The Prisoner

Kudos to The Economist (and thanks to reader Antonia for bringing this to our attention) for using The Prisoner as the basis for an article about hot-desking!

The hero of the cult British TV show “The Prisoner” wakes up one day in a mysterious village. His possessions have vanished and he is not referred to by his real name but as “number six”. His every attempt at escape is frustrated and each episode ends with a set of iron bars superimposed on his face.

The experience of the prisoner will be wearily familiar to one class of office worker—those who undergo the daily trial of “hot-desking”.

Hot-desking really is awful, isn’t it? As the article points out, the real reason behind it–despite whatever reason a company may cite to make it sound appealing–is to save money in quite an extreme way. Someone, somewhere, has calculated that the “average property cost in the first year for a British office worker is £4,800.”

But what of the human cost of hot-desking? All the fretting over tidying up at the end of a day so that your personal items aren’t binned by the cleaners or impounded as lost property? All the fretting over whether you’ll have a seat in the morning at all or if you’ll end up working on your lap in the kitchen?

Even if you can trust that there’ll be a seat for you somewhere in the building, not knowing what it will look like makes it hard to visualise (and therefore emotionally prepare for) a working day.

The suffering is untold and it can’t be good for a worker’s output either, unless perhaps the company is hoping for some sort of suffering-enhanced foie gras product.

If companies don’t want to pay the real estate cost of a worker’s seated bottom, how about abolishing the need for physical presence and being done with it? Let people work unsupervised at home so that there’s no need for offices at all. As well as saving company money, abolishing offices would put paid to the commute, ending the associated pollution and stress and rising at 6am just to stay employed. Not bad.

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

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