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The pros & cons of a manned or unmanned reception desk

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

Have you noticed the trend for unmanned reception areas? And if you have, are you considering joining the trend? We look at the pros and cons for you.

COVID, obviously, has been a key driver behind this new movement: with social-distancing there has been less people in spaces and more people working from home making unmanned areas attractive to many businesses. As a result of the pandemic and the growth of hybrid working, unmanned receptions can be seen to help companies create more circulation spaces in their buildings - spaces that are less traditional ‘desks in offices’ and more informal break-out areas to mingle in - that might entice people back to the workplace. Think away from the old-school ‘greeting area’ and towards a chi-chi coffee lounge.

Free cappuccinos aside, what are the actual advantages and disadvantages of unmanned receptions? And which set-up would work best for you?

Your Visitors

Something that was definitely happening before COVID was the introduction of automated sign-in systems. The established ‘meet and greet’ from the receptionist, asking visitors to sign in with pen and paper and then gathering that information, was already being replaced with touch-screen technology.

The advantage of this was the information went straight into a digital report that could be drawn down if and when required and the receptionist wouldn’t have to collate the details.

The receptionist was still there, though.

Without the receptionist, your visitors’ first point of contact, how would guests know where in the building to go or what to do? That could be perceived as a negative.

And there’s the very serious issue of security, too — knowing who is in and out of the building. We’re not suggesting the receptionist should protect us but they would still have an awareness of the daily comings and goings within the building or company and are likely to be aware of anything that looked a little suspicious.

The Actual Physical Space

One of the negatives of being totally unmanned is you do need additional signage, way-finding and instructions for visitors — and these would need to be displayed clearly. The downside of this is it is not very personal.

And if someone has a particular requirement or query, you have to think about how you will provide assistance to them. Maybe you need a phone or calling system? You’d definitely then need some ‘how to use’ information clearly displayed too.

With all that technology and signage driving the welcome, you’ll need to consider the size of the reception space and, of course, the reception desk itself. The size of the technology, the size of the signage, how many phones, plus the normal considerations of finishes, height, lighting, branding… - all the elements that will drive the shape and size of the desk.

Goods In and Out

If the reception is unmanned and dozens of parcels are being delivered, to an empty foyer, what happens? Do you have an area where the parcel person can sit down? Do you have a call-point? Or do you just say no to personal parcels and this new responsibility?

The advantage of a manned area is the receptionist will always know the delivery people; they’ll likely know that John in Accounts has an important parcel arriving today because he said so on the way in; and they’ll know to keep his delivery safe because he’s not answering his phone.


If you’re thinking of having a touch-screen system only, you’ve then got to think about hygiene. If there’s, say, 300 people coming to the area a day, screen wipes and sanitizer will have to be nearby.

This isn’t aesthetically very pleasing, but it’s what we’re all experiencing right now, so this would perhaps be less of an issue if the desk was manned because the receptionist could take care of these types of housekeeping tasks.

Virtual Receptionists

A virtual receptionist is someone that answers the phones - remotely - and then directs enquiries to the relevant people. Traditionally, that person sat in the reception area and had the dual role of greeting people and answering the telephone.

There’s dual pros and cons here, too. If you’re visiting a reception and you’re waiting for someone to get off the phone before they can sign you in, then, yes, that could be quite annoying. So the advantage of ‘unmanned’ is you don’t have to wait: you just walk in, sign in, and make your way through the building. Yes, an unmanned reception may be quicker - scan in and sign in to technology that remembers your name and your face - but if you have any questions? If you don’t know where to go? If you’d just like a chat with the person on the desk?

Bradley Fielden, Sales & Marketing Director at Clarke Rendall, says: ‘That’s the human side of this. Yes, there’s lots to think about when deciding to go manned or unmanned - the function for visitors, the physical space, the services, but there’s the human side too.

‘The receptionist, the reception area, has always been the heart of office buildings and, in well-established companies, you often find the receptionist has been there for decades and will be held in high regard because they make everybody’s day-to-day experience in the building a good one. They’re not just the welcome, they’re the last impression, too. Someone you miss when they’re not there. And who hasn’t been craving face-to-face interaction over the last two years?’

If you decide to go manned or unmanned, we have the reception desk for you

Bradley continues: ‘Manned or unmanned definitely changes the design because if there’s people sitting there, it needs to be bigger. One thing that’s come out of the unmanned trend is some companies have opted to have a pod set up as opposed to a desk. Potentially just 800mm-wide, like a small podium with an touchscreen on it.

‘There are some who’ve then gone mid-way… “We’re not going to man it all the time but we still need our front of house to look presentable, inviting, secure and expensive — and to reflect our business.” So they’ll have an actual reception desk that might include visual branding plus some degree of material finish to match their interior. They’ll also have the sign-in system there too regardless of whether someone’s sitting there or not.

‘Of course, we want to be making beautiful big desks, but all of our desks also come in a compact version too and that’s the product we put forward if someone asks specifically about an unmanned desk. We can also take the compact desk, remove the sitting-down part, and make it like a podium.

‘The compact version of all our desks can also be made into an unmanned product — and we also make bespoke unmanned products and have done many successfully.’

Check out our reception desk and other bespoke office furniture case studies here or drop us a line on or call 01908 391600 to see how we can help you with your next project.

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