A HOST of high-profile companies are moving towards "hot desk" workplaces to cut costs.
Suncorp, BHP, ANZ and NAB are among companies to take up the practice as they consolidate in existing buildings in the CBD and new facilities at Docklands.
The trend comes as workers have seen the size of their personal workspaces reduce by as much as half in the past 20 years.
Hot desking - formally known as "activity-based working" - may shrink the floor space a business needs by 30 per cent, according to Knight Frank.
Under the model, offices are refitted with standardised workstations that can be used temporarily by any employee, eliminating the "wasted" space left vacant by workers on different shifts, annual leave, secondments or business trips.
"It's getting very big - there's no doubt about it," said Hamish Sutherland, Knight Frank's state leasing director.
"You can use activity-based working literally on any floor plate, but you've got to have a good quality building in terms of its services in order to support these new workplace philosophies."
The system, which can also avoid taking on extra space during an expansion phase, has been used for several years in the US and Europe. More recently, it has been adopted in Sydney by the Commonwealth Bank, GPT, Goodman and Macquarie Bank.
The Colliers International 2012 Office Tenant Survey: Alternative Workspace Strategies found about a quarter of Melbourne tenants/employers were considering hot desking as an option, with larger companies on long-term leases the most likely to consider it.
But while activity-based working offices may see a significant reduction in floor space (and therefore rents), switching to the model does not necessarily return cost savings on the same order.
So far, there has been no research to indicate how much ABW fitouts typically cost or the savings that are delivered. Anecdotally, industry operators say they can require expensive, high-tech IT and telecommunications systems to ensure workstations meet the potential needs of any employee.
The model has also met with a mixed reception from employees, who have struggled with the lack of privacy, competition for spots, and uncertainty caused by a constantly changing work and social environment.
"Ratings of staff satisfaction are typically improved, but there is a question mark around the extent to which ABW truly fosters cross-group collaboration or enhances personal productivity," said Colliers International's director of consulting David McEwen.