The New Jennie Lee Building

I went on my tour of the new Jennie Lee building today. There were supposed to be 10 of us, but only 4 made it on time, although one late-comer did manage to squeeze in before we’d gone too far. Time and the Jennie Lee tour wait for no-one.

I was impressed by the interior of the building.┬áIt is really light and airy. The guide was justifiably proud of the environmentatlly friendly systems for controlling the temperature. The Nexus looks like a pleasant meeting and talking space. All in all, I couldn’t fault the building. It is gorgeous.

All it now needs is some sensitive layouts and well designed office furniture to make it a really creative and stimulating workspace. I hope this happens. It should not be too difficult to do. However I get the impression that there may be too many people for the available space. I wonder if this means that some members of staff are going to get placed in tiny “cattle pens” crammed in really closely. I hope not.

Many staff are concerned about working in an open plan environment. I suspect this is because they haven’t worked in an open plan environment before, or have worked in a poorly designed one. I think Open Plan is really suitable for academics, especially since so many of them are out of the office several days a week. You can tell at a glance who is around and who is not, and actually it makes it much more sociable. Noise levels do not need to be high, especially if you ensure that the break-out rooms remain break-out rooms and do not get snaffled by people to be their personal offices. Private telephone conversations and interviews can be held in the break-out rooms, and social conversations can be held in the many attractive community spaces.

I’m actually looking forward to moving in. Change is always fun.

About Gill

Having worked as a Research Fellow with the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University, I have now semi-retired but retained my association with the OU as an Honorary Associate.
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2 Responses to The New Jennie Lee Building

  1. Julia says:

    I do hope you’re right and it turns out to be a better environment to work in. I don’t work at the OU and have no idea if there will be too many people for the available space in the Jennie Lee building or not but would suggeet that might be quite crucial. You’re right that design is very important, I suspect.

    My experience of working in an Open Plan office (not a million miles from you) was woeful. There was much less social interaction than before, everything had to be planned as if you talked around your desk you would be disturbing other people. You couldn’t talk on the phone and it is all very well to say ‘go to a break out room’ but that means you have to ensure pc access there and take anything you might want to refer to while in there talking, with you. A real pain.

    I don’t think I’m against innovation in working practices and use of space, in fact when I was a research student at a previous university I suggested hot desking. It might have worked for that group at that time in that situation. I’ve often moved offices and found that the sorting out that makes me do is very useful! But for an academic job – well Open Plan is the reason people work at home several days a week in many cases as that is the only space they can work effectively and efficiently. That can make ones working life feel quite lonely.

  2. Gill says:

    Thanks for the comments Julia. I think that the issues you have raised, about disturbance from noise and the practicalities of moving telephone conversations to a break-out room, are concerning people here too. My previous experience was in a business context, and our department had few phonecalls, but those that there were could be disturbing.

    There are just so many variables that could make or break things. It will certainly be interesting to see how it progresses.

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