I wrote this in a bit of a feisty moment on the way home from a debate in London about the future of academic workspace. In the absence of other posts I thought it was finally time to get started. Interesting to reflect on this snapshot now – has my perspective shifted at all? Does being ‘an academic’ make any difference whatsoever? Perhaps one to revisit soon:
My role is an honour and an opportunity; it is not a privilege or a right. I carry my office in my bag; I have no clutter or books in my workplace. I’m not saying this smugly, hubristically, or for any implied claim that this makes me ‘better’ than anyone else. I am just declaring – hopefully maturely and articulately – the way I am; how it makes sense to me. I believe how I engage with others, in all formats, is the most genuine indicator of my value and worth, rather than any ‘traditional’ trappings of academia.
I adore books. Real, tangible, books. Their value is beyond question. Kindles (etc) are great for PDFs and other documents, but rarely books. My books live at home and I travel portably with the ones I need, a few at a time.
I have no expectation of my own office or owned ‘private space’ in the workplace. I rarely do any genuine, focused, creative, concentrated work in the workplace, during work time, and rarely see anyone doing similar. For me, permanent workspace in this format would serve as little more than an expensive storage facility.
However, I do have an expectation that my organisation should provide me with appropriate spaces and enabling technology (and frankly I’d prefer to choose) to do my job autonomously, which incorporates a vast range of activities, some public, shared and collaborative; some more private. More fundamentally, I expect to feel that my organisation values and respects my contribution, whenever and wherever it is undertaken, and that this is represented in their provision.
“Flexible working, at its heart, is about being mindful about the tasks you have in front of you, and the best place to accomplish those tasks.”
(Dave Coplin, 2013, emphasis added)
I do not expect this to be the same for everyone. This is my statement of expectations; it is unique to me. It will no doubt shift and flex with time and circumstance. I expect my organisation to be able to celebrate diversity and choice.
I am concerned what we think we know about workspace is dangerously incomplete. I am doubly concerned that those who claim to know (professionally and otherwise) are both driving solutions, and resisting progress, myopically. Because we focus on physical space per se, and not what it, nor we, symbolize – within, through and around it; not how we are emplaced within it and bring it to life.
“Social beings are things as definitely as physical things are social”
(George Herbert Mead, 1934)
There are generative spatial solutions which can afford economical, delightful, diverse and celebrated workplace solutions; but we do not know what these are yet. We don’t know what we don’t know.
Organisational spaces and places are both catalysts and reflections; they represent organisations symbolically, and desperately need to be regarded accordingly. When this penny drops, we will be in a more capable position to be able to reimagine or workspaces and places with human value and choice at their core, ideologically, humanistically, and spatially. When this happens, we will stop putting metal slides in buildings and writing excited and envious articles about Google’s (etc etc… yawn…) workspace, because we will not need to look beyond our own. Moreover, when this happens, we will realise that ‘open plan’, ‘hot-desking’ and private offices (etc etc… double yawn…) are but superficial and misleading manifestations of a constructed reality which blinds us from the real issues, and always have been.
We will create spaces that celebrate diversity and choice, spaces that we will actively seek to be in when we need to, spaces that eager, inspired, envious others will desire to be part of. We need to be brave, bold, pragmatic, optimistic and imaginative if we are to challenge the way things have always been done. The world has turned. If we care, as we so readily claim to do, about all facets of a sustainable future, we need to get beyond ourselves… And frankly get a grip.
“The first revolution is when you change your mind about how you look at things, and see there might be another way to look at it that you have not been shown. What you see later on is the results of that…”
(Gil Scott-Heron, 1982)