Part II of II: Reinventing the Academic Workplace
Shawn Gaither’s ideas for a reimagined academic workplace support today’s student population, which expects a different type of interaction with their faculty, and the campus itself. A desire for convenient access, inviting environments with seamlessly integrated technology, comfortable furnishings, and flexible spaces that can be rearranged to fit their specific need is fueling conversations regarding the student-faculty interface.
At the same time student needs are evolving, the built environment has dramatically transformed as a direct result of Millennials in the workforce. As expectations for interior spaces are increasing, corporations and businesses are using the environment as a recruiting tool to attract the best and brightest talent. This concept is not limited to the private sector; it can be equally as effective in the higher education industry.
Blackline in Woodland Hills, California by DLR Group. Photo by Andrew Scott.
Another driver for new and improved academic workplaces is space itself. Universities are often drastically short on faculty office space. Consequently, the ability to assign the traditional 120-SF enclosed office to every faculty member is impossible on most campuses and, I argue, not the best utilization of the space. Individuals complete different tasks in different places, requiring a variety of space types to best meet their tasks at hand. Not only does re-thinking of workspace allow for more appealing collaborative spaces, it can also help solve some of the space shortages. For this Insight, I’d like to dig deeper into how spatial limitations begin to improve when functions can be shared among staff, and serve multiple functions.
As an interior designer at DLR Group, I’ve been helping private corporations, from Fortune 500 companies to startups, create effective workspaces for decades. Often, the best workspace for an organization is quite different than the one that they currently have. Based on this experience, I’ve identified three spatial elements – variety, collaboration, and flexibility - that are most successful in enhancing the user experience, and coincide with the three planning concepts Shawn introduced in part I of this Insight series.
Vertafore in Denver by DLR Group. Photo by Ed LaCasse.
- First of all, eliminating the personal office is not our aim. Rather, our goal is to provide users with the size and type of space they need to perform their daily tasks. When surveyed, the majority of individuals confirm they need a variety of spaces to complete their job as expected, and multiple spaces with appropriate technology is typically the preferred solution. Huddle spaces, such as those that support conferencing for two to six people, of various sizes with a plethora of furniture choices, writable surfaces, and easy hookups to screens allow teams to conference efficiently. Small phone rooms are beneficial for short calls or when the need for a few quiet moments arises. Having such spaces directly adjacent to open areas of workstations is essential. Institutions must remember that one size does not fit all, and choice is key to user satisfaction.
- Collaborative spaces, such as break rooms, maker spaces, reception areas, and learning stairs, are magnets that draw people in to work together in open and active environments. These are shared spaces that foster engagement and networking with peers socially and professionally. Technology is a key factor in the use and satisfaction of collaborative spaces. One important lesson I’ve learned is that if technology is not available, no matter how engaging the space appears, the space will remain unused. However, when done correctly, the ROI is measurable. For example, in a post-occupancy survey after DLR Group consolidated two offices into one location in Los Angeles, 84 percent of employees reported increased team collaboration and 65 percent of employees are more productive in the new office space. One national trend in the higher education industry that supports this open, shared environment is a reduction in the number of full-time tenured faculty, and an increase in part-time or adjunct professors who are not typically assigned a dedicated office. According to the American Association of University Professors, full-time non-tenure track and part-time professors make up more than 57 percent of the academic labor force, while full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty equal less than 30 percent.
- Real estate, whether in a private corporation or on a college campus, is too expensive for spaces to have a single function. Flexibility can be achieved through physical changes like mobile walls and roll up doors on multi-use spaces including a training room or large conference room that allows adjacent spaces outside the office to morph and accommodate various groups and their needs. In addition, flexibility is achieved through the sharing of spaces. Whether heads-down office space or a collaborative area with state-of-the art technology, all employees benefit from the increase of options, but it does take a shift in mindset for many employees to embrace such an idea. Many C-suite executives are starting to request only one dedicated office in one location, even though the company may have multiple office locations. And some executives choose to not have an office at all. Institutions can achieve similar results and maximize their workplace real estate by dedicating a small home base for senior faculty in one location, and implementing the shared office concept in other buildings.
SpotX in Denver by DLR Group. Photo by Camara Photography.
Even if new hires and existing faculty are pushing for space reform, all faculty must buy in and ultimately accept reorganization for successful change to occur. Note that this goes far beyond a simple reshuffle of space to a true change in culture. That thought might be frightening to some, which is why DLR Group follows a proven change management process that creates a desire for change among those who will be affected. It turns employees, or this case faculty, into champions of their new workspaces to improve overall adoption and reduce attrition.
Our scalable approach educates, engages, and prepares employees for their transition into a new work environment with the goal of improving new behavior adoption rates and reducing attrition. We focus on four key elements of change:
- Defining the why. Be as transparent as possible with motives behind the change and clearly identifying the pros and cons of the project. When there is a strong why, the inconveniences of change can become more palatable.
- Creating desire. The first thought of all of those affected by this change will be “What’s in it for me?” Knowing that everyone will experience some sort of perceived inconvenience, whether working through noisy construction or having a longer walk to a new office, being able to answer this fundamental question is critical to the project’s success.
- Identifying and addressing resistance points. The uncertainty of change breeds anxiety and some degree of negativity should be expected. Addressing concerns head-on while focusing on the why of the project, by reiterating the multitude of answers for the “what’s in it for me” questions, truly sets the project up for success.
- Messaging: Conveying intentional, proactive, and consistent messaging over the life of a project also paves the way for success. We know that communication is always key and relying on your own messaging, not the rumor mill, to get the word out about the upcoming change is essential. Being deliberate with all communication is paramount.
While all clients have unique needs – and academic institutions and Fortune 500 companies have vastly different purposes and missions – the fundamental concept of successfully modifying people’s workplace begins and ends with managing the process. And on a college campus, that change could positively contribute to student success by creating spaces that encourage and advance meaningful student-faculty interactions.
Review my colleague’s ideas on how we can help higher education institutions plan their academic workplace.
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