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Meta accused of spin over hot-desking announcement

Technology company Meta's decision to switch employees to a hot-desking policy has highlighted the need for companies to be transparent with their employees.

The company informed workers that they would have to share and reserve desks before coming into the office as part of what it described as a "new employee experience". 

This controversy among staff as some believed the decision was a cost-cutting measure rather than an innovation.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Meta is looking to reduce costs by 10% in the coming months, with staff redundancies remaining a possibility.

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Some staff responded, according to The Independent, on the the company's internal social network with complaints, including one saying the company has an ‘obsessive need to spin things in a positive way’.

Perry Timms, founder of HR consultancy PTHR, said Meta's approach seemed insincere, and could cause lasting damage to employer/employee relations.

He told HR magazine: "Internal communication has shifted from what I used to call 'corporate propaganda' to a more honest and open dialogic approach. From what I can see of this Meta example, it feels like spin and a return to corporate propaganda.

"Sincere, clear and helpful communication is always best. It doesn't appear this has any of those hallmarks and even back-pedalling won't rescue the damage done to morale and trust."

Research from consulting firm Brickendon in 2019 found 92% of office workers have experienced issues with hot-desking.

The firm surveyed 1,001 office workers aged 18 and over.

If hot-desking is a cost-cutting measure rather than an innovation Gemma Dale, lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, said Meta would have benefitted from being upfront with employees.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "As a general rule I am in favour of transparency wherever possible. There is nothing wrong with saying that you need to save money... or that simply there is no need for as many desks and it doesn’t make strategic sense for the organisation to do/not to do something. 

"If you don’t provide a rationale for your organisational decisions, or provide a vague one or one that feels contrived, employees will simply determine their own. While there is no obligation to explain, transparency builds trust, key for organisational culture."

Martyn Dicker, chief people officer at charity Unicef, said engaging with employees is crucial to building trust in an organisation.

He told HR magazine: "The more the issues and opportunities are understood by your workforce, the more likely you are to have their support and energy to find solutions. As the saying goes, 'trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback'.

"There are of course occasions in which commercially sensitive data can’t be shared and personal data needs to be protected. Other than in these situations, authentically engaging your workforce early and openly, will likely reap many benefits and break down barriers."

Although desks were unlikely to be outlined in an employment contract, Matt Jenkin, employment lawyer at law firm Moorcrofts, told HR magazine that companies should proceed with caution when making changes to the workplace.

He said: "Employers still need to take care in how they introduce any changes to such working conditions. Aside from the recruitment and retention issues that a heavy-handed approach to changes can cause, in some cases employees may argue that approach taken is a breach of the implied duty of good faith which then raises the possibility of unfair constructive dismissal claims.

"Employers looking at changing working conditions should be transparent with their workforce as to the reasons behind the changes and allow for some discussion with the employees before any change is introduced."