the same space if you want, Gockel said.

At EY, the only stipulation is that whenever you're not there, you have to make that space available for someone else's use. Break out the Clorox Disinfecting Wipes.

Where do you keep your stuff?

Lockers are typical. And if you pretty regularly choose to use the same space or your job demands it, you may have the use of a file drawer or two.

But generally speaking, "You get better at keeping your stuff in more electronic form," Gockel said.

How are you supposed to keep track of where everyone is?

Communication and training are needed so that hoteling doesn't become a disorienting, inefficient experience, Yost noted.

Employees need to have a good sense of where they work best. Teams need to be on the same page as to how they work best together. And the technology to facilitate communication about work has to be tailored to teams' needs.

What's more, the physical space at the office can't be so noisy and distracting that employees just feel like they're nomads who can't get anything done.

At Citrix, which builds products to facilitate mobile working, many of its offices now support beach toweling.

It created rooms with several desks for project team work, privacy booths, couches around a fireplace, and small briefing rooms. At one of its offices, there is even the option to create a rooftop garden so people can work outside if they want.

"There's space for me, for you and me and for [larger meetings]," said Natalie Lambert, the senior director of workspace strategy.

Still, Lambert notes that when she really needs to concentrate on work without interruption, she works from home.

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