Workspaces – a response

30 Jun
Tonight Sophie and Zaana got me thinking about the impact of your workspace on your work output.
I’ve got a nice office now. I had my own office in my last position too. I’ve sure got used to making the most of my space. I spend a lot of time working at becoming the paperless office, however am way off getting there.
In my last office a wall between me and a colleague was paper thin. Not on purpose but it turned out to be a great plus, as we got into the habit of calling through the wall to each other. Our roles were unofficially co-managing a branch and without intentional design that office space allowed us to have our own VERY different work styles, alongside great collaborativeness. It was also funny the first time colleagues in a meeting saw you turn to a wall and address a question, and a voice issued an answer from the other side.
In my supervisor roles and branch positions I worked in open office plan areas. It was really hard as a supervisor as we didn’t have any office except the Branch Librarian’s so if any of my team were upset, or I had to speak to them about an issue, I had to try and book the office. Nothing made them tense up like being told they have a meeting scheduled in ‘the office’. Also feeds the gossip that is rife in many libraries.
So I would have to say that if you are going to have an openplan space – I think you need HEAPS of little collaborative spaces. Zaana shows pictures of cute breakout spaces in her post about office spaces. They really need to be so close to the work areas, that you can slip into them without breaking conversation flow or making a big deal of it. Also noise must be contained so louder conversations don’t disrupt those working close by. This applies to public spaces too – eg a space for fine disputes to move too.
When I got  a new space for my staff last year I tried to address this. I had 2 staff who had to share a very awkward shaped office. I created a small table and chairs space immediately outside their office. There is already a small meeting room to the right, however it is often in use. I wanted to encourage my staff to have a space they could talk with other staff, without feeling they had to meet quietly at their desks.
It hasn’t worked at all. It’s hardly ever used. So it’s important to remember that such spaces need some privacy (maybe just for librarians?) and also that often desk chats develop into meetings but by the time you realise it, to get up & move would break up the discussion anyway. Also a power point would reduce the need for the laptop assigned to them to be charged all the time.
Similarly I think the fully mobile workspace idea only works if you really can trust your IT infrastructure to allow you to move and have everything at your fingers without breaking your concentration. Now if I got an iPad I might try it, but carrying any sort of laptop around continually can be backbreaking. Several years ago when i had a position that required me to regularly move workspaces Dropbox etc didn’t exist and I had to use a roaming internal network profile that was not reliable. Wifi isn’t enough. You need power, access to paper files (large digitised collection would help here). And whiteboards with coloured pens.
4 years ago we tried mobile desks again at MPOW in a really small way. We were supposed to be working across branches, so on certain days you weren’t in your home branch, you were in another space at a designated ‘hot desk’. The amount of hostility that arose from librarians about not having their own space, their own paperwork, their own ‘stuff’ was fascinating. It was a lot of words that arose from fear of change in my opinion, perhaps fear of not having their own space equalling not having a permanent job. However it does raise the question as to whether you can have this sort of activity based workspace for every personality type. Can some people focus solely on their work if uncomfortable in their environment?
Conversely my current office is situated in the middle of a big open plan floor, with a few other offices, allocated to staff who manage sections.
It houses cataloguing and library systems staff, trying to get on with their work. There’s therefore a higher percentage of people who prefer ‘quiet’ than I have ever had before. And I’m not quiet. I find it has changed my work output. I’m doing a lot of online searching for the interaction I used to get working in a busy servicedesk area. It’s changed my satisfaction with my job, my confidence in working as part of  a team that is moving forward together, and it’s sure increased the number of times my staff have to talk to me on any given day if they work on my floor.
As for the Google extras, I think it’s great to have services that encourage teams to work together, or a space to vent your frustrations and clear your head. I’ve started taking little walks outside since @MissSophieMac and @malbooth mentioned it, and it helps me clear my head and focus on the next required thing. Having something like that closer (out of the elements) would be great. However I would think that having many of these extra resources would lead to an expectation that you will work longer hours, or at least be in the building with your colleagues for longer hours. To eat there, go to the gym there and so on. I think I am only just discovering how hugely important it is to have a life outside work. How your wider network, your other activities allow you a more balanced and successful approach to work   priorities, as well as feeding in external ideas and influences to keep creativity alive in the library management space. I think it would be sad to lose that.
So thanks everyone at #blogeverydayinjune
Had a lovely long post for my last entry. I’m looking forward to continuing my blog, just not as often.

3 Responses to “Workspaces – a response”

  1. Penny June 30, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    I like being in my own space. I’m not a morning person and so hiding in my shared office space until I’m ready to face people is good for me. I do venture out into other spaces though. When I’ve worked in larger work rooms I still need to have privacy to an extent but I do talk more when in such a space and some people find that distracting.

    • Ruth Baxter July 1, 2010 at 1:08 am #

      The talking issue is a big one.


  1. Day 30: Assorted sentences from the finish line | Libraries Interact - July 1, 2010

    […] The amount of hostility that arose from librarians about not having their own space, their own paperwork, their own ‘stuff’ was fascinating. Creative Circ […]

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