This term dates from the early nineties. It’s one of a set of words invented to describe aspects of new working practices. In hot desking, also sometimes called location independent working, workers do not have their own desks, but are allocated work space according to their needs, keeping their personal belongings in lockers or filing cabinets when not in the office. The system is heavily dependent on computers to route telephone calls, allocate resources and maintain individual working files.
The name may derive from hot bunking, the name given to the sharing of sleeping space by sailors on watch in wartime, when as one went on watch another took his place. The system is best suited to firms in which staff spend a lot of time out of the office, for example seeing clients, so that space doesn’t have to be kept permanently allocated for them and costs are reduced. Other names for the system are the virtual office and hotelling. The latter can refer to a version in which the building is treated as though it were a hotel without beds, in which all space and facilities for staff are provided against bookings as though to guests; one consultancy firm in the US is reported to have engaged a hotel concierge to ensure that services run smoothly.
A person who works according to this system is a hot desker; the verb to hot desk is also common.