The Academic Workplace: A Place for Deep Thinking, Collaboration and Connecting

The Academic Workplace: A Place for Deep Thinking, Collaboration and Connecting
Workplace Strategies

By Liz Burow, Director of Discovery

The recent SCUP conference offered many opportunities to hear college and university leaders discuss how they continue to evolve the learning landscape. Academic learning environments are often seen, at first glance, through the lens of the classroom. Although instructional space provides students with opportunities for rich experiences, it only accounts for a fraction of the space on a typical campus.

Faculty and administrator workspace is a sizable but, at times, overlooked variable in the broader equation of the student experience.

By taking a closer look at the purpose of a workplace on campus, it’s possible to see how we can continue to improve the learning landscape not only through how we learn, but also through how we work.

Landmarks for Deep Thinking

A hot topic, on the minds of campus planners, continues to be faculty workspace, as corroborated by numerous conversations with fellow SCUP attendees. The topic of faculty workspace can lead to one of the most difficult conversations a planner can have with a project team, a dialogue that often begins with the questions, “What? How much? At what cost?”

We know that faculty members often perceive having space to focus and to concentrate as critical for their own research and for engaging in “deep thinking.” This focused space, or private office, also serves a critical function within an academic environment as a landmark destination. Students are confident that they will find their professors in the designated office, be able to converse in an uninterrupted setting, and receive his or her full attention.

There is great symbolic and practical value in having space specifically dedicated to focused work and deep thinking. Similarly, destination spaces are an intrinsic part of an institution’s identity. But, as organizations grow and change, space can become a limited resource. Our job as workplace strategists is to listen and to understand how to balance the needs of the individual with space constraints, shared resources, and a university’s vision. With space efficiencies in mind, we meet these challenges through identifying work styles and space needs and through developing space standards and density metrics. 

Settings for Collaboration 

Administrative staff members serve a variety of roles, which can impact multiple campus elements. Working styles can be incredibly diverse. Consider that there exists a range of learning spaces for different course formats; an academic facility ideally meets both individual and group study requirements. The design and planning of staff workspaces should be similarly varied in the consideration of scenarios and available options.

While some administrative staff require spaces conducive to “heads-down” concentration and experience very little day-to-day interactions with students, other staff, in contrast, do spend much of their time continuously interacting with students. Consequently, the “learning landscape” is most successful when open meeting spaces and collaborative settings enhance both the student and staff experience on campus.

Places for Connecting 

Consider the different people you routinely see in an academic workplace. Students and visitors will stop by (or pass through), with any number of motivations from securing information to meeting someone. In a workplace environment, students meet with professors, advisors, financial aid representatives, and many others offering counsel or support. As a place for connecting, the work setting becomes part of a larger service experience. As a touch-point, it is space for hosting, meeting, and counseling.

Considering Broader Institutional Priorities  

When workplace is only viewed as part of efficient, effective campus operations, opportunities can be missed. The workplace is the environment where people on campus regularly advance an institution’s goals and priorities. 

There are many benefits to a campus environment when solid workplace strategic planning is implemented. For instance, considering whether or not the right people are working in close proximity to each other, prior to aligning groups and functions, will greatly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of campus planning initiatives.

Similarly, it is critical to determine whether adequate and specific spaces and settings are available to staff for engaging with one another, with students, and with other guests. Creating the right mix of collaborative and quiet settings—with the right tools and technologies—is key to helping staff connect with one another and with students and other stakeholders.

Furthermore, creating an atmosphere of deep thinking, collaboration and “connecting the dots” speaks to a higher directive of academic institutions, mainly that the organization of people and places should facilitate the kind of educational experiences championed by the institution.

Learn More about HLW Strategy & Discovery by checking out our video below

HLW International Director of Strategy and Discovery Liz Burow writes about the importance of providing spaces for deep thinking, collaboration and connecting in learning environments.