DigiLab as a model for how to work

DigiLab discussionOriginally uploaded by openpadThe Open University Library has developed an area known as the DigiLab as a drop in space to look at and use new technology. Recently we have used this area for a couple of discussions and I feel it could offer a model for how people could work in the future. There is comfy area where you can hook up to large screens or just plug in laptops, behind that a small table and chairs plus two small work areas and a more powerful media area. Finally there is a coffee machine. In one of our sessions other people came in and had a separate chat – without either group disturbing the other too much.P1000665.JPGCan this map on to out new building? I am not sure. Trying to do it at a small scale may well not work as it means that we have to sacrifice individual space to create shared space and if only a few people do that the result is just their loss!

Open space as a good working environment: 9 possible principles

I wrote earlier about the mixed feelings that I had about moving from old office oriented space to a new open plan building. At the time it looked like we might end up moving across into rows of desks with not enough space to get us all in. Well things have moved on a bit and it looks like IET will have a less complete move into the new building, which will lower pressure on the space and we also have a little bit longer to plan. Another change is that in the new management structure I am working with Grainne Conole and Martin Weller to oversee part of IET the “Technology Enhanced Learning” (TEL) group. Chatting to Grainne earlier this week we found that while we are not sure exactly what we want we felt like there were some principles that ought to allow good working space. Here is my attempt to list some of those principles:

  1. Space that a visitor would envy – the it looks great to work here (even if it isn’t!)
  2. That the building works with different levels of capacity – everyone there to almost no-one there
  3. A choice of place and styles of work e.g:
    • Easy chairs plus display plus whiteboard (we have some really nice Smartboard 600is)
    • Tables and chairs to chat or work with a laptop
    • Desks with good screens and keyboards (not necessarily cpus though)
  4. Expect everyone to have a laptop/notebook (could be Asus eee PC or Apple Touch)
  5. Flexible space where people can change location and cope with areas of overload (everybody in)
  6. Not planned around a desk space for everyone
  7. An area of ownership for each person – where your files are and paper can be found from day to day 
  8. Joint responsibility for tidyness and impression on visitors – care for the environment
  9. Space for hard work and continuity when it is needed – but not all the time for everyone

Well that is my first pass – there is perhaps a bit of conflict in there and I know from talking to colleagues that ownership matters but I think we need to trade some of that for flexibility and space. We need to go from fantasy to furniture order in less than a month but I am a lot more hopeful than I was in October!

Going open plan

As part of open university, open content and open learn is it right that I am starting to get some cold feet about going open plan? The bit of the OU that I am in (Institute of Educational Technology – IET) is housed in an old style set of offices off corridors and I am not too attached to it. So I have been fairly calm about change thinking that what we might lose in privacy we would gain in better communication and space to show off to visitors. The building itself (Jennie Lee Building – JLB) looks ok and the lab areas and way the public spaces work sounds quite good. But and it is a big but the actual areas for people to work in are just too small. In current drawings these are then filled with as large a desk as possible and as much storage as can fit in to try to fit us all in. The result fills me (and not just me) with a feeling of impending doom.

On the other hand I am not precious about what we have got and, before it is too late, I think we need to do something radical to rescue the situation. I know at the beginning there were some great ideas floating around and those have probably been priced out or pressured out by too many people needing to go into the building. What I think there might be scope for is to take at least a bit of the building and treat it differently by thinking through what we want out of a building in the academic world. Suggestions from me – are no desktop machines, shared book space, comfy places to sit, easy places to plug in and display, plenty of informal meeting areas. If moving into the building can reduce time spent in one hour meetings when 10 minutes will do, switch from staring at email to working jointly to achieve things, and to connect up with the great people who work here then I wouldn’t mind losing my cell. If it doesn’t deliver on that then I suspect the building might be less than busy and in the end those who turn up might well get enough space. Just not sure if I will be one of them.