Clare O'Farrell:

I posted quite a while ago about academic blogging on this blog. Stuart Elden has just offered the following useful remarks (updating earlier remarks) on his blog with some links to other recent interesting posts about academic blogging.

Originally posted on Progressive Geographies:

Sam Kinsley has compiled a list of Geographers that blog, and followed this with a post questioning their focus, an excerpt of which was:

It was a surprise to me how quite a few of those blogs, with some honourable exceptions, are tightly focussed conduits for personal research and are not participating in wider online/offline conversations. One of the big claims made for blogging in the noughties was, of course, that ‘social’ media precisely enable broader conversations. While the majority of those active geography bloggers I found use wordpress.com for their blogs they do not seem to use the ‘social’  functions such as ‘reblog’ and other conversation tools on the platform.

Jeremy Crampton and Clive Barnett have engaged with this question on their own blogs. Jeremy talks more about the sharing question, including that of platforms; while Clive offers some very interesting reflections about why his blog, Pop Theory, began…

View original 597 more words

The intellectual par excellence used to be the writer: as a universal consciousness, a free subject, he was counterpoised to those intellectuals who were merely competent instances in the service of the state or capital — technicians, magistrates, teachers. Since the time when each individual’s specific activity begun to serve as the basis for politicization, the threshold of writing, as the sacralizing mark off the intellectual, has disappeared. And it has become possible to develop lateral connections across different forms of knowledge and from one focus of politicization to another. Magistrates and psychiatrists, doctors and social workers, laboratory technicians and sociologists have become able to participate, both within their own fields and through mutual exchange and support, in a global process of politicization of intellectuals. This process explains how, even as the writer tends to disappear as a figurehead, the university and the academic emerge, if not as principal elements, at least as ‘exchangers,’ privileged points of intersection. If the universities and education have become politically ultra-sensitive areas, this is no doubt the reason why. And what is called the crisis of the universities should not be interpreted as a loss of power, but on the contrary as a multiplication and reinforcement of their power effects as centers in a polymorphous ensemble of intellectuals who virtually all pass through and relate themselves to the academic system.”
Michel Foucault. (1984) [1977]. , ‘Truth and Power’. In Paul Rabinow (ed) The Foucault reader. New York: Pantheon Books, p. 68

Random thoughts in response

This very interesting reflection by Foucault resonates strongly today. Perhaps one could argue that the remnants of the old – perhaps romantic – figure of the intellectual as writer are now being thoroughly expunged from the system in favour of the new ‘politicised’ figure of the academic – but that ‘politicisation’ has perhaps changed in emphasis since the late 1970s when Foucault made this remark. If perhaps he was referring to political radicalism, this ‘politicisation’ is now skewed in the sense of being a functionary of governmental systems. Certainly this passage by Foucault is one that could bear more thought on its applications within a contemporary context.

O’Farrell, Clare (1996). ‘Restoring the Scholarly Balance’ Campus Review, Comment, Jan 18-24, p.8.

The text below was published in Campus Review in 1996. I think 20 years on, it may be too late to save the kind of university I am referring to in this piece – that is, a university which was essentially a semi-autonomous college of experts and scholars operating from its own power base within the social body. But this piece serves perhaps as a reflection of a moment in time, a tipping point. Also to be noted, this text was written for the Australian institutional and political context of the time.

For a more contemporary report, Terry Eagleton’s piece on The Slow Death of the University, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education in April 2015 is well worth a look.

Restoring the Scholarly Balance

In 1229, the University of Paris went on strike. The strike was about what the University regarded as unwarranted government interference in its affairs. Sound familiar? The strike was to last for two years. Eventually, the French government caved in under pressure from a business community which relied on the custom of students and staff for the health of its bank balances. But it was not only businesses that were suffering, the government itself needed the university to train its own officials and advisors. Thus solemnly promised autonomy from the government in 1231, staff and students who had been continuing their teaching and research happily in Orleans moved back to the city. This was merely one incident in a long and prestigious history of revolt and non compliance which still inspires French students today. That other famous episode, the student uprising of May 1968, helped bring down a government and students continue to make their presence felt in no uncertain terms in 1996.

Such a scenario would be unimaginable in Australia today. What would happen to those EFTSUS, so much the life blood of administrators? Those DEET grants so anxiously sought after by researchers and ‘management’ alike? Those pseudo corporate ‘managerial’ salaries and privileges? Or that incestuous minority of career structures which provide a comfortable platform for the publication of endlessly turgid and unread ‘research reports’? There is no doubt that the Australian university is currently involved in a fundamental contradiction: at the surface level, in order to maintain its prestigious image as a centre of social dissent, it deploys an impressive rhetoric of protest at government interference, yet the fact is that it welcomes or, at the very least, passively accepts government involvement at every opportunity. Indeed, to a large extent its very rationale depends substantially on the existence of government style thinking as well as on government money. In addition to this, in so far as universities are also now setting themselves up as self supporting businesses, they have abandoned the traditional university world and its values in favour of the corporate and managerial ethos of the business world.

Of course all of this has been said before: one need only consult at random any issue of what federal education minister Dawkins in his heyday termed the ‘academic wailing wall’ the Higher Education Supplement to The Australian. And, as has also been remarked by the members of those same wailing classes, reactions to the current state of tertiary education are roughly divided into two camps. On the one hand, there are the upholders of the liberal view. This camp asserts the value of the ‘things of the mind’ and draws attention to a tradition which sets much store on notions such as academic freedom, truth and intellectual attainment for its own sake. They can only lament what they see as a sorry abandonment of this tradition. Adherents to the other camp, now strongly in the ascendant in terms of real power, extol the virtues of economic rationalism, ‘realism’ and pragmatism. The liberal tradition is all very well, they argue, but to be quite cynical if you can’t beat the government or corporate world, it might be more sensible to join them. Their message to the university is to get real and join the modern world: survival depends on it!

Was it inevitable that these should now be the only alternatives facing the Australian university? Must it simply be the ivory tower versus the hard reality of economic rationalism and increasing bureaucratic control? Could the existing polarisation have been foreseen particularly by those who were, in theory, best placed and best equipped to see it, that is academics and universities? But the academics of the 1970s and 1980s were so involved in their own elitist pursuits or alternatively in rushing to swell the ranks of political parties and causes that they neglected taking any responsibility for that base of their own identity and power – the university. They abrogated the area of their primary concern and thus ultimately abandoned control over their own lives. In trying to save the rest of the world, they forgot to save themselves. In pursuing political power, academics and universities paradoxically threw away such power as they did have, that is the power derived from critical detachment, the use of reason to analyse critically causes, systems of thought or ideologies, the power implicit in the operation of an intellect not under an obligation to be continually bound by pragmatic considerations of policy or budgetary bottom lines. The pursuit of particular political ideologies and agendas that became the mode in Australian universities during the seventies and eighties became a substitute for academics actually doing their job. They failed to exercise the real responsibilities inherent in the function of the intellect and drifted off into partisan political pragmatism and hence the university became fundamentally inimical to intellectual endeavour.

It can hardly be denied that universities were badly in need of reform as educational institutions when in 1988 the government in the form of federal education minister Dawkins stepped in to fill what had become a virtual vacuum. If academics and universities had sought to put their own house in order earlier, they might have been sufficiently sensitive and alert to have been in a position to negotiate with industry and government. They would have been a discreet and well defined force to be reckoned with on their own ground. Instead, what occurred was more than an abdication, it was a wholesale lapse in consciousness. Academics did not even know what the questions facing them were and in particular their perception of the basic elements of economic life appeared faulty. Governments had to balance budgets and academics seemed not to recognise this, or when they did, they did so in the terms of politicians themselves. The university could only have survived if academics had earlier banded together to form again what they had once been, a corporation with its own rules, its own values, its own ‘organisational culture’ and rationale and the will to assert the importance of those things. This assertion needed to be made not only against State, industry and commerce but ultimately in the best interests of those very sectors. In other words, a successful university system needs to both challenge and serve the interests of State and industry at one and the same time. Finding the right balance is the problem. At present that balance has tipped too far in favour of State and industry. No better illustration of this dilemma can be found than in the operation of some departments in university Education faculties. The academic staff of these departments have increasingly found themselves in the peculiar position of experiencing a greater and greater divorce between their research interests and the content of their teaching. Government education departments demand they provide a certain curriculum for teacher trainees based on educational theories and ideas years out of date. It is the job of academics to keep up to date with and to offer new approaches to education in a way that cannot possibly be reproduced by the State whose primary job it is to govern. Thus an ever widening gap is produced between cutting edge research and the curriculum offered to hapless students. In such a case neither the university nor the government can possibly perform their proper functions with any degree of efficacy and the whole delicately balanced system breaks breaks down further still amidst ongoing mutual recriminations.

It has often been objected that academics are too diverse a group, too broken up by solitary and esoteric research to make the powerful and successful declaration of corporate identity required to prove to the rest of the community that they are capable of governing their own affairs. But if we go back to the University of Paris in 1229, we find an extraordinary mix of scholars from all over Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, who did not appear to have had any overwhelming problem in imposing its corporate will. Further, the University of Paris was an organisation squarely anchored in the ‘real world’, providing education and training for practitioners in all the major professions – medical, legal and clerical – as well as for government officials and advisors. Not only this, but it was also responsible for educating children and adolescents. So what has changed? Is nearly 600 years of human history such an unbridgeable and utterly alienating gap? Yet close examination reveals that at the most general level, the functions of the various social institutions have changed little: governments continue to govern and extract taxes from their subjects, businesses continue to produce, trade and make money and universities continue to teach, train the professions and undertake advanced research.

So what can be done to restore the balance and reassert and reintegrate the identity of the university – particularly at a time when the politics of identity for a myriad of so many other groups is so high on the agenda? The balance can only be restored if the disintegration is recognised as being such. One cannot solve a problem one does not even know exists. A first step towards reintegration is for academics to admit that they have failed in the past to recognise their own shortcomings and to accept that the function, however much changed, of the university remains the same. If there is no agreement on such basic principles then all indeed is lost; but let us assume, optimistically perhaps, that such agreement is possible. The next step is then to open discussion about the balance which must be struck between the pragmatic realities – the need both to educate and train the professions and to balance the economy; and the need both to advance knowledge and for society to have a mechanism to criticise and evaluate itself. But above all, one salient fact leaps out of the present tensions between university and the State. The State has become educationally out of date. The State no longer knows what it’s doing at the educational level. There was a time under Dawkins, eight years ago, when it did know, but as its primary function is to govern, it must necessarily fall behind those institutions whose job it is to keep abreast with and create new developments in specialised fields. The universities now have a second chance to recapture the initiative from a State increasingly demonstrating its incompetence and lack of leadership in the field of education. Academics and universities are once again in a position to resume their time honoured role and the medieval University of Paris need no longer represent some impossibly archaic piece of ancient history.

Matthew B. Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015

This sounds like a rather interesting book, although I have only read a brief extract and a review. I like Crawford’s point, at least as described in the review below, that we need to pay focused attention to the constraints of physical reality, rather than losing ourselves in an abstract screen world of virtual possibilities. This is a point being made by a number of philosophers at present.

I’m not so keen on the concept of ‘mastery’ referred to below however, as this all smacks a bit too much of domination for my tastes. I would prefer to think of ‘working with’, rather than submitting things to our will. And because I can never resist throwing in a reference to Foucault: this focus on our interaction with the physical and the material, a materiality which is both human and non-human, and the necessity of patiently working with it at a whole range of levels, is arguably one of the primary focuses of Foucault’s work as well, and what makes his work so easily applicable to so many domains.

Reviewed by Nick Romeo at The Daily Beast, 5 March 2015.

Extract from review:

Crawford’s solution [to the distractions of the modern world] is not that we retreat into soothing sensory deprivation tanks; he advocates engaging with the “the brute alien otherness of the real” as apprentices and eventually masters. His ideals of focused attention are activities in which we exercise freedom not by purchasing products to express our will, but by submitting to the intrinsic demands of the external world in some restricted domain and accommodating its realities in skillful and intelligent ways. This sounds far more obscure than it actually is: playing ice hockey, practicing glassblowing, learning Russian, working as a short-order cook, building pipe organs, and playing an instrument are some of the examples he gives.

Nietzsche once said that joy is the feeling of one’s power increasing. Crawford appropriates the remark to argue that getting good at skilled actions fulfills a fundamental human need that our culture often neglects by offering instant technological solutions. In one fascinating section, he compares Mickey Mouse cartoons from the early and middle 20th century to children’s television today. The older shows present the physical world as a source of menace and humor: one thing that the constant collisions, crashes, explosions, and general slapstick show is that characters are subject to immutable laws of physics. Nature does not pander to its denizens; it follows that it’s a good idea to pay attention to the world and try to understand how it works rather than how you would like it to work.

In the contemporary Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, by contrast, a Handy Dandy machine solves problems by presenting pre-approved options on a screen menu. Technology has conquered risk and peril, and material reality meekly obeys the wills of characters, provided they have the appropriate gadgets.

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Still from Jacques Tati's film Playtime (1967)

Still from Jacques Tati’s film Playtime (1967)

I have put together a general – but still very select – bibliography of material on open-plan office design, which you can download as a PDF. All items have links for easy consultation.

The bibliography includes the following subheadings:

  • Academic articles on open-plan: General
  • Academic articles on open-plan: Universities
  • Online newspaper and magazine articles/Websites: General
  • Online newspaper and magazine articles/Websites: Universities
  • The history of open-plan office design
  • Articles/Websites on the ‘combi-office’
  • Sick building syndrome
  • Audio-visual
  • Books

See also another select bibliography by Peter Lugosi

This is such a wonderful description of how institutions work from Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. The disciplinary society is only too alive and well – with a whole new technology at its disposal.

‘There can be no question here of writing the history of the different disciplinary institutions, with all their individual differences. I simply intend to map on a series of examples some of the essential techniques that most easily spread from one to another. These were always meticulous, often minute, techniques, but they had their importance: because they defined a certain mode of detailed political investment of the body, a ‘new micro-physics’ of power; and because, since the seventeenth century, they had constantly reached out to ever broader domains, as if they tended to cover the entire social body.

Small acts of cunning endowed with a great power of diffusion, subtle arrangements, apparently innocent, but profoundly suspicious, mechanisms that obeyed economies too shameful to be acknowledged, or pursued petty forms of coercion – it was nevertheless they that brought about the mutation of the punitive system, at the threshold of the contemporary period.[…] They are the acts of cunning, not so much of the greater reason that works even in its sleep and gives meaning to the insignificant, as of the attentive ‘malevolence’ that turns everything to account. Discipline is a political anatomy of detail.’

Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline and Punish: The birth of the prison, (A. Sheridan, Trans.), New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1975), p. 139.

Academic Office Space: An argument against open-plan

Clare O’Farrell
May 2015

This post is also available as a PDF
Additional general bibliography on open-plan office design

Note: all the references in this text are listed at the end of this paper with hyperlinks for easy consultation.

The anxiety of our era has to do fundamentally with space.
Michel Foucault


The aim of this paper is to discuss office design for academic staff at universities. I will be arguing that the increasing popularity of open-plan design needs to be reconsidered for the following reasons:

  • Current research across all sectors – not just universities – is unequivocally demonstrating that this mode of office design is highly problematic. The most recent and innovative forms of office design are now moving on to alternative solutions.
  • Open-plan is not suited to the type of work academics do.
  • Open-plan leads to a significant reduction and deterioration in the student experience.

In short, rather than locking universities in to a problematic open-plan model which is already considered by experts to be outmoded (Smyth, 2009), I would like to suggest that universities consider other more innovative and fit for purpose work place designs for academic staff.


In the last decade, large American IT and finance companies (Kaufman, 2015) including Google, Yahoo, eBay, Facebook, Goldman Sachs and American Express have devoted part of their not inconsiderable marketing budgets to promulgating the idea of open-plan office design as a way of fostering team-building and collaboration and other productive work practices amongst their staff members. Many other workplaces, including universities, swayed by the glossy marketing campaigns mounted by these corporate giants have followed suit in the design of their own workplaces.

A notable holdout on this front, however, has been Microsoft, arguably one of the oldest and most successful of all IT companies. Staff at Microsoft have their own individual offices on the basis that it is simply not cost effective to do otherwise (Alsop, 2014). As Nick MacPhee, former Vice President of Worldwide operations for Microsoft said in an interview with the Harvard Business Review: ‘Would it be smart to save $5,000 over the course of a year by putting a highly valued, expensive employee in open space, where that person won’t do the best possible job? We don’t think so.’ (cited in Vickers, 2012)

A report on the ABC television Science program Catalyst on open-plan offices was broadcast in October 2014 (Branscombe, 2014). This graphically demonstrates the problems with the open-plan office model and also proposes an alternative. And lest there be any suspicion that I’m engaged in special pleading for academic workers here, this report demonstrates very clearly that the problems with open-plan office space exist across all industries and around the world.

The problems with open-plan

I would like to expand on some of the points offered in this segment before going on to discuss a possible alternative. If you google the key words ‘open-plan office’, you will immediately be overwhelmed by a depressing and global tale of woe. An article published in The Guardian at the end of 2013 sums it all up perfectly in the title alone: ‘Open-plan offices were devised by Satan in the deepest caverns of hell’ (Burkeman, 2013).

A much cited research paper by Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear (Kim & de Dear, 2013) both at the University of Sydney addresses the whole problem of open-plan. Kim and de Dear conducted their research on a huge data base which surveyed 42,700 US office workers and published their findings in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology. They concluded:

The loss of productivity due to noise distraction … was doubled in open-plan offices compared to private offices, and the tasks requiring complex verbal process were more likely to be disturbed than relatively simple or routine tasks…Our results categorically contradict the industry-accepted wisdom that open-plan layout enhances communication between colleagues and improves occupants’ overall work environmental satisfaction. This study showed that occupants’ satisfaction on the interaction issue was actually higher for occupants of private offices with a very low dissatisfaction rate. (p. 25)

This is not the only research demonstrating that open plan office arrangements, if once seen as innovative (Fast Company, 2013), have been a spectacular failure on the very grounds they originally aimed to promote. Industry research and surveys, life insurance companies (Robertson, 2014), academic research (Oommen, Knowles, & Zhao, 2008) – not to mention the huge flood of anecdotal evidence – have all come to the same conclusion.

One of the principal benefits that, like a mantra, is cited in favour of open-plan, is that it fosters teamwork and collaboration amongst staff. But the demonstrated reality is that open-plan actually has a negative impact on and reduces collaboration between staff and actually can increase instances of conflict and hostility between staff. Not only that, but workers, if they have the opportunity, will stay at home to work or come in early or late to avoid being distracted by noise, movement and interaction with other people. These avoidance strategies have the obvious effect of reducing, not promoting, collaboration.

The only demonstrable benefits of open-plan are short-term cost savings to employers. And as the remark I cited earlier from Microsoft more than adequately demonstrates, these savings are strictly short term. The 2013 US Workplace Survey conducted by Gensler (2013), a very large US corporate design and architecture firm with offices in 16 countries, shows a measurable 6% decline in productivity since 2008 and the wide introduction of open-plan in the US. The CEO of Gensler, Janet Pogue, concludes from this: ‘To really drive performance, companies must create work environments where workers can shift between various work modes and feel comfortable working privately or collaborating with colleagues’ (cited in Fairs, 2013).

Let’s have a brief look at some of the other drawbacks of open-plan. Open-plan causes significant problems on the following fronts:

  • Noise and visual distractions
  • Privacy and confidentiality
  • Student experience and interaction with colleagues
  • Storage and ready access to necessary work materials, security of materials
  • Health and wellness

Noise and visual distractions

Noise includes people talking, phones ringing, people walking past, people engaging others in conversation who don’t want to be engaged. Distracting movement is also a problem. This makes it very hard to concentrate and a lot of academic work requires high level concentration. This problem, apart from inadequate space, is the most cited difficulty workers have with open-plan.

Privacy and confidentiality

A survey of 10,500 workers in 14 different countries across Asia, Europe and North America (Steelcase, 2015c) conducted by research company Ipsos (see Ipsos MORI, 2015), and British office furniture specialists Steelcase (Steelcase, 2015b) in late 2014 found that 85% of workers were deeply unhappy with open-plan (Steelcase, 2015a), one of the main reasons being offered was insufficient privacy. People feel uncomfortably on display in open-plan, but one could cynically conclude perhaps that employers are happy with the surveillance effects that this induces. The reality is that it lowers workers’ morale and productivity.

Applying this to an academic context, academic staff find themselves unable to conduct face to face private and/or confidential conversations or consultations with students and colleagues (Ryan, 2014; Baldry & Barnes, 2012). Confidential information on screens and paper is also potentially visible to others (Baty, 2007), which is highly problematic in terms of sensitive research and student confidentiality. Neither does this arrangement allow academics to engage in regular noise generating activities characteristic of academic work such as rehearsing and recording lectures, conducting online classes, confidential phone conversations and web conferences with students and colleagues (Ryan, 2014).

Separate meeting rooms or rooms for work that generates noise don’t solve the problem – and this has been shown by various work place studies in universities (Ryan, 2014). Either the rooms are always booked, or because of bureaucratised booking systems are unavailable for impromptu meetings and activities. Another problem is the sheer difficulty of moving the large piles of books and papers that are often required for such activities to these rooms. (Ryan, 2014) Some activities also require specialist software and computing equipment which, again, is not easily moved around.

Student experience and interaction with colleagues

Open-plan poses a significant problem in the areas of student access (Ryan, 2014; Baldry & Barnes, 2012) and interaction with colleagues. Due to security arrangements usually in place and the lack of privacy on an open-plan floor, students can no longer readily consult staff on an impromptu basis. Appointments become necessary and meeting spaces need to be found and booked – which is not always possible.

Interaction between staff becomes more superficial as people are unwilling to conduct conversations where they feel they can be overheard (Ryan, 2014; Garcia, 2015). People also tend to stay away and work at home or work early or late to avoid distractions which means less interaction. And as people are unable to avoid each other, personality differences can become a source of strain (Marriner, 2014).

Storage and ready access to necessary work materials, security of materials

The current myth is that everything is now digitalised. This is simply not the case. Academics usually require access to substantial physical research and teaching materials which include books (sometimes rare and valuable), confidential papers, student assignments and projects, specialised computing equipment and curriculum and teaching materials. There are also research databases which need to be stored and consulted according to strict legal requirements with regards to confidentiality and privacy. Much equipment is purchased and generated by the staff themselves, not the institution. Because of all of this, this material cannot be left unattended in insecure open areas. There are also logistical difficulties in having to lock up this material every time a busy academic is obliged to leave their desk to teach, have a meeting or even just to have lunch (Ryan, 2014). Storage for, and access to, these materials is a very significant problem in open-plan.

Health and wellness

The Catalyst report showed the impact on stress levels of trying to concentrate in a noisy environment. Academic work requires high levels of concentration. Sick building syndrome is also more common in open-plan office arrangements than any other workplace (Passarelli, 2009). The signs of Sick building syndrome according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) definition can include any of the following: eye, nose or throat irritation; headaches, nausea, respiratory problems and rashes (Rostron, 2008).

A study by researchers from Stockholm university published in 2014 in the journal Ergonomics shows that the rates of illness, including flu, high blood pressure and stress levels in open-plan are very significantly higher amongst workers in open-plan in comparison with those in private offices and working from home (Bodin Danielsson, Chungkham, Wulff, & Westerlund, 2014; See also Feintzeig, 2014). The Medical Journal of Australia also published an article in 2014 which reports a case where the chief of staff of a large open plan office in Geelong in Victoria was diagnosed with tuberculosis (Bagherirad, Trevan, Globan, Tay, Stephens, & Athan, 2014). A quarter of his co-workers subsequently tested positive for tuberculosis. Research conducted by the insurance company Canada Life in 2014 also shows that employees working in opens plan office averaged 70% more sick days than those who worked in private offices and from home (Robertson, 2014).

Added to this, are other problems such as the inability to individually adjust lighting and air temperature in open-plan as well as limited access to windows leading to reduced levels of well-being.

Possible solutions

So what is the solution to this in the face of the overwhelming ocean of evidence concerning the drawbacks of the open-plan model? (Bodin Danielsson, 2010)

It is not a question here of advocating the old model of cell-like offices lining long dingy corridors. Instead, I wish to draw attention to a model originally proposed by the Swedish architecture practice Tengbom, namely the ‘combi-office’ (Kotlyarov, 2015; Ryan, 2014) and variations thereof such as the ‘neighbourhoods’ design – perhaps with more private office space. (Office snapshots, 2014) This, in essence, is the grouping of offices with doors and windows around common kitchen and meeting areas. This model facilitates both concentrated work and collaboration. The private offices allow for concentrated uninterrupted work and for both scheduled and impromptu confidential meetings with students and colleagues at any time and also allows for spoken activities. They also facilitate the easy storage of confidential student and research files, books, specialised computer equipment and other materials relating to teaching and research. The common areas can be used for student grading meetings and other meetings in relation to research and teaching as well as impromptu connections between colleagues. Staff can move easily and quickly as needed between both spaces with a minimum of fuss.

In conclusion, it can only be hoped that universities will consider the serious problems created by putting academic staff into open-plan offices and design office space which is more suited to the pursuit of academic work and an amelioration of the student experience.

Acknowledgements: This paper owes a large debt to Associate Professor Suzanne Ryan at the University of Newcastle in terms of both personal correspondence and her work on this issue (Ryan, 2014). I would also like to thank Julie Nickerson for all her work in putting the references into APA format for this paper.


Alsop, R. (2014, September 12). The victims of open offices are pushing back. BBC Capital. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20140911-open-office-victims-push-back

Bagherirad, M., Trevan, P., Globan, M., Tay, E., Stephens, N., & Athan, E. (2014). Transmission of tuberculosis infection in a commercial office. The Medical Journal of Australia, 200(3), 177-179.

Baldry, C., & Barnes, A. (2012). The open-plan academy: Space, control and the undermining of professional identity. Work, Employment and Society, 26(2), 228-245.

Baty, P. (2007, March 16). Open-plan risk to collegiality. Times Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/208231.article

Bodin Danielsson, C. (2010). The office: An explorative study. Architectural design’s impact on health, job satisfaction and well-being (PhD Dissertation). Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. Retrieved from http://kth.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:349771/FULLTEXT01.pdf

Bodin Danielsson, C., Chungkham, H. S., Wulff, C., & Westerlund, H. (2014). Office design’s impact on sick leave rates. Ergonomics, 57(2), 139-147.

Branscombe, M. (Producer). (2014, October 23). Open plan office. ABC Catalyst. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4112857.htm

Burkeman, O. (2013, November 19). Open-plan offices were devised by Satan in the deepest caverns of hell. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/news/2013/nov/18/open-plan-offices-bad-harvard-business-review

Fairs, M. (2013, July 31). Bad workplace design means most employees are “struggling to work effectively”. De Zeen Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.dezeen.com/2013/07/31/bad-workplace-design-means-most-employees-are-struggling-to-work-effectively/

Fast Company. (2013, December 2). The 10 worst things about working in an open-office – In your words. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3022456/dialed/the-10-worst-things-about-working-in-an-open-office-in-your-words

Feintzeig, R. (2014, February 25). Study: Open offices are making us all sick. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2014/02/25/study-open-offices-are-making-us-all-sick/

Garcia, C. (2015, February 9). Video: The welcome, belated backlash to the open-plan office. Financial Times Alphaville. Retrieved from http://ftalphaville.ft.com/2015/02/09/2115681/video-the-welcome-belated-backlash-to-the-open-plan-office/?Authorised=false

Gensler. (2013). 2013 U.S. workplace survey: Key findings. Retrieved from http://www.gensler.com/uploads/documents/2013_US_Workplace_Survey_07_15_2013.pdf

Ipsos MORI. (2015). Ipsos Observer. Retrieved from https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchspecialisms/ipsosobserver.aspx

Kaufman, L. (2015, April 20). Silicon Valley got it wrong: The open-plan office trend is destroying the workplace. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/comment/silicon-valley-got-it-wrong-the-openplan-office-trend-is-destroying-the-workplace-20150420-1molwh.html

Kim, J., & de Dear, R. (2013). Workspace satisfaction: The privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 36, 18-26.

Kotlyarov, A. (2015). History of the office. Politecnico di Milano. Retrieved from https://www.politesi.polimi.it/bitstream/10589/103923/3/Book%20-%20History%20of%20the%20Office.pdf

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