The great academic space debate

“Where is my chair, come on who’s taken my chair?  No!  My chair was blue”

This weeks quote was said in jest during a hilarious ten minutes of searching for ‘the chair’ as if it was a lost iPhone.  ‘Chairgate’ coincided with an e-mail circular announcing a policy to increase the amount of ‘agile working’:

“…where the majority of staff will not be assigned permanent work spaces but will instead be able to use any available desk.”

We have long bemoaned the shortage of space in our office so change couldn’t come soon enough.  As a clinical department we have a lot of visiting honorary staff and students as well as many ‘local’ MSc etc. students.  There is simply nowhere for any of them to sit within the department.  Some question if they even need to sit in a departmental office at all?


I can only imagine the full extent of the funding and spacial limitations our universities are faced with but for the majority of staff to not have their own desk could ruffle some feathers, especially if the territorial behaviour over this chair is anything to go by!  I’d certainly like to see departmental hot desks specifically for short term staff and students as well as a departmental meeting area(s).  How about even a few standing desks? or what about treadmill desks!?  There a couple of academic blogs on these here and here.

There is something to be said for agile working though.  Love or hate them, I recently got drawn into Daniel Pink’s ‘The puzzle of motivation’ TED talk.  He talks about how extrinsic rewards for complex 21st century tasks just do not work, and that people perform better in a results only work environment where self direction is better than management.  Sound familiar?  What about 20% time? Isn’t that how we end up writing our research grants in academia?  I’m beginning to think that perhaps our desks don’t matter after all.

No matter what changes are coming our way, the current layout of our office befits an era of filing cabinets rather than shared drives and clouds.  Our first task must therefore be to spring clean those papers, but a word of warning: beware of PDF alibi syndrome!

PS: We never found the chair.

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