The five stages of having and losing an office

15 May

Workspace is a hot commodity in my building at UBC. Outside of having a part-time workstation, I’ve drifted from desk to desk, never achieving personal attachment to a space and the peace that comes with it … until a week ago.

1. Joy

Multitasking like a boss

I’ll never forget the day my Director offered me an empty office. I had a door and a window, not something one takes for granted, though essentially I was able to sit with my team, at my own workstation, with a butt-load of screens.

Have you ever noticed hotels including “opening windows” in their amenities list? I thought it was funny to note that, until I went without them in a government building. “Opening” is key.

I knew the office was a temporary solution to a larger office accommodation challenge (the next reality TV show on HGTV), only I didn’t know how temporary.

2. Increased self-worth

Almost instantly, I felt more productive, more focused, and more professional. I may have reached self-actualisation for a brief moment.

3. Devastation

Jump forward one week – I must vacate the office. My colleague, Chris had an office once too. He says it best:

“It’s like sitting in coach your entire life and finally making it to business class. Then the flight attendant taps you on the shoulder and tells you to go back to your seat.”

We’ve both put on brave faces, but it will follow us into the future.

4. Perspective

Within the first 24 hours of receiving the news, I had an epiphany. The week of ups and downs reminded me of a conversation I had with my Uncle Tom, who works for Macquarie Group at One Shelley Street, Sydney.

He told me about his experience with the Activity-based Working concept, developed by architectural firm, Veldhoen+Company. Where he works, the traditional hierarchical workplace is dust and collaboration, accountability and flexibility reign. He and many others are converts to the model.

“I was pretty sceptical about it before we moved, but now could not imagine reverting back to the old traditional assigned-desk way of working … Each day you’ll find yourself sitting next to someone you wouldn’t ordinarily sit near and collaboration and information sharing has increased dramatically.”

Employees’ workstations and offices have been replaced with a laptop and a locker. They’re free to work anywhere within the building each day and can choose to work from home.

Would you like to work in the Garden? the Library? the Playroom? the Tree House? There are seven “plazas” or “neighbourhoods” to choose from depending on what you want to accomplish each day. I can see myself lounging in the Coffee House most of the time.

more photos @

“Create the best circumstances for that activity and the employee will be able to carry it out to the best of his or her ability. That means creating a sense of harmony, simplicity and empowerment for your employees.” ~ Erik Veldhoen, Founder at Veldhoen+Company

Managers have been transformed into leaders and now judge an employee’s performance on their output, not the amount of time they’re seen at their desk.

“Trust became a large factor to deal with as managers no longer had a direct line of sight of their teams and were forced to “let go” of their staff.” ~ Tom

Meetings still take place. You can use a “meeting pod” or choose from booths, benches and lounges.

Energy consumption was reduced by 50% and the open staircase reduced the use of elevators by 50%. Mail is scanned and distributed electronically and by using follow-me technology, the headquarters has reduced printing by 85%.

“I guess that was the toughest change for many people, the challenge of not being able to accumulate heaps of paper and documents. I had to be aggressive when it came to trashing documents and learning to live without them.” ~ Tom

I asked Tom how anybody actually found each other. It was a foreign concept to me that people couldn’t just walk up to your regular desk to chat.

“We use Office Communicator to “ping” people we need to find and speak with. Of course everyone has a laptop and either a Blackberry or mobile phone so operating electronically is made very easy.” ~ Tom

5. Acceptance

I realised I shouldn’t be upset about losing an office, I should be bothered that it felt so incredible to have one.

It’s a matter of time before technology, social responsibility and sustainability cause more organisations to modernise relationships with employees and clients, but will higher education lag as usual?

Light bulb!

How would higher education administration take on this model? Can floors have different themes based on student needs? Is it so hard to imagine employees moving around freely within those floors? Signing into an app that shows students where to find them?

Imagine students enter a bright and spacious building like One Shelley Street to connect with us, and thanks to technology, our current location is displayed on a board. Students are also greeted by a friendly face who helps them locate specific services – is this level of customer service so unreachable?

Macquarie have proven the model to be a good investment. It can be applied (if somewhat adapted) to higher education administration. Advising offices can still exist, private rooms for counselling can still exist. Queues? Do away with ropes, have students sign into a virtual queue and sit on couches while they wait. And why are we still keeping paper records these days?

It may be an expensive task and will include a lot of staff training, but it doesn’t need to be rolled out all at once. We love our “pilot programs” in higher ed.

Open space, natural light, collaboration, flexibility, sustainability – all good things that when applied to the working environment improve the lives of employees and the culture of the organisation.

Down with the traditional hierarchical workplace!


Tags: , ,

5 responses to “The five stages of having and losing an office

  1. Sackett

    May 23, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    We were just told that we are moving our department to another floor in the building and it is interesting to see the reaction of many of our co-workers. One of the issues is that the new “space” is much more open and has fewer offices. That means that some of the middle class are going to have to give up their special status and either share an office or work in an open space. Frankly, I reluctantly moved into the office but I admit I have “adjusted” to my personal space. I am comfortable with the idea of a more sharing environment.

    The Macquarie environment sounds stimulating and attractive to my way of thinking but I work for an institution that believes in strict “supervision”. They shudder at the idea of working from home – or much less another campus. They are afraid that someone will take advantage of the lack of supervision. So rather than manage the individual that is not well motivated to do their job they close off the possibility to everyone, no matter the benefits.

    I hope that you find a “home” that meets your needs and that you feel appreciated even though you do not have a door to demonstrate your status.

  2. pocketfullofchelle

    May 23, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Hi Sackett,

    Must be the season for campus moves! I can understand that those who have “worked their way up” to an office will have some adjustment issues, especially if seniority is considered a reason for deserving an office. A team’s culture goes a long way in supporting this change.

    Fortunately, my team works well together and we’re all creative-types who embrace the open, agency-style office space. Our Director allows us to “work to the work” – sometimes working harder and longer to meet deadlines, but also taking a morning off for a hair appointment or working from home on some projects.

    I’d love to hear about any updates on your office situation and whether the move has influenced collaboration and creativity.

    Loved the final sentence of your comment. People do see doors as demonstrating status don’t they? While I work on my own long-held perceptions, it’s good to know others are also embracing the idea of a sharing environment.

  3. Sam Oakley (@rscsam)

    May 30, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Personally I love working anywhere and everywhere (esp cafes – creativity flows there!) but at one time I was told to “hot desk” when everyone else in the team had their own desk. That felt so bad! Maybe I should have embraced my freedom whilst they were shackled. Instead I just envied their personal paraphernalia and perfectly adjusted chairs. It’s hard not to attach a sense of worth to your desk / office but I guess it’s all about your workplace context.

    • pocketfullofchelle

      May 31, 2012 at 1:05 am

      Hi Sam,

      there’s definitely an answer to everything if people are willing to accept them. For instance, “what about all my books?” – ipad/kindle. “what about all my files and papers?” – go digital and save the trees. “what about my photos?” – make a screen saver.

      The best part is that in Macquarie’s situation, you can choose to work from home, meaning you can have all your desk trinkets and photos placed how you like in your home office.

      I don’t have great posture at work so can sit anywhere with a laptop and not care, but workstations should be made available to cater to all needs.

      I agree about cafes. I also like working in pubs and bars … after beer o’clock of course ;)

  4. Scott Crow

    June 15, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    Good column. I think everyone can appreciate being moved about on a college campus. I think the Activity-based Working concept has a lot of positives but the realist/pessimist in me can’t see the typically rigid, bureaucratic culture of colleges accepting such an innovative approach. Space is so valuable/expensive. Plus, students need to go to specific locations (admissions, financial aid, etc.) and employees in those departments can’t be mobile. Plus too many people like their nests! Thought-provoking; I just don’t see it being embraced by many colleges. Thanks!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: