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I had a similar experience as an intern in the IT consulting division of a Big 4 accounting firm. Hotdesking was the official process.

In practice, certain desks were "reserved". Mere peons who hadn't been in the office on the first day it operated could take their pick of terrible desks on any one of three floors.

... if there were any left by 8am.

So in practice you had to get up at 6, log into their utterly terrible booking system (IE6 required and about two dozen ActiveX controls) and book it first thing.

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